We didn’t come early, but evidently right when we were supposed to. The post lunch line to see the long dead founder of Bolshevism was just beginning to form as we procured a position in it. Skirting around the State Historical Museum we had blundered back and forth confused to where the line to view the infamous leader actually started. Finally depositing our belongings in a small room on the side of the museum we stepped into the queue and began slowly moving forward.
Like viewing Mao Zedong some 3,500 miles southeast of where I currently stood, the privilege to gaze upon the preserved remains of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a strict business. No cameras, phones, food, drinks or baggage were allowed into the mausoleum. As we inched along under the shadow of the Kremlin walls I took in the sight of the famous square before me. Far removed from the textbook pictures I grew up with, there were no goosestepping soldiers or trucks loaded with ICBM’s. Nor was the pavement blanketed with freshly fallen snow, complete with fur coat clad Muscovites frigidly trudging towards the towering silhouette of St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Instead I was surrounded by an architectural feast for the eyes. To my left loomed the baroque style State History Museum, and just beyond the arched façade of the GUM department store stretched almost the length of the square. To my right rose the towers of the Kremlin, the stars that capped each crown gleamed red in the sun. In the distance the colorful St. Basil’s dominated the skyline in all its onion domed glory.
The line suddenly began moving in earnest. Stepping through the metal detector, the stern guard briefly waved a wand over my person before permitting me entry. The mausoleum itself was small in comparison to Mao’s, which controlled the southern end to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. What Lenin’s mausoleum lacked in size it made up for with aesthetics. The smooth polished marble and granite gave off a sheen clear enough to see your reflection in. Under the watchful glare of the guard at the door I passed beneath the doorway and underneath Lenin’s suriname embossed in Cyrillic.
My eyes adjusting to the dark room, the line moved around a semi circular pit. In the center encased under glass lay the interred remains of Vladimir Lenin. As my eyes focused into the dim I was again amazed by the powers of preservation. The deceased communist leader looked as though he had passed yesterday, rather than eighty nine years prior in 1924. Even the man’s signature goatee and mustache were intact. More impressive still was the knowledge of the dramatic events that had unfolded to keep the Soviet leader looking as well as he did. Despite his request to be buried in St. Petersburg, Lenin’s remains were hurriedly embalmed and displayed in Red Square under the leadership of Josef Stalin. In 1941the future of the Soviet state looked grim as the Nazi war machine drove headlong for the Russian capital. As the German army drew closer to Moscow, the Soviet government evacuated Lenin’s body by rail, moving him almost nine hundred miles east to the city of Tyumen in the far reaches of Siberia. There, in a small apartment Lenin rode out the war, being kept properly embalmed and cosmetically altered under the supervision of a small team of scientists.
Ushered out the far end of the room in the same quick anticlimactic matter as I had experienced in Beijing I was suddenly back out into the sunlit Red Square. Moving along the backside of the mausoleum I passed by the markers and sculptured busts of other notable Soviets. The figures of Stalin and Brezhnev stared back at me with stern hard eyes. Their bodies buried and laid to rest within the walls of the Kremlin itself. Briefly reading their Cyrillic inscriptions I moved away from the mausoleum.
Moving north along the Kremlin walls me and my travel companion exchanged chatter about what we had just seen and how it compared to viewing Mao Zedong’s mausoleum in Beijing. As we turned a corner behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we decided it was time to get something to eat. Keeping an eye out for the closest eatery our eyes quickly came upon a familiar sight. The golden arches of a nearby McDonalds came into view. The irony not escaping us, we laughed, the American fast food restaurant barely a three minute walk from where we had just come.
Lenin and his contemporaries were surely turning in their graves.