VISITING STALIN'S PRINTING PRESS (OR, HOW A COMMUNIST DRILL SERGEANT FORCED US TO SIT ON STALIN'S BED).
The weirdest experience we had in Tbilisi was at the mercy of an intimidating man with his well-worn stick; a stick which had beaten its fair share of ideas into people for many decades and now pointed authoritatively at a wilted photograph of a surprisingly handsome man in his early 20’s...
Josef Stalin was born in 1878 in Gori, a small town 40km west of Tbilisi, and spent a fruitful educational period of his life in the capital establishing his ideals and garnering support for a political movement which whould shape countless lives for decades, if not centuries.
The cornerstone to spreading his word was a humble printing press - a solitary, now-heavily rusted machine, hidden in a secret room down an impossibly decayed, spiderweb-tangled staircase. A fossil so unloved by the passage of time that it lies beyond any hope of restoration. The warm glow of exposed lightbulb sthrew harsh shadows as we moved around the eerily quiet, underground tomb.
Well, it would be quiet if it wasn’t for the commanding boom which reverberated out of our crazy guide. Our lack of understanding in either Georgian or Russian didn’t dampen his spirits - he triumphantly roared and bellowed with the energy of a dozen bears and pointed at newspaper clippings, flags, paintings and aged photographs with his fearsome stick, pausing only to lick his lips and declare: “Now. Photo.”
Fearing being locked up and converted to Communism (this is the headquarters of the Georgian Communist Party after all), we played it safe and took the photos he deemed important. But he was only getting started.
Grabbing our camera, he instructed us to sit at a multitude of scenes, either holding an issue of the Russian-language ‘Pravda’ (‘Truth') newspaper or sitting on an auditorium stage, while golden busts and wistfully dreamy portraits of Lenin and Stalin surrounded us like religious monuments, the royal red silk of Communist flags pinned in perpetual flow.
Herding us into a small wooden house, with heightened blood pressure and increasingly widening eyes, our Communist drill sergeant had one final treat for us: The bed of Stalin himself. Moving aside the bollards, he barked ‘Sit!’ and we gingerly looked at each other. Ethical questions raced through our head. The air buzzed with anticipation.
It was hard, and rather small. The bed that is. We posed for a few awkward photos in the bedroom of one of histories most infamous dictators and hoped we were done with our tour. The crazy man raised his chin proudly, pleased with himself at another job well done.
Outside, we gasped for air as we stumbled down the nondescript residential street, unsure of what had just happened. But it’s testament to any experience that can leave you with a feeling, no matter how bone-chilling. Stalin, today, became very real to us.
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.