BelBaltLag Headquarters, Medvezhyegorsk, Karelian Republic

Gostinitsa

BelBaltLag Headquarters

Ostensibly nothing discerns the sleepy city of Medvezhyegorsk from other similar towns in Karelia at the western edge of Russia. But at the end of the main street one comes across huge, bulky building that seem totally out-of-place. Built at the 1930s, it served as the headquarters of the BelBaltLag, the same Gulag camp that built the famous Belomorkanal, or White Sea-Baltic Sea canal, still flowing lazily some twenty kilometres to east. Prisoners doing forced labour were living in tents or mud-huts by the canal, but the officers & managers of the camp and the guests – including the famous writer Maxim Gorky – used this building, which also served as a hotel. It was magnificent place with more than hundred rooms, two restaurants and even a spa! The contrast to the conditions of Gulag was just grotesque. The huge building stands in the center of Medvezhyegorsk, a bit worse for wear and half-empty, but still sturdy & proud. It has become an unintended memorial to the excesses and absurdities of the Soviet Gulag.

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