Summer 2010. Lars and I made our first big trip together. Starting with Sweden, we later crossed Germany, Hungary, and Croatia. It was a big revelation for me; I had never been so far north nor east in my life.
In October of the same year, we started to plan our summer trip of 2011. I was still feeling excited until Lars remarked that we could go even further east in Europe. There was his favorite country, Romania, and why not go all the way to Ukraine?
My answer? If he was serious about Ukraine, there was one place that I really wanted to visit. Odessa. And all because of a movie.
And not just any film! One of my favorite movies ever is Battleship Potemkin (1925), directed by the great Eisenstein. This silent movie consists of 5 chapters and recounts how a mutiny onboard of a battleship leads to a massacre of many civilians, on what is now known as the Potemkin Stairs (or Odessa Steps). And this happens to be – as you can imagine – the most dramatic scene of the movie.
This is without any doubt one of the most famous movie scenes… ever. It’s very intense and many movies have paid homage to it, such as Brazil and The Untouchables.
Yes, this movie is based on facts. In 1905, there was indeed a battleship called Potemkin, where sailors rebelled against their officers. The arrival of the ship in the harbor of Odessa was the cause of demonstrations throughout the whole city, during which civilians died.
But the Odessa Steps sequence is – unfortunately – fiction. The victims died in other parts of Odessa. Eisenstein – who had started filming in Leningrad and then had moved to Odessa – used this location for its dramatic effect. Most people actually believed it was true and still do so.
The Potemkin Stairs
Let’s start with some facts and numbers:
- 192 steps in total.
- Designed and constructed in the first half of the 19th century.
- Replaced in 1933 because of erosion.
- Official symbol of Odessa.
Wikipedia has some more interesting information:
The stairs are considered a formal entrance into the city from the direction of the sea and are the best known symbol of Odessa. The stairs were originally known as the Boulevard steps, the Giant Staircase, or the Richelieu steps. The top step is 12.5 meters (41 feet) wide, and the lowest step is 21.7 meters (70.8 feet) wide. The staircase extends for 142 meters, but it gives the illusion of greater length. Due to the sightline, a person looking down the stairs sees only the treads, and the risers are invisible; whereas a person looking up sees only risers, and the treads are invisible.
It took us about a week to drive from Belgium through Germany and Poland to Ukraine. During our arrival in Odessa, a heavy thunderstorm took place, which lasted for hours. Lars and I postponed our visit to the Potemkin Stairs to the morning afterwards.
I remember this visit very vividly. Maybe it’s because I’m an aspie and my senses tend to work overdrive, for me this was very intense, very emotional.
Don’t be a tourist and start rushing up and down the steps like crazy. Take your time, sit down, take it all in, admire the views. Yes, the scene in the movie is not true and these are not the original steps anymore; it’s still a special place, because of movie history.
Before and After
- Upon arrival, a vendor sold us postcards and stamps. He also tried to make us buy caviar and a copy of the Iron Cross (Nazi symbol). We were shocked, but the man didn’t understand our reaction.
- When we were back in the hotel, we heard the news about the 2011 Norway attacks. Quite a shock as well.
What about you? Have you ever been to Ukraine? Odessa? Did you see the steps? Or do you one day want to see them?
Later this week, we are back with some very stunning pictures, made somewhere in Spain! Stay tuned!