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May 1989

I arrived in Leningrad via Helsinki in early May, 1989. A few days later, on May 9, I ventured out with my camera and -- quite unexpectedly -- encountered the pomp and ceremony of May 9 -- the date celebrated as "Victory Day" marking the end of the "Great Patriotic War" -- World War II, that is. Here, the crowds have gathered in Leningrad's Palace Square

Folks were dancing in the square to the lilting sounds of an old accordionist.

On the Nevsky Prospekt, Leningrad's famed main street, old officers marched in a parade, clearly enjoying appreciative applause from onlookers.

Behind them marched young sailors, also enjoying their moment in the sun.

My brother headed off to work every morning, and then I would take public transit into the center of town and wander around. At first glance, I couldn't help but be moved by the beauty of the city, especially away from the main thoroughfares.

Peter the Great built St. Petersburg where the Neva River flowed into the Baltic Sea, and modeled it on Amsterdam, with its network of canals.

Amsterdam may have served as a model for the canal system, but with its many painted facades, much of the architecture looked decidedly more southern European.

Rainy night on the Nevsky Prospekt in Leningrad

I had plenty of time to wander around by foot or bike, and began to see a different side of the city. Behind the gorgeous facades of the main streets, once monumental buildings were falling apart. Every night when I returned to my brother's apartment, I was coated in grime.

Old cars parked on a back street

Boys fish from a bridge under repair, with pedestrians walking above them

Off the beaten track, things could look pretty shabby.

All kinds of people gathered at the Kazan Cathedral, spanning generations and lifetsyles. It was the Leningrad equivalent of London's Speakers' Corner, with people proselytizing their political and religious beliefs to the gathered crowds with no apparent interference from the authorities. It was an especially popular gathering place for young people testing out their counter culture credentials, and for street musicians of all sorts.

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