Russia’s History Revealed

Russland mein Schicksal

This bluechip series explores history through the stories of three major Russian cities: St Petersburg, Volgograd – the former Stalingrad, and Moscow.

The narratives each begin with a major event that shaped both the city and the history of Russia as a whole, and then travel forward through time to the present day. Majestic scenery, lavish dramatizations and a wealth of rare archive make up the series’ visuals.

Episode One, St. Petersburg, begins over 300 years ago. With newly seized Swedish territory near the Baltic, Peter the Great sets out to create a city in the marshes of the River Neva. Peter fosters strategic ties to Europe – but is also keen to explore the Russian East. He sends Danish-born Vitus Bering on the expedition that discovers what is now known as the Bering Strait.
Peter’s city grows to become a Venice of the North. A flamboyant high society entertains itself with lavish balls in the city’s fabled palaces during Russia’s Belle Epoque. When an assault on the Winter Palace launches the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the city’s elite, along with two million inhabitants, flee to the West. The film follows Lenin’s voyage from Zurich to Petrograd, which is sponsored by German military. Generous financial German support also helps to keep the Bolsheviks in power. A mere 24 years later, the Wehrmacht tries to topple that same regime in order to conquer the Soviet Union. The newly named Leningrad endures one of the most brutal operations of WWII: a two-and-a-half-year siege.
In the Post-WW II era, a vibrant intelligentsia springs up in the city in the 1970s – while one particular Leningrad boy rises to power through the ranks of the KGB: Vladimir Putin. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city assumes its old name – and to this day is Russia’s most European city.

Episode Two, Volgograd and the Volga. Established as Tsaritsyn to defend the unstable southern regions of Russia, the city was shaped by the River Volga, by immigrants, commerce – and by war. In the 17th and 18th century, Cossack rebels conquer it twice. Sparsely populated, the area is easy prey. Empress Catherine the Great launches a campaign to solve this problem once and for all. She issues a decree that promises privileges and land to foreign settles – and chiefly promotes it in her native Germany. Immigrant farmers and craftspeople form over 100 settlements in the region. Tsaritsyn flourishes and now becomes one of the major Russian commercial cities – which also attracts the Nobel family from Sweden. Having set out to find wood for their rifle production – they find a new and even more profitable commodity: oil. In Russia’s Civil war 1917-1920, bitter fights are waged over its control. Hitler, too, has an appetite for the oil that can be accessed from here. The Battle of Stalingrad becomes the ultimate turning point of the war – at the cost of nearly one million lives. The city that has born the name of Stalin since the 1920s is completely destroyed, and rebuilt in Stalinist style. When the Communist leadership acknowledges Stalin’s atrocities - albeit secretly -, it is given a new name: Volgograd.

Episode Three, Moscow. While St Petersburg’s cityscape has remained largely unchanged, Moscow is forever reinventing itself. This episode opens when Napoleonic troops reach Moscow in 1812. Legend has it that Muscovites themselves burn down their city, but how the fire spread is unclear to this day. After Napoleon’s downfall, Moscow is rebuilt on a bigger scale. In the 1870s, the reform-minded Tsar Alexander II instigates large-scale modernisation – and Moscow becomes the starting point of the Transsiberian railway. Two years after its completion in 1916, the Bolsheviks reinstate Moscow as the capital of Russia. It is a time of both great expectation and great suffering. To this day, Russians take pride in the massive building projects of that era – in spite of the fact that they were built at the cost of millions of forced labourers’ lives. At the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, fear rules the Moscow, and entire perfectly innocent families are deported and enslaved, or killed.
After the 2nd World War, Moscow becomes the epicentre of a global Communist Empire – and fiercely competes with the US for world domination. The construction of nuclear bombs becomes a major battleground. The brilliant nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov fights on the side of the Soviets – until a terrible accident leads him to the conclusion that neither party can win this deadly fight. Over time, Sakharov becomes the Soviet Union’s Public Enemy No. 1. Awarded with the Nobel Peace prize in 1975, his critique of the Soviet state culminates in his protest against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, for which he is exiled to Siberia – until the advent of Glasnost and Perestroika.

The team behind the series
Producer Simone Baumann was born and raised in East Germany, and it is fair to say that she is Russian by soul. She studied philosophy in Rostov upon the Don in the 1980s, worked in Moscow in the early 1990s and as a lecturer at Berlin’s prestigious Humboldt University before she began a career in documentary film with Leipzig-based broadcaster mdr. Since 1997, she has been the managing director of the independent production company LE VISION, where she also oversees the activities of the company’s Russia office, which she initiated 10 years ago.

Series Director Christian Schulz holds a Masters degree in Slavic Languages from Leipzig University. His career in non-fiction program making took him to Russia, where he headed the Moscow office of an independent news outlet for two years (1996-98) before joining LE VISION as a shareholder in 1999.

Simone’s and Christian’s joint credits include RUSSIA’S NIGHTMARE  -  The Sinking of the KURSK submarine (2002), which was sold to more than 20 territories, incl. the US (NatGeo), Canada (HISTORY), and the UK (FIVE), and BOLSHOI: Between Fame and Drill, about a year at the ballet academy of the Bolshoi which also became an international best seller (distributor for both films: Parthenon Entertainment), TEARING DOWN THE IRON CURTAIN (5-part documentary series, 2009 about the Fall of the Soviet empire, for mdr / arte, YLE, TVP, LRT Lithuania, Planète / France a.o.), and, most recently, MOUNTAINOUS DANGERS, which just aired on ZDF’s prime time docu slot Terra X. Both command extensive experience with co-productions and drama documentaries.

Image gallery

Autor/Regisseur: Christian Schulz, Jan N. Lorenzen, Carsten Günther

Serienregie: Nina Koshofer

Produktion: Saxonia Entertainment im Auftrag der Colonia Media

Co-Produktion: non stop production Russland

Auftraggeber: WDR, NDR, RBB

Länge: 3x 45 min