Boing Boing 

Ad-hoc museums of a failing utopia

Photographer David Hlynsky took more than 8,000 street photos in the Eastern Bloc, documenting the last days of ideological anti-consumer shopping before the end of the USSR

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Expat activists and journalists leave USA for Berlin's safety

From Laura Poitras to Jacob Appelbaum to Sarah Harrison, Berlin has become a haven for American journalists, activists and whistleblowers who fear America's unlimited appetite for surveillance and put their trust in Germany's memory of the terror of the Stasi.

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Kickstarting Night Witches, an RPG about WWII Soviet airwomen


Night Witches is the latest game from Jason Morningstar, creator of the excellent caper/heist game Fiasco.

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Vintage Soviet space program cigarette packages


The Soviet space program inspired some of the great space-themed tchotchkes of the 20th century, including a whole line of cigarette packs from Russia and surrounding nations.

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Photos from Stasiland


Stasi -- Secret Rooms is a 10-year project by Daniel and Geo Fuchs, who took beautiful, striking photos of the stark interiors of the spaces used by the Stasi, the terrifying secret police from the former East Germany.

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Kickstarting Skyliner; a graphic novel memoir about jazz behind the Iron Curtain


At 81, Polish illustrator Andre Krayewski has adapted his memoir about being a jazz fan in Stalinist Poland into a graphic novel, and his son Ed has translated it to English.

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Fluorescent, pissing Lenin statue


A fluorescent statue of a urinating VI Lenin has been erected in Nowa Huta, a town built by the old Stalinist regime. The Soviet-era Lenin that stood in the spot was subjected to multiple unsuccessful attempts by activists to blow it up. The new statue, "Fountain of the Future," is a temporary installation that is meant to spur debate about what statue should be permanently installed in its place.

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Star Wars with Chinese characteristics


Jeff writes, "Chinese historian Maggie Greene has recently written about one of the strangest treasures in her collection: a Chinese comic book version of Star Wars from 1980, which she aptly describes (with scans to prove it!) as 'a fascinating document' that includes images she thinks may reveal 'a fanciful imagining' of life in a then dimly understood America or generalized West. She notes, for example, a 'dinner scene where a duck (?) is being stuck into a toaster oven (!) & the table has not only a little hot plate, but a crockpot (or rice cooker) there, too.' Whoever drew the pictures, she also points out, 'makes some amusing flubs -- Chewbacca appears in some scenes in a relatively credible way, in others looking like an outtake from Planet of the Apes. It also often looks like something out of a Cold War-era propaganda poster, at least where the details are concerned. Were the actors really garbed in Soviet looking space suits? Was Darth Vader really pacing before a map bearing the location of the Kennedy Space Center?' [For those who can't get enough of this topic, there are related tweets by both @mcgreenesd Greene herself and Chinese literary translator and now Chinese studies grad student @bokane Brendan O'Kane"

A Long Time Ago in a China Far, Far Away …

North Korean science fiction and the Maoist road to Mars


Jeff sez, "The Journal of Asian Studies has two science fiction-related essays: a full-length study that focuses on North Korean sci-fi stories of the 1950s and 1960s, which were intended for children and influenced by Soviet works of the time; it's paired with a shorter comment that explores parallels between texts Zur analyzes and SF produced in Mao era China."

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Our Comrade the Electron: technology as centralizer

Maciej Cegłowski's Webstock 2014 talk is called OUR COMRADE THE ELECTRON, and it's an inspired rant about the relationship of technology to power and coercion. It asserts that the decentralizing of power attended by the growth of technology in the 1990s was a blip, and that the trend of technology will be to further centralization.

I disagree. I think that Cegłowski has conflated "technology" with "technology under neoliberalism" -- that the concentration of technology since the 1990s coincides with the creation of like the WTO and the abolition of things like the Glass–Steagall Act, and the overall concentration of wealth and power into fewer hands. Technology is related to centralized power, but it is not entirely the cause of it -- rather it is in a feedback loop with it, and the two fuel each other.

For me, the interesting question isn't "does technology centralize or doesn't it?" We've seen technology do both. For me, the interesting question is, "How can we make technology into a force for decentralization?"

There's a long-held view of the world that breaks it into "artsies and techies" -- the two cultures. From where I sit, though, the two cultures are "people who believe in finance" and "people who think finance is a corrupt and corrupting force in the world." All the interesting nerds I know make art, and all the interesting artists I know nerd out on technology. But the one thing that seems to separate us into two camps is whether we think the world of finance is a giant con game or a legit enterprise.

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Massive collection of Soviet wartime posters


The University of Nottingham's Windows on War is one of the world's premier collections of WWII Soviet posters related to their war with the Nazis on the eastern front. The scholarly notes that accompany the exhibit are a treat, though they are presented in a way that makes it nearly impossible to read them. But the entire collection has been scanned and posted, and is available for viewing at very high resolutions.

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Kickstarting art installations in former Soviet prisons

Marina sez, "Our names are Marina Andrijčić-Ojeda and Catarina Ferreira and we are the artists and co-founders of The Penitentiary, a collaborative site-specific art exhibition to take place in abandoned war-era prisons throughout Eastern Europe."

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Soviet particle accelerator control panel, 1968


Back in 2009, Dark Roasted Blend rounded up a truly wonderful gallery of ancient, hulking computers, called The Cutting Edge of Retro Tech . Given that retro-tech only gets finer with age, it's fitting to link to it now, especially given this magnificent beast, identified as the 1968 Control Center of the JINR's (Joint Institute of Nuclear Research) synchrophasotron in Dubna, Russia. Hotcha, that is some sweet-ass control panel design

Kazakhstan's decaying Soviet space murals


Esquire Kazakhstan features photos of the country's decaying Soviet space murals, which do not have protected status, and are coming to bits. They're still towering, heroic Soviet Realist paeans to space travel, sorrowful as they may be.

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Russia's decaying movie palaces


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Soviet plane-spotting head-gear


Drakegoodman scanned this 1917-ish photo of Soviet planespotters in exotic headgear; according to a commenter, the binox are focused at infinity "so that when you found the source of the sound by turning your head, you could see the aircraft creating that sound."

WTF (via Bruce Sterling)

Spy-gadget photos from Berlin's Stasi museum

Egor Egorov visited Berlin's Stasi Museum and extensively photographed its collection of spy-gadgets from the Cold War (like the squeeze-bulb-operated jacket-button camera above). They're great photos, and at an impressively high resolution.

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Statue of Stalin to be reinstated in Gori, Georgia


A statue of Josef Stalin in his hometown of Gori, Georgia, pulled down in 2010, will be re-erected, thanks to prime-minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire who is friendly to Russia.

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Soviet board-games, 1920-1938


Ross sez, "If you loved the Soviet erotic alphabet, you're going to love this. Mind-blowing graphics, and hilarious titles. Interesting historical presentation and contextualization also."


My favorites among these include the “electrification” board-game, the chemical war game, and the Reds vs. the Whites game. You can tell that they reflect the immediate experience of devastating world war, revolution, and bloody civil war, followed by a project of social engineering and economic modernization the likes of which the world had never seen. The only other thing I’ll say is that, from an aesthetic perspective, one can see the change in the officially-sanctioned styles from the more avant-garde lines, shapes, and typography to the cartoon realism of caricatured figures in the Sots-art of the 1930s. Enjoy!

Soviet board-games, 1920-1938: Games of revolution and industry (Thanks, Ross!)

Porno art-deco Soviet alphabet


A reader writes, "Someone was nice enough to scan the pages of a Cyrillic alphabet book from the 1930's. The book encouraged adult literacy through erotic drawings of figures in various acts of copulation. Note: flying penises, lesbian acts and cloven hoofed demons appear. Male homosexual acts, do not."

These images are obviously NSFK (not safe for Kremlin). The artist was Sergei Merkurov, who went on to become a People’s Artist of the USSR. As the accompanying text notes, it's a fascinating look at the libertine sexuality of the pre-Stalinist period.


Update: Ross Wolfe comments, "There actually are a couple male homosexual acts in the Soviet erotic alphabet. Specifically, these occur in the letters Й and З, though you have to pay close attention. And the latter is potentially even more scandalous, with a small satyr fucking what looks to be either a young boy or dwarf from behind. No penis is actually shown, but the short hair and lack of tits suggest its masculinity."

Soviet-era erotic alphabet book from 1931 [Советская эротическая азбука 1931 года]

Soviet space-race magazine covers


Norman sez, "When the space race raged in the 1950s, fantastical visions of the future of travel were everywhere. Magazines like Popular Mechanics ran speculative articles about the rockets and space stations that would take civilization to the stars, and the accompanying artwork blurred the line between fiction and plausible reality. This art had a real affect on the space race in both the United States and Soviet Union; where Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, and Disney's Tomorrowland set the tone for the US space program, the Soviet Union's most influential art may have come from the magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi."

They've collected more than 200 covers, some of them absolutely stonking. If this is your sort of thing, try our archive of sovkitsch posts, and including a couple space-themed ones.

The Incredible Space Art of Russian Magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi

Russian Polar Expedition watch photo, 1969


Here's a beautiful, super-hi-rez, freely usable photo of a 1969 Russian Polar Expedition watch -- an absolutely droolworthy bit of horological sweetness. (Click to embiggen)

Russian Polar Expedition watch from 1969 - produced by Raketa [Sosoev/Wikimedia Commons]

(Thanks, Jim!)

Disturbing trailer for doc on Soviet dog-reanimation experiments

Charlie made a disturbing video backed by Kurtz's "Everything Burns Alike," featuring footage from Experiments in the Revival of Organisms, a 1940 documentary on the horrific experiments of Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Charlie explains: "In Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko's lab, he drained all the blood from dogs until they were dead for a full 10 minutes. He then pumped blood back in to revive the dogs back to their normal selves. The full documentary is horrifying, but fascinating. In the experiment, they also pumped blood through a decapitated dog head and it licked its mouth, reacted to sounds, etc."

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms: A Trailer (Thanks, Charlie!)

Soviet futuristic illustrations of the 1970s


On IO9, Vincze Miklos rounds up some of the finest sovkitsch futuristic imagery from three 1970s issues of the Soviet YA technology magazine Youth Technics (1, 2, 3) and other sources, presenting a gallery of streamlined jetpack socialism.

Some of the most famous images of Soviet futurism come out of the 1920s and 30s, when the Revolution was young and propaganda posters were like stark works of realist art. But the nation continued to produce works of incredible futurism throughout its reign — including during the trippy period before the Iron Curtain fell in the late twentieth century. Here are some visions of tomorrow, from the USSR in the 1970s.

The groovy socialist world of 1970s Soviet futurism

Soviet TV advertisements from the 1970s and 1980s

Here's 53 minutes' worth of Soviet commercials from the 1970s and 1980s, produced by what's billed as the USSR's sole advertising agency:

In 1967, Estonia was founded the creative association "Reklamfilm Estonian / Eesti reklaamfilm" - the only one at that time in the Soviet Union studio, specialized in production kinoteleradioreklamy and "representational" commercials on the orders of the enterprises of trade, industry, services and amenities, colleges, vocational schools , traffic police and other organizations in the Soviet Union, this company for the production of television commercials was the work of a new and at that time quite bold. But among Estonian documentary was a very energetic person - Eedu Ojamaa. It was he who was able to implement such a complex idea in the USSR State Committee for Cinematography. "Estonian Reklamfilm" soon became the largest advertising company of the Soviet Union. He released a year nearly 350 commercials, and also created a lot of documentaries. The company has been amended in Leningrad and Moscow and Riga branch of executed orders for the Union. Among the customers were and Finnish companies. Until 1992, the "Estonian Reklamfilm" took more than 6,000 commercials and movies.

It is clear that under socialism, the absence of private ownership and competition television advertising had a slightly different look and pursued a very different purpose. The director, advertisers still did not have the strict limits and constraints, which are now exhibited customers promotional TV program. So they used all their creativity to create a bright memorable quality product.

For objective reasons, most subjectively and commercials, produced by the company, did not survive. This anthology - a collection of the private collection of Harry Egipta - a former director and screenwriter "Estonian Reklamfilma", called his colleagues "Norshtein advertising" for unusual associative moments in his work similar to the work of the author of "Hedgehog in the Fog". Credo Egipta in television commercials - catchy individual style fast in those days "video clip" assembly, original music and songs, and of course, beautiful women!

SOVIET ESTONIAN COMMERCIAL (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Rotting Soviet-era themepark in the heart of Berlin


Dark Roasted Blend has a beautiful gallery of Spreepark PlanterWald (originally called Kulturpark Planterwald) a Soviet-era abandoned themepark in central Berlin, which is gracefully rotting away. This is a Boing Boing/Cory Doctorow trifecta: abandoned themeparks, Soviet kitsch, and urban exploration. Yes, please!


When it opened in 1969 as Kulturpark Planterwald, it was the "only constant entertainment park in the GDR, and the only such park in either East or West Berlin". However, the Berlin Senate did not seem to have provided for enough parking space... which is quite silly, all things considered. Plus, the forest around the park was deemed to be doomed from the impact of visiting crowds. In any case, the socialist and then private owners were left with a bunch of debt and the place got suspended in limbo... But the story does not end there (read on).

Surreal Abandoned Amusement Park in Berlin [Avi Abrams/Dark Roasted Blend] (via Kadrey)

Soviet space-program Christmas cards


"Soviet Christmas card" sounds like a mere kitschy improbability, but what if I told you that they were space-race-themed Soviet Christmas cards? It's a Christmas miracle, dude.

Old Soviet Christmas card collection (via Richard Kadrey)

Fake ads from MAD Magazine

The Vintage Ads LJ group's challenge this week is to find great fake ads. As always, Man Writing Slash comes through with a great compilation post, this one featuring some classics from MAD Magazine. I always liked the Stalin one here.

Mad Magazine "Ads"

Pioneers at the ready, Leningrad

On Retronaut, Viktor Bulla's "Pioneers defense drill, Leningrad." It dates from 1937, four years before the Siege of Leningrad, and that makes the weirdness vivid and poignant. So many of the children here would have died in the Siege, or lived through it in the civil defense force, eating wallpaper paste and digging trenches. How brave and ready they must have felt in 1937, though.

Pioneers defense drill, Leningrad

East German advertisements of the 1950s and 1960s


On the Vintage Ads LJ group, the always-great Man Writing Slash has posted a marvellous collection of East German advertisements that combine propaganda and sales-pitches and appear to have dropped out of a parallel universe.

East German Ads, 1950s/1960s