When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, his wife made a special request that no memorials be created for him. It is probably an understatement to say that her wishes were ignored. As you wander around Moscow you see any number of statues, monuments and paintings of Lenin. The memorials to Stalin are gone, but Lenin somehow lives on. You can even get your photo with him, if you know where to look. Eighty years on he has made a home next to a lamp post just outside Red Square. One day he caught my eye and smiled - I think he suspected I was trying to get a photo of him without paying. And he would have been right, but it was only because he was sitting next to his friend, Karl Marx.
Looking decidedly less lifelike is the real Lenin, who has been interred in a Mausoleum on Red Square since 1930. It suited the political interests of Stalin and others to drum up a cult of personality, so Lenin's corpse was embalmed, dressed up in a dark suit and laid out on a slab for public viewing. During Soviet times people would queue for several hours to get a glimpse. When Stalin died he, too, was displayed in the Mausoleum, but upon being denounced by Khruschev he was buried out in the garden by the Kremlin walls. (An interesting aside is that Lenin's brain was placed in a specially-founded Institute of Lenin's Brain, where scientists subjected it to deep analysis in an attempt to discover the secret of his genius.)
I queued for about an hour to pay my respects to the real Lenin. After cloaking my bags, camera and checking for any disrespectful items ('Eat at McLenin's' tshirts are apparently barred), I was ushered into a small, dimly lit room. Glowing under a glass case was the preserved Lenin, arms by his side with right hand clenched in a fist. His skin did not look entirely healthy, giving off the kind of orange luminescence you might get if you placed a light bulb inside a child's doll. Someone behind me sniggered, and a guard gave out a firm librarian's 'shush'. Lenin's face is so distinctive and interesting that I would have liked to stay for longer, but I was moved along by another guard and hurried back into Red Square.
Outside, a small group of elderly socialists was staging a demonstration, but it was a tame affair and most people seemed to take no notice. Besides, I was hungry, and just across the Square was GUM (pronounced 'Goom'), a gigantic department store with any number of food options. And of course McDonald's was also a possibility, being just a short walk from Red Square and boasting internet access and listening stations alongside its burgers and fries. If there weren't so many tourists gawking at him all the time, I'd imagine Lenin might be turning in his grave.
Photos of St Petersburg, Moscow and first leg of Trans-Siberian