The Soul of Moscow

up:date February 24 2023 by Jans Bock-Schroeder

Peter Bock-Schroeder's photographs of Moscow in 1956 are a remarkable and valuable contribution to the historical and cultural record of the Soviet Union. Despite facing numerous challenges and restrictions, Bock-Schroeder managed to capture a series of powerful and evocative images that continue to resonate with audiences around the world.

Young woman with pearl necklace in busy Moscow metro
Metro Moscow

When the Metro was built in 1935, it was intended that the Metro system would also be used as an air-raid shelter. During the Cold War, the metro was equipped with hermetically sealable gates to serve as safe shelters in the event of a nuclear strike. The Moscow metro is one of the main attractions of the Russian mega-city due to its many architecturally unique and beautiful platforms.

A Glimpse into the Soviet Era

At a time of intense political tension between the East and West, Bock-Schroeder made history as the first West German photojournalist to be granted permission to work in the Soviet Union .

Today, his photographs are an impressive retrospective of life in Moscow in the mid-twentieth century. They aim to encourage international understanding, communication and mutual acceptance.

Crowd at the All Union Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow
All Union Agricultural Exhibition, Moscow.

The WDNCh (Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy of the USSR, Moscow) was an embodiment of the Soviet Union. This miniature wonderland featured artistically designed pavilions of the individual republics with their exotic products and typical regional craftsmanship grouped together in harmony behind a main pavilion.

To fully appreciate the significance of Bock-Schroeder's photographs, it is important to understand the historical context in which they were taken.

In 1956, the world was in the midst of the Cold War, a period of intense competition and tension between the Western powers and the Soviet Union.

Visitors from Uzbekistan view the worker and the 'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman' Staue in Moscow
Worker and Kolkhoz Woman

Worker and Kolkhoz woman, the pair is meant to represent the eternal unity of the working class and the peasantry in the Soviet Union. During the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, a confrontation took place between the two future enemies of the Second World War, the USSR and Germany. Their monumental pavilions were directly opposite each other on the main boulevard at the Trocadéro.

This rivalry was played out in a number of ways, including the arms race, proxy wars, and propaganda campaigns.

Foreign journalists were rarely granted access. The Soviet government heavily censored the information that could be reported.

This made it difficult for the outside world to get an accurate picture of life in the USSR.

Moscow's Rich Cultural Heritage

Soldier in uniform photographs the Saint Basil's Cathedral on the red square in Moscow
Saint Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral, the magnificent church on the Red Square, is a landmark of Moscow and Russia. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, the Cathedral was built in memory of his military victory in the Russian-Kazakh War. Its full name is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God on the Moat.

Against this backdrop, Bock-Schroeder's photographs offer a unique insight into the lives of ordinary people in Moscow.

He captured everyday scenes showing people carrying out their daily lives, at work, enjoying social activities and in their leisure time.

Central Mosco Hippodrome
Central Moscow Hippodrome, Moscow

The Moscow Hippodrome, which holds 3,500 spectators, is a landmark of Moscow. In 1834, the first horse races were held on the premises.

Bock-Schroeder's photographs enable a differentiated view of Moscow and the people of the Soviet Union and thus offer a counterpoint to the official propaganda.

They challenge the simplifying stereotypes propagated during the Cold War Era.

Everyday life of Muscovites

A man shops in the Eliseevsky luxury grocery store in Moscow
Eliseevsky luxury grocery store

One of Moscow's landmarks, the Eliseevsky luxury grocery store, opened in 1901 in a former 18th-century palace, it originally served as a luxury grocery store for the pre-revolutionary upper classes in central Moscow. It enjoyed its golden age in the later Soviet era, when it served as "Gastronome No. 1" as a showcase for visitors to the Soviet capital to showcase the city's supposedly excellent food supply. The Eliseevsky luxury grocery store has closed its doors for good in April 2021 following 120 years of service.

We are reminded that behind the rhetoric and bias, there were real people living real lives in a city like Moscow and that these people were just as diverse and complex as people anywhere else in the world.

Understanding this context allows us to better place Bock-Schroeders' photographs, which were taken during one of the pivotal phases in world history.

Highly decorated War Heroes Russia
May Day ceremonies in Moscow's Red Square

The Moscow Victory Day Parade (Russian: Парад Победы в Москве, tr. Parad Pobedy v Moskve) is the annual military parade of the Russian Armed Forces in Moscow's Red Square on 9 May to mark the Victory Day celebrations over Nazi Germany.

Bock-Schroeder’s pictures of everyday life in Moscow challenge the cliché of the Soviet Union as a monolithic and oppressive state. Instead, they reveal a more nuanced and personal perspective.

We are reminded that the people who lived in the Soviet Union were not faceless adversaries, but rather individuals with their own hopes, fears, and aspirations.


View over the rooftops of Moscow to the spires of the St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow
Cityscape Moscow

One of the striking aspects of Bock-Schroeder's photographs is their depiction of the beauty of Moscow and the way in which they capture the everyday lives of Muscovites. The capital is shown in all its grandeur, with its magnificent architecture, wide boulevards, and bustling streets.

The images convey a sense of the city's vitality and energy, capturing a city that is both heritage and progressive.


Hotel Ukraine Moscow
Eliseevsky luxury grocery store

In the 1950s, the Moscow "Ukraine" was built in the confectioner's style on Stalin's orders. The 206-meter-high building on the banks of the Moskva River is one of the skyscrapers called the Seven Sisters, which were built in Moscow from 1949 to 1957.

From the ornate domes of St. Basil's Cathedral to the sleek modernist buildings of Stalinist architecture, these rare photographs give an insight into the rhythm and routine and reveal the unique character of the Soviet metropolis with its distinctive blend of Eastern and Western influences.

Bock-Schroeder's photographs provide an insight into the social and cultural life of Moscow in the 1950s and convey a realistic picture of cultural vitality as well as the prominence of the arts in Soviet society.


Soviet propaganda billboard
Soviet Propaganda Billboard

Soviet large-scale propaganda billboards were originally created during the proletarian revolution in Russia. They took the Communist Party's slogans to the masses and called on workers and peasants to work for freedom and justice.

Bock-Schroeder's photographs illustrate the role of propaganda and ideology in the USSR. We see images of billboards and posters promoting the achievements of the Soviet State, as well as images of military parades and demonstrations of Soviet force.

They remind us of the role that ideology played in shaping the lives of Russians during the Cold War era.

It is important to note that Bock-Schroeder's photographs reflect the realities of censorship in the Soviet Union at the time.

Russian soldier on Moscow crowded street
Soldier, Moscow

As a foreign journalist, he was subject to strict controls on what he could photograph.

And yet, with his powerful and moving captures, he succeeded in documenting the diversity and multifaceted nature of Soviet life.

Gum Department Store
Gum Department Store, Moscow

The GUM department store in Moscow in 1956 was a luxury for privileged Russians. The beautiful building is located directly on the Red Square of the Russian capital. It houses numerous stores and is one of the most famous and well-known buildings in Russia. Together with the Red Square and the Kremlin it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

This raises an important question about the role of photography in shaping public opinion and understanding. How do we navigate the complexities of censorship and propaganda in our media landscape?

What responsibility do photographers and journalists have to present a balanced and nuanced view of the world?

Bock-Schroeder's photographs can help us to think more deeply about these questions.

By showcasing the beauty and diversity of Moscow, while also acknowledging the realities of censorship and control, they offer a starting point for a wider discussion about the role of photo journalism in shaping our understanding of the world.


Female singer at the world youth festival in Moscow, 1956
World youth festival

The World Youth and Student Festival was held for two weeks and was a significant and landmark event for Soviet youth in every respect. The atmosphere of freedom and openness was marked by the Khrushchev Thaw.

Finally, we come to the significance of Bock-Schroeder's photographs as a tool for promoting international understanding, communication, and mutual respect.

By examining the value and relevance of these images from a variety of perspectives, we gain a deeper appreciation for the ways in which art, culture, and diplomacy intersect.

Couple at Italian Filmweek, Moscow 1956
Serge Obraztov and Silvana Pampanini

Serge Obraztov (1901-1992) who established puppertry as an art form in the Soviet Union with Italian actress Silvana Pampanini (1925 -2016) during the Italian Filmweek, Moscow 1956

Bock-Schroeder's photo documentation impressively promotes empathy, respect and understanding across national and cultural borders.

One of the most notable qualities of Bock-Schroeder's work is his ability to capture the essence of a place and a moment in time.

He was a master at composition, and subject matter, to convey a sense of mood, atmosphere, and emotion.

Construction workers working together with the men on the large construction sites
Soviet construction workers

One of the most common images of the Soviet construction industry are the beautiful and emancipated female construction workers labouring together with the men on the large construction sites. Women in the Soviet Union not only represented women's rights, they were equal to men and often held increased leadership positions.

Bock-Schroeder's photographs offer a powerful reminder of the importance of bearing witness to history.

As a photo reporter, he was able to document the social and cultural life of Moscow at a time when few outsiders were granted access to the Soviet Union.

His images serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving and sharing historical records, and of the vital role that artists and cultural ambassadors can play in this process.

Bock-Schroeder's Stunning Moscow Photos

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