Russia may be home to some of the world’s most pre-eminent museums, most notably the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, but it also has its fair share of weird and wonderful gems. The Russian penchant for the eccentric goes back to Peter the Great, who opened Russia’s first museum, the Kunstkamera, a cabinet of curiosities, in 1719. The ragbag of still-born babies and stuffed animals on show was typical of museums of the epoch. What’s interesting is that Russia’s fascination with the darker side of human nature has continued to this day.
If you’re into the macabre, the Museum of World Funeral Culture, or the Museum of Death as it’s more commonly known, is the place for you. Here mourning clothes sit side-by-side with funeral paraphernalia such as coffins and urns, and the beautifully grotesque paintings of Polish artist Wilhelm Kotarbiński. Set within the grounds of Novosibirsk Memorial Park Crematorium, the museum is a pilgrimage site for Russia’s emos and goths. Their website too is regularly updated with news of gruesome deaths from around the world as well as details of specialist courses for funeral directors.
Wilhelm Kotarbiński, Dream (circa 1910)
In contrast to most museums of childhood, with their innocent exhibits of children’s toys and games, the Museum of Difficult Childhood is dedicated to young offenders and their troubled lives. Inside you’ll various artefacts seized from juvenile delinquents as well as photographs of the policeman who have dedicated their lives to working with problem kids.
Named after Yuri Detochkin, the lead character and car thief in Soviet comedy Beware of the Car, this museum contains over 200 objects chronicling the history of automobile theft in Russia. Exhibits include evidence left on the scene, tools used, fake documents and more. Although entertaining tales of hapless criminals abound, the museum is ultimately designed to educate visitors about one of the most common crimes in Moscow.
Yuri Shchukin, a pathologist at a Tambov morgue, spent more than three decades collecting body parts from individuals who had succumbed to various vices, from adultery to alcoholism. His haul includes the severed finger of a two-timing love rat whose digit was torn off during a hasty escape, as well as jars of deformed babies born to alcoholic and drug addict mothers. Among the moralistic exhibits on display is the amputated hip of a young man whose attempt at tattooing himself to “attract women’s attention” went awry when gangrene set in.
The Museum of Sin in Tambov
In 2004, Russia’s first erotic museum opened in St Petersburg with a collection of second-rate sex objects and artworks. What ensures a steady stream of visitors to the museum is the main attraction: the preserved (and alleged) penis of Grigory Rasputin — all 11 inches of it. Rasputin’s member aside, the museum’s location — in a men-only STD clinic — also makes it worth a visit. Enter via the clinic’s waiting room to see red-faced men squirming in their seats before making your way to the museum.
Oiled up bundles of biceps may not be to everyone’s taste, but the Soviet authorities found bodybuilding so disturbing that they banned it — it was, apparently, a corrupting influence. It gained acceptance, however, in the 1960s and now it has its own museum, tucked away in a Krasnodar gym. On display are medals and trophies as well as hand-made weights from the dangerous days of iron-pumping prohibition.