Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WEIRD MOSCOW




On June 15, 1905, an establishment selling high-quality fruit from the Caucasus opened at 57 Lesnaya Ulitsa, near Belorussky Station. The proprietor, one Miriam Kalandadze, and his wife moved from Tbilisi to the teeming Russian capital, where they set up in the town's Georgian district.


By day, Kalandadze sold grapes and oranges and peaches grown on the sunny shores of the Black Sea. By night, his wife sewed shirts and bodices on the noisy Singer sewing machine her husband had bought her as a present.


Sometimes a police officer from the headquarters opposite would come into Kalandadze's shop and ask questions. Although it was to be more than a decade before the Great October Revolution, there was a smell of dissent in the air, and Lenin was already inciting workers to rise up and overthrow the capitalist regime.


By August, the Communist Party had even begun to print the Worker newspaper on a secret printing press in Moscow, and circulation would reach 1.5 million by the end of the year. A reward of 5,000 rubles was offered to anyone who could reveal the whereabouts of the press.


But Kalandadze kept his nose clean and offered the police officers Georgian wine, and it never crossed their minds that he could be a communist agent, housing the notorious press in a well-shaft in his cellar.


Although it is no longer functioning, the fruit shop at Lesnaya Ulitsa is still there today. In 1924, it was turned into the Underground Printing Press Museum, a branch of the Revolution Museum, and visitors can tour the place where Kalandadze led his double life.


Alexander Ksenofontov, the museum's director, spends most of his time showing school children around the tiny establishment dressed as Kalandadze or an early 20th-century gendarme.


"Kalandadze had a simple way of warning revolutionaries not to come into the shop if there were police around," Ksenofontov said . "If his potted tea rose was on the left of the window display, it meant danger. If it was on the right, it was safe to come in."


Years later, Yulian Semyonov - a regular visitor to the Kalandadzes - was to use the idea in his novel about Shtirlits, a Soviet spy serving in Berlin during World War II.


"If only Shtirlits' colleague had remembered to look up at the potted plant in the window, he would have known the Gestapo were there and he wouldn't have been caught," Ksenofontov said. Soviet author Maxim Gorky also spent time in Kalandadze's cellar, working as the Worker's first editor.


The revolutionaries worked in a tiny nook in Kalandadze's cellar. They only worked at night - hence Mrs. Kalandadze's clamorous sewing machine.


By February 1906, the Communist Party was no longer forced to print underground, and Kalandadze's press was closed down. Sadly, the museum itself is to close next week for long-term reconstruction, and like Kalandadze 93 years ago, Ksenofontov now finds himself without a job.


- Chloe Arnold