Between left and right

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Story: Dasha Kochetova, Moritz Küstner
Photo: Moritz Küstner

Sometimes to see the city otherwise you need just change the viewpoint. We used to look at the river from the shore. But if you watch the city from the river ? The boat, September, the Angara river from the boat station behind the Innokentyevsky bridge to the dam and back. You can see the city like in a mirror. In the mirrow of Angara.

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Dasha: In that sense it is very traditional: it lays on two banks – with historical and business center on the right bank and bedroom suburbs, academic and student town – on the left one. It is the only river flowing out of Lake Baikal that we see between the shores. With islands, luxury white yachts on a pier of respectable (by small town standard) Solnechny district and fisherman’s motorboats on the boat station behind the Innokentyevsky Bridge.

Dasha: Going by the common fisherman’s route from the station to the dam, you can see a river port and a zaton (roughly translated as backwater or a boat yard) almost across. Thus in Irkutsk the active port faces the ship breaking yard and vice versa.

Moritz: Dresden is also divided by the river into two parts, one side is the old town, the other is the university campus, but the buildings there are old too. The banks look alike. Irkutsk has a visible distinction: one bank of the river is an industrial territory; another bank is an old town.

In September 2016, the German researchers of “Gorod inache” came to Irkutsk for two weeks. Their first day was spent in different areas of the city in the company of  local participants. We called these walks “landing operations”. For the Germans it was an opportunity to see not a tourist city. For locals  – to observe Irkutsk through different eyes. We chose three stories for the publication. All of them weirdly got us to the rivers. Although that coincidence was not without reason: Irkutsk was built on the rivers and made a living of them. Nowadays this connection is not so obvious but it hasn’t vanished.

Dasha: We went along the river on a boat with overboard engine with Sergei.  He lives in Zhilkino, on Bereg Angary Street (Angara Bank Street), that is an unknown street for us, the dwellers of the right bank. It is pretty strange that while living by the water edge he had to go to the opposite bank to get his boat.

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Dasha: The town really looks different from the water, familiar landscape looks unusually scenic, and the buildings on Tscesovskaya embankment and Gagarin Boulevard seems enormous. We wonder how people living by the river on the left bank perceive them.

Dasha: Some of the objects that we took pictures of during that trip are almost impossible to identify. For example, we took a picture of a viaduct and for a long time couldn’t figure out what it was. It seemed to be a part of a suspension bridge built in a parallel universe in Irkutsk.

Dasha: Our international crew was passing by some island; one of them is called “A Nudist Island” by the fisherman. On shore I have never heard of such an island.

Moritz: On the one had these islands are in the town’s center, on the other hand they are natural and you cannot get anyhow there except for the boat ride. The view from the river is really different. You look at the town from within and from outside at the same time.

Dasha: Approaching the dam Sergei stopped the boat and said: “That’s it. We won’t go further. And you cannot take pictures either. Once we tried to fish here, a security boat got to the river. They won’t chat with you: they warn you three times, and then they can open fire”. Thus being on the river we felt that everyday Irkutsk people drive, jog and walk on one of the high-security facilities of the town.

By the dam we turned around. We went quickly in order to land sooner and get warm but the captain managed to welcome all fishermen who didn’t finish the season yet: “Here, on the river, we all know each other. We have common life.”

We tied up. Sergei moored his motorboat: “And you know the most diligent drivers in the town are fishermen. If you forfeit your right to drive, your driving license for the boat will be taken away from you too. You can go around the town by tram, but without the river there is no life”.