Retracing Lenin’s Train • Thomas Dworzak • Magnum Photos

Magnum Pro

Editorial Cultural Commercial Search Image Archive

Welcome to the New Magnum Photos Site

Explore the award-winning storytelling work of Magnum photographers here, or head to Magnum Pro to search and license photos from Magnum’s acclaimed image archive.

CONTINUE TO NEW SITE
SEARCH PHOTO ARCHIVE IN MAGNUM PRO
Travel

Retracing Lenin’s Train

On its 100th anniversary, Thomas Dworzak traces the journey of Vladimir Lenin back from exile

Thomas Dworzak

Thomas Dworzak Stockholm-Lulea train.Sweden. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

On April 16, 1917, Vladimir Lenin, the exiled leader of the revolutionary Bolshevik Party, began his return to Russia by train, sea ferry, and horse-drawn sleds (to cross Finland). His country was at war and his route would pass through enemy territory. His final destination was St. Petersburg and to access to Soviet power, in order to form a “dictatorship of the proletariat” – a phrase coined in the mid-19th century and adopted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Marxism.

Thomas Dworzak 1917 exhibition. Zurich, Switzerland. 03-04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Now toy/design shop in basement. View from house where Lenin used to live, Spiegelgasse 14. Zurich, Switzerland. 3-4/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Cabaret Voltaire. Zurich, Switzerland. 03-04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

One hundred years later, Thomas Dworzak revisited this historic journey by following the same route as Lenin. Starting in Zurich on the exact same date as Lenin had begun his journey 100 years before, Dworzak travelled through Germany to Sweden and Finland before finally arriving in St. Petersburg, eight days and 3,200 km later. The journey was, in part, enabled by Alexander Israel Helphand (known as Parvus), who orchestrated the passing through Germany to revolutionary Russia in a sealed train, by convincing the German government to funnel two million marks to the Bolsheviks because of the likelihood that, in victory, they would withdraw Russia from World War I.

Thomas Dworzak Lenin plaque. Geneva, Switzerland. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Performance of "Lenin's Train" in historical train reenacting the beginning of the epic trip on the exact day 100 years later. Rheinfall/Schaffhausen, Switzerland. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

Along the way, Dworzak stopped off at various points for transport connection, and looked for echoes of the history he was tracing. For example, whilst in Berlin for a night, Dworzak walked around and found imperial buildings where Lenin’s return was plotted.

It being the 100-year anniversary of the Russian revolution, Thomas Dworzak thought that he might witness more made of the seminal events, but he was surprised to find very little outside of Switzerland. “Early on when I did this journey there was nothing, really,” he says. “There was a local communist party who had a little unfolding of a flag, and they had sealed off the entire square, but there were only about a dozen people and a guy reading out a few poems.”

Thomas Dworzak Berlin by night, former WW1 German military headquarters. Germany. 09-10/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Strahlsund to Sassnitz. Germany. 09-10/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Performance of "Lenin's Train" in historical train reenacting the beginning of the epic trip on the exact day 100 years later. Rheinfall/Schaffhausen, Switzerland. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Performance of ”Lenin's Train" in historical train reenacting the beginning of the epic trip on the exact day 100 years later. Zurich, Switzerland. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

Dworzak considers that this is very possibly down to Russian president Putin’s contracting position. “It’s a very controversial way of dealing with the revolution,” acknowledges Dworzak. “Putin’s not a communist so he can’t really glorify communism, he also has this whole heritage of the Soviet Union and being a general of war and wanting to pump that up a lot, so I don’t know how much they will mark it.”

Thomas Dworzak Stockholm, Sweden. 2017/04. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Wifi for refugees. Haparanda, Sweden. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Commemoration of the truck ISIS terror attack a few days earlier in the pedestrian zone. Stockholm, Sweden. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak River border between Sweden/Finland. Tornio, Finland. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos
Thomas Dworzak Lenin Museum. Tampere, Finland. 04/2017. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

Dworzak discovered that he wasn’t the only one retracing Lenin’s steps on this iconic anniversary. The photographer spotted a British couple at various key points: “From Berlin onwards, there was an English couple in their 50s or 60s. I saw them for the first time on the ferry from German to Sweden, and then they were at the ferry port from Malmo. Then I saw them again at the train station going to Stockholm. We realised that they were on a lot of our trips. They were an English couple in their 50s. It turns out that she was a history teacher and she’d always wanted to do this trip, tracing Lenin’s train,” he remembers. “They did it in real time as well!”

Along the way, Thomas Dworzak made some travel notes, presented here chronologically, tracing his journey.

Thomas Dworzak This photo is taken at the Hotel Goldener Loewe in Zimmerwald, the Swiss municipality where exiled international socialist groups met at a conference in September 1915 in order to unite their strug (...)
Thomas Dworzak Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, would accompany him on the 1917 train journey from exile in Switzerland.Krupskaya was conscious that there was “no outlet for his colossal energy” in Switzerla (...)
Thomas Dworzak Lenin lived in Geneva from 1903. He would regularly cycle to the reading room at the university library and meet with fellow exiles.Falling over tram tracks and landing violently on his face, i (...)
Thomas Dworzak At 3.10pm on Easter Monday 1917, Lenin and his entourage boarded a train at Zurich Central Station for Russia.It was a mixture of Zimmerwaldian internationalism, the aftermath of the February Re (...)
Thomas Dworzak Crossing Germany in the 'sealed' train to Sassnitz:From the moment the train entered Germany, very strict rules of extraterritoriality were enforced. A chalk line separated where the Russians we (...)
Thomas Dworzak Neutral Sweden offered a feast of food for the starved revolutionaries when they got off the Sassnitz-Trellborg ferry and were treated by the Swedish social democrats in Malmoe’s best hotel.Karl (...)
Thomas Dworzak Waiting for the train north to Swedish Lapland, Lenin and his comrades had a whole day to spend in Stockholm. Swedish Communists insisted on taking Lenin shopping in the bourgeois PUB department st (...)
Thomas Dworzak The longest stretch of the journey was the train ride from Stockholm all the way to the Northern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia, close to the Arctic circle, with changes in Braecke, Boden and Lulea. (...)
Thomas Dworzak Anxious to cross into Russia, Lenin and his comrades were looking across the frozen river Torne from Sweden towards Finland, then part of the Russian empire.During World War I, Tornio was one of (...)
Thomas Dworzak The Lenin Museum in Tampere was the first museum dedicated to Lenin outside of the Soviet Union. The museum is located in the Tampere Workers' Hall, where Lenin and Stalin met for the first time. (...)
Thomas Dworzak Late at night on April 16, Lenin's train pulled into Finland station, where a jubilant crowd was expecting them.A woman ran up and handed him a bouquet of flowers, 'a pointless object in his vi (...)
Thomas Dworzak Late at night on Palace Square in front of the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum, the site of key moments of the 1917 Russian Revolution.A thrown away Burger King paper crown covered in snow. (...)
Thomas Dworzak RUSSIA. St. Petersburg. 16 April 2017. 100th anniversary of Lenin's arrival at Finnland station. Burger King crown on Parade square in from of the Eremitage, site of the October Revolution. © Thomas Dworzak | Magnum Photos

Further reading:

Amongst Thomas Dworzak’s reading list prep was the book Lenin on the Train, by Catherine Merridale, which he recommends for further reading.

Dworkzak also recommends the film Lenin, The Train, featuring the British actor Ben Kingsley.