“Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”
– Samuel Johnson, The Idler; Poems
Things are not always what you expect or what they look like. The last time I was reminded of this was at a beer brewery in Arkhangelsk. Here is the story.
First of all, I want to confess one thing. I like beer. A pint of cold lager together with colleagues or friends is for me what others would happily exchange for a good glass of wine or champagne. Therefore, when planning for the meeting of the council of senior officers in Arkhangelsk, our chairman asked me for advice. As a tradition, our working meetings are followed by a cultural evening program and the question was which option we should choose. I have already forgotten what the other options were because I immediately voted for a study visit to the local beer brewery. I do not know if I was the one who convinced him, but the Bobroff Brewery was selected as our evening treat.
My second confession is that even if I appreciate beer, I am far from an expert. Therefore I very much looked forward to hearing more from people who know. The Group arrived at a small building in a small village outside Arkhangelsk. We were welcomed by the general manager, who told us about the program and handed out coats to wear during the factory visit. He informed us that during the walk through the premises he would tell us how “living beer” is produced and the walk would be followed by a visit to their small museum and a chance to taste their products. We had merely started our tour and rounded a corner from one section to another before we were stopped by a group of old women in traditional costumes. The baboschki gave a performance of traditional songs and invited the members of our group to dance. That was not something anyone in the group would have expected. The singers were very professional and even if not all members of our board are familiar with Russian folk music they still understood it.
The manager, our guide, then took us through the manufacturing process of making good quality beer. We were told about the German rules of making beer and the problem with unfiltered beer that only last for five days and about the hard life of small breweries in Russia. Even if there are many of them today, it is often hard to find other beers than Heineken, Budweiser and Tuborg at restaurants and cafes.
The last stop of the visit was the museum. We had been promised that we would get a lecture on the different beer flavours and get the chance to make our own judgement. The Museum was actually only one room, not big at all and with a bar and some shelves on the wall. We were handed out the first type of beer to taste and our host started his lecture. Or I would not really call it a lecture. It was more a form of performance. Even if the central theme was beer, he mixed in various topics, from history to business and politics in a very subtle way. He took a cup from a cupboard, served another type of beer while he guided us through the story of how this specific cup arrived in Arkhangelsk. There were items from Peter the Great, a cup from the Crimean war in 1854, which was mentioned with a smile from our teacher. And so the stories were delivered together with the second and third glass to try. The atmosphere became more open and there were questions and answers, laughs and a sincere interest to hear more from our host and guide. More cups and plates and items followed by stories and suddenly I understood that it was something else than a beer tasting event we were taking part of. It is not always easy to create an open familiar atmosphere at international meetings with six nations represented, even if the group is small. Our host did that for us and would probably have even without a glass of beer. “Next time we will have our board meeting in this room”, commented our chairman with a smile when saying goodbye to our host.
The advantage of working in an international environment is that you can have many of this kind of treats. You never know when you will have the next surprise. I have already learnt that the Barents region is full of interesting people and interesting stories. You just need to be open-minded and leave your old tracks.
To give you some ideas what to dig into or where to go next we have a diversity of topic in this number of the BarentSaga. How we should attract tourism to Barents region is something that Johanna Westerlund elaborates in a report from a meeting in Rovaniemi. You can also read the story of a Russian staying in Kirkenes, Yuri Nikoforov who is finishing his mission at IBS this summer. Tapani Leisti gives you Barents cooperation through the eyes of a journalist and you also have the chance to learn more about the Russian chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Kainuu chairmanship of the Barents Regional Council and our communication development project
Head of the International Barents Secretariat