Vladimir Teslenko, who has Russian-Ukrainian roots, has lived in the Saxony-Anhalt town of 23,000 for the past 21 years. When he arrived in 1989, he was stunned to find there was no memorial to the German-born czarina, who spent her childhood there. That prompted him to start his booster club called “Katharina II” in 1992 with the aim of preserving a bit of Zerbst's history and improving Russian-German relations.
“Despite the history there was nothing here to remember Catherine the Great,” he said.
On July 9, the 54-year-old will finally see the fruits of his long labour of love when the town inaugurates a monument to Catherine, who was born Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst in 1729.
Teslenko's club, which now has 130 members in Germany and significantly more in Russia, is also working on cultural and student exchanges, in addition to fostering a partnership with the Russian city of Pushkin.
“Catherine the Great was a woman between two countries,” Teslenko said, explaining that while her most illustrious time was her 34-year reign over Russia, she was still a German. “The memorial will build a bridge between the two countries and create a platform for exchange and mutual interest.”
In fact, the 4.7-metre stone memorial worth €230,000 is a gift to Zerbst from Russia, carved there by sculptor Vladimirovitch Pereyaclavez
“We're hoping that the support of the memory of Catherine the Great will help form new connections to Russia – on an economic level, for example,” the town cultural affairs councillor Andreas Dittmann said.
On the Russian side, interest in the project is high. The Russian embassy in Berlin reported that the memorial had been a high priority for their government, adding that their Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov may appear at the statue's inauguration this summer.