Text and photos Piers Gladstone
When I first arrived in Moscow over three years ago, I remember every so often, usually at night, breathing in a waft of something sweet, deliciously sweet, in the air that would make me both salivate and wonder. I asked Tanya, a Russian friend about it. “Ah,” she said with a smile and a misty look in her eyes, “that will be the Red October Chocolate Factory. That is the smell of them making chocolate.”
The unmistakable red brick factory sits on Bolotny Island in the middle of the Moscow River and has become an architectural icon here in Moscow. Generations have been brought up on chocolates produced by the Red October factory, and the brand has an almost mystical place in virtually every Russian’s heart. “For me it’s something really connected to Russia,” explains Maria Bannova, a 25-year-old model from Moscow. “It’s something old, with that quality that will never leave you indifferent.”
The origins of the brand are as humble as they are interesting: In 1850 Theodore Ferdinand von Einem arrived in Moscow from his native Germany, seeking his fortune. The following year he opened his first confectionery store bearing his own name in a small shop on Arbat. Soon after, Einem joined forces with a business partner and fellow countryman, Julius Heuss, and their chocolates and confectionary were soon winning awards and a contract to supply the court of the tsar.
Such success soon meant that a move to the purposebuilt factory on the Moscow River was necessary, and in the process Einem became the most successful confectionery brand in pre-revolution Russia, producing everything from chocolates and biscuits to marmalades and glazed fruits from their orchards in the Crimea, all packaged in tins bearing reproductions of famous paintings and wrapped in the likes of velvet. The advertising of the produce of the pre-revolution factory was equally novel: airships flying over Moscow.
After the October Revolution the factory was nationalized and renamed the somewhat bland and utilitarian “State Confectionery Factory #1, Formerly Einem.” In 1922 the factory was once again renamed and given the politically charged name that it bears to this day, becoming an institution during the Soviet era and surviving the turmoil of the 1990s. During World War II, the factory was re-equipped to produce porridge concentrates for the army as well as chocolate for airmen and submariners. After the war, the factory was awarded the Order of Lenin for its efforts.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Red October continued to produce the nation’s favorite chocolates and reverted to its pre-revolution status as a privately owned company. In 2006, its sales were $770,000 dollars and its chocolate accounted for 16 percent of the Russian market.
Now, however, much to the sadness of Muscovites, the smell of chocolate no longer drift s down the river because the factory has been relocated to a brownfi eld site outside of the city center along with many other industrial enterprises, as the authorities push for a less industrialized central Moscow. Some have pointed to the desperate housing shortage in the city and the need for land for developers as another reason why industrial premises are being moved from the center.
According to the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society, around 1000 historic buildings, many of which were “protected,” have been lost over the last five years as Moscow’s rapacious property developers knock down the old and throw up the oft en taste-free new. There was a genuine fear that the 5 hectares of the Red October factory, possibly the most desirable real estate in the whole of Russia, would go the same way.
It seems, though, that the redevelopment of the complex into luxury loft s and office space will for the first time in the city’s history convert industrial to residential, following what has been done in cities such as London and New York. The high windows of the factory will afford those that can afford more than $30,000 per square meter views from their top-floor loft apartments out across the Moscow River to the Kremlin, the Church of Christ the Savior and, perhaps less picturesquely, the much derided Peter the Great statue.
While the main factory buildings are being preserved, the garages and warehouses are to be demolished and replaced with “social facilities,” with the idea of the island becoming a self-sufficient community. “The historical context of the factory and its environment is being preserved with this project,” explains Michael Grigoriev of Meganom, one of the architectural firms working on the redevelopment of the Red October factory. With a collection of international architectural teams also working on the project, including such luminaries as renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster, it seems that the architectural heritage of this site will be preserved for future generations, even if the delicious smells and the legendary “all-you-can-eat” factory tours have now gone.
Red October Chocolate Factory
6 Bersenevskaya Embankment
M. Biblioteka im. Lenina, Kropotkinskaya
Walk across the footbridge that spans the Moscow River