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Russia: End Of An Era For Red October Chocolate

The Red October chocolate factory (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, March 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- On windy days, the warm smell of chocolate tinged with caramel drifts across the Moscow River from the brick smokestacks of the Red October factory toward the Kremlin.

The factory has become one of the city's best-loved landmarks -- a rare red-brick building perched on the edge of a spit on the river in the center of Moscow.

But later this year the factory will crank out its last batch of chocolate-coated confections and shut up shop. Its new premises will be on a "brownfield" site -- meaning an industrial site that has been contaminated and then abandoned -- far from the city center.

Progressive Move?

Authorities say they want to move industrial enterprises out of the heart of Moscow to reduce high levels of air pollution and heavy traffic.

But many suspect the real reason is to convert buildings like the Red October factory into luxury apartments or shopping centers.
"This is history. They destroy history and then they try to restore it." -- Moscow pensioner Nadezhda

Ludmila Numerova is the director of the Red October chocolate factory's museum, which charts the progress of the company from its modest beginnings as a tiny family-run shop on Arbat Street to the multimillion-dollar enterprise it operates today. She says she is skeptical about the move.

"From the point of view of production, obviously this is the right decision," Numerova says. "But from the historical point of view, this is a critical moment -- moving the enterprise from one place to another. Of course it is very painful. And everyone is very worried about what happens next."

The chocolate factory wasn't always called Red October. It was founded in 1867 by Theodore von Einem, a German sugar merchant, who set up a small establishment selling jams, jellies, and chocolates.

His business grew, and soon he was the one of the leading producers of toffees, chocolate bars, cocoa powder, marshmallows, and cookies in Russia. He won a gold medal at the All-Russian Industrial and Artistic Exhibition in 1896 and was granted permission to supply confectioneries to the court of the tsar. He invested in the latest equipment from Western Europe and moved into a new building on the bank of the Moscow River.

Red Treats

In 1918, after the October Revolution, the factory was nationalized. Yury Yegorov is the director of the enterprise today.

"In 1920, production began again and the factory was renamed Red October," Yegorov says. "I should say that this part of Moscow used to be called the Oktyabrskaya Raion (October Quarter), and there were all sort of 'red' establishments. Opposite us, on the other side of the river, there used to be the Red Textile Factory. But that's gone, too. They've moved it to a different part of the city and now it's been turned into a business center and a luxury car park."

Krasnaya Shapochka and Misha Kosolapy celebrate their maker's 130th anniversary in 1997 (ITAR-TASS)

During the Soviet period, Red October produced the vast bulk of the nation's chocolates. Generations of children grew up eating sweets with names like Krasnaya Shapochka (Little Red Riding Hood), Misha Kosolapy (Big Brown Bear) and, perhaps the best-loved of all, Alyonka, a square of plain chocolate wrapped in foil with the picture of a rosy-cheeked little girl wearing a flowered shawl on her head.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Red October chocolates are still as popular today as they ever were -- a likely result, Yegorov says, of the intense nostalgia Russians feel for their childhood. Ninety-five percent of the chocolates he produces remain in Russia -- the rest are shipped abroad, mostly to former Soviet republics.

One of the biggest foreign buyers of Red October chocolates today is Mongolia, but its people have eclectic tastes, as Yegorov explains.

"Because of the climate conditions and the distance the sweets have to travel, Mongolians prefer caramel," Yegorov says. "They simply don't buy chocolate. It's very hot in the day and very cold at night -- it must be because of the weather that they don't buy it!"

For The History Books

In the factory, 2,500 staff members work in shifts to produce the millions of sweets sold in shops every year. According to Yegorov, 15 years ago, the average Russian ate 10 kilograms of sweets and chocolates a year. Today they eat 20 kilos. In the run-up to New Year's, the busiest time of year, the factory works around-the-clock to produce enough chocolate to keep the nation happy.

But the machines are being turned off one by one and moved to new premises on the outskirts of Moscow. By the end of the year, the factory will close its doors for the last time.

Nadezhda, a pensioner, was buying a chocolate waffle cake for her granddaughter's birthday at the factory outlet. She says she doesn't see why the building has to be moved.

"This is history. They destroy history and then they try to restore it," Nadezhda says. "It's very bad. And it's a great shame, really it is. We don't need this [change] -- it's for the center, it's so they can build new offices. It's very hard for us ordinary people to understand. Because we see what's happening to the center of town, we walk around it, and we wonder when they'll move us on. That's how we live, wondering when it'll be us. They say 'don't worry,' but how can I not worry? I want to die here, not out in the suburbs somewhere."

It is not yet clear what will replace the Red October chocolate factory, although the architects have promised to keep at least one of the old red brick buildings intact -- on the outside at least. Preliminary plans for the development show glass-walled apartments, parking facilities, and a yacht club.

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