Brest (Belarus)

Travel Guide Europe Belarus Brest

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Introduction

Brest Fortress

Brest Fortress

© rd wrld1yr

Brest is located right on the border between Belarus and Poland (nearest Polish town is Terespol), in the southwest of Belarus. It has a population of roughly 300,000 people. It is located on the Western Bug river about 200 kilometres from Warsaw and 330 kilometres from Minsk. The city has a rather turbulent history having been a part of Poland, Germany (occupied during World War II) and the U.S.S.R. before it became part of Belarus in 1991. Hitler chose Brest as the starting point for his invasion of the Soviet Union. The defence of the fortress of Brest became an act of heroism against the German aggression, when the fortress could be held for 9 days against the mighty German Wehrmacht.

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History

Brest is a city with a long and complex history, and at different times it has been part of different countries and linked to different cultures. First mentioned in 11th century chronicles, Brest was a city in the eastern part of Kievan Rus. Later it became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually in the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. When, in the late 18th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned between Prussia, Russia and Austria at the end of the 18th century, Brest became part of Russia on the newly created eastern border with Austria. After the First World War Poland was re-established as a country and gained control of Brest as well as most of today's western Belarus. In 1939 this area was again annexed, this time by the Soviet Union, and became part of the Byelorusian Soviet Socialist Republic. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Brest became a city in the modern Belarus.

In addition, the city has been invaded multiple times and often laid to waste. In the 13th century it was the Mongols, in the 14th the Teutonic Knights. The khan of Crimea burned it down in the 15th century and in the 17th and 18th centuries it was invaded by Swedish armies. In the middle of the 19th century the town was completely demolished in order to make place for the new Brest fortress. The new Brest was built 2 km eastwards. It did not last long, because in 1915 the retreating Russian army burned the town to the ground and took the population to the east. Then the Germans marched in. After the war the city was rebuilt, many parts of the city centre by Jews. In September 1939 the Germans marched in again, just to hand the town and fortress over to the Soviets a few days later. In 1941 the Germans understood that they better had taken Brest and the fortress for themselves, they marched in again, this time with heavy losses, fighting went on for several days (not for a month as later was stated by Soviet propaganda). Brest escaped the fate of Minsk which was laid to waste in the Second World War, but the entire Jewish population (about 44%) was killed (see Holocaust remembrance). One could argue that this loss of human lives was the greatest catastrophe in the city's history, but there hardly is any public commemoration of this. On ul. Kujbysheva there is a small monument to the killed Jews, and that's it. The main synagogue on ul. Sovetskaya was converted into a cinema (cinema "Belarus'") and until now was not returned to the Jewish community.

If you are interested in getting to know something about the Jewish history of Brest you won't find anything in the state museums. The Soviet ban of the topic is lifted, but still the topic is omitted. The only small exhibition about Jews in Brest and the Shoah is organised by a Jewish NGO (see below). A totally innovative project to spread information on the topic is the audio performance "Brest Stories Guide" by the theatre "Kryly Khalopa" (see below), but it is in Russian only, so far.

Brest is thus a city closely linked to the history of Central and Eastern Europe and the ever-changing borders. One aspect of the city that shows this is its architecture, with parts of Brest quite Polish in character. However the eastern links are also strong, with beautiful orthodox churches as well as some very prime examples of Soviet building styles.

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Sights and Activities

Brest Fortress. A complex of massive fortification built in mid-XIX century by Russian Empire. In November 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed here. In June 1941 there were some days of heavy fighting between the German Wehrmacht and the Red Army with thousands of Soviet soldiers ending up as POWs and some 2,000 more killed. After the war the incident was made up as the "heroic defence of the Brest fortress" that lasted for more than one month with everybody fighting to their death. In 1965 the fortress was awarded with the title "Hero Fortress" and a huge propaganda complex was erected. Worth seeing! The fee for the core of the complex, the Museum of the heroic defense of the Brest fortress (where you will see and hear only the official story, no POWs, no Holocaust, but many male armed heroes) is about US$1. Walking the grounds of this great fortification is a moving experience that gives a good sense of the privations faced by the forces that were besieged there. The territory of the fortress is where the ancient city of Brest was born, in the archaeological museum Berestye one can see results of research on the spot. The history of Brest Fortress is complicated, as you can see, and worth learning.
Cinema "Belarus' (former main synagogue of Brest) (On ul. Sovetskaya). The former main synagogue of Brest on ul. Sovetskaya, now the cinema "Belarus'". From the outside one still can see the octagon of the original lay out of the building. An attentive visitor will notice several features of the old sacral building in the inside. In the cellar (toilets), the old thick foundation walls are visible.
Naberezhnaya (Riverfront), Naberezhnaya st (riverfront between TSUM and pr Shevchenko). If you just happen to wander around the city this is my best place, especially late summer - fall. The riverfront has a lot of willow trees and there are a lot of ducks swimming in the river. There are some chairs under the willow trees sitting on which is very relaxing.
Gogolya st, ulica Gogolya (between Cosmonavtov blvd and Naganova st). This is nice alley with two lines of old chestnut trees on both sides. Gives you nice quiet walk in summer and fall.
Brest City Park for a pleasant walk on a summer afternoon. Beware of millions of mosquitoes descending in the evening.
Brest train station (North of the city center). A very beautiful train station, both from outside and from inside.
A Jewish NGO has organised a small exhibition on the history of the Brest Jews and the Shoah in Brest. It is not very professional, but still, the only place in Brest where a visitor can learn something about these people who once formed nearly half of the cities population. The exhibition is located on ul. Gogolya 32, one has to enter through the yard, turn left and go down into the cellar. The exhibition is closed on Saturdays, one can agree a visit in advance via mobile: +375296513859.
Outdoor Railway Museum, Ul. Maskouskaya (right before you get to Fortress of Brest.). An incredible collection of impressive locomotives from the Soviet era. While there is not much effort in the presentation (they are all displayed one after the other), the variety of the locomotives and carriages is impressive. Some can even be visited. 2.65 rubles for adults (and even cheaper for children and students). Bres
Brest homeland museum, ul. Karla Marksa. It has a new permanent exhibition worth seeing (in Belarusian only, but still). It covers the period from ancient times to the beginning of the 20th century and a charming exhibition on nature with some amazing exhibits.
Berestye Archeological Museum. An archaeological site displaying an authentic East Slavic wooden town dating back to the 13th century. edit
Museum of Rescued Art Treasures.
The State Archive of the Brest Oblast (GABO) on ul. Khoruzhej offers opportunities for historical research.
Lenin monument on the Lenin square. The great revolutionary points with his outstretched hand where to go to: the Catholic church opposite.
Monument to the Atomic missile troops - perhaps one of the rare occasions to see the image of an atomic mushroom cloud in what was intended as a positive context! Opposite the garrison cemetery on the ul. Geroev oborony Brestskoj kreposti.
The 1,000 years of Brest monument on the ul. Sovetskaya was erected to celebrate Brest's 990th anniversary (don't look for logic). It shows scenes and characters from the long history of Brest, omitting the fact that for a long period of time Brest was mainly a Jewish town.

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Weather

Brest has a continental climate with generally warm sunny summers and cold winters with regular snowfall. Daytime temperatures in summer (June to September) are around 25 °C, in winter (December to February) around -3 °C degrees Celsius. Average nighttemperatures are around 15 °C in summer and -10 °C in winter but it can drop below -25 °C sometimes. Precipitation is fairly even during the year, although July and August are somewhat wetter. Winters have snowfall.

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Getting There

By Plane

Belavia, the national airline of Belarus, has connections to/from Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave in between Poland and Lithuania.

By Train

Situated at the border between European Union and the CIS countries, Brest is a great place for train travel. The train from Warsaw by Polish Railways (PKP) runs once a day and costs 150zł. Alternatively, you can take a connection to Terespol on the other side of the border from Brest for 40-60zł, and then take the very cheap (10 Belarus rubles via BŽD website) commuter train across the border which runs twice a day (leaving Terespol at 10:26 and 21:05, February 2019). Check the Belarusian Railway website, as the PKP one may not show the local trains leaving from Terespol.

Watch out when connecting to the Terespol-Brest commuter train. Leave enough time to pass customs at the station and board the train, since it closes at least 15 minutes before departure (the platform will be closed).

Connections with other cities in Belarus by BŽD are plenty, to Minsk there are up to twenty per day (taking on average 3 hr 40 min to 4 hr), and costing less than 10 rubles. Most other trains connecting Europe and Russia also call at Brest.

Brest is also the starting point for several east-bound long-distance trains, services to Kiev, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are daily while others such as Astana, Irkutsk and Volgograd departs 3-4 times a week. A connection to the Arctic capital of Murmansk departs 1-2 times a week. In the other direction there are several trains heading to Sochi and other vacation hotspots along the Black Sea cost. Most of these connections are operated by Russian Railways.

When leaving Belarus, be aware that customs control at station is not very obvious. About an hour or so before the train leaves, people will be waiting at a railing next to some glass walls which look they open up to some rather bland and unused empty room. They look a bit like people waiting for arrivals at an airport, except that it's not obvious who they are waiting for. In fact, they are waiting for the customs office to open. If leaving Belarus, join the queue a good deal of time before your train leaves. By arriving 10–15 minutes before the train leaves, chances are good that the train will leave without you, not because the queue is too long, but just because the rules are strict.

As of 2018, there is no such control for trains leaving to Poland. Just board the train a few minutes before its departure.

By Car

There are six control lines of various sorts at the crossing. Allow something like 2 hours to get through them all.

If you are already in Terespol and need to cross over to Brest, you can walk over to the border crossing and "hitchhike" across with one of the cars that is already towards front of the line. They might be happy to take you across as they can "assign" some goods as belonging to you for the purposes of customs. Just go along with the arrangement. Alternatively, they might ask for a modest payment of US$5 or so.

By Bus

There's a bus leaving to Brest from close to the train station, up on Czerwonego Krzyża. It appears to leave some time after a train arrives, possibly to transport passengers who missed the connecting train to Brest.

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Getting Around

By Car

Navigation is easy - Moskovskaya Street and Prospect Masherova make the central highway that culminates in Brest Fortress.

By Foot

Might be quite a walk, perhaps a daily walk dedicated mostly to the vast ruins of the Brest Fortress. The old town of Brest is a block of streets that lie to the east from the fortress, the central one being Sovetskaya pedestrian street.

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Eat

It's a bit difficult to get really good food in Brest. Vegetarians hardly are a target group for Brest restaurants.

Restaurant Vesta.
Venezia Restaurant. A place where one at least gets some good food.
Restaurant U ozera. In a town park, good meat and starters. Good for business lunches.
Jules Verne (in the city center). Not cheap for citizens, but good for foreigners, with tasty European food.

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Drink

Avoid at any cost the German owned café Crezo on Sovetskaya. Very rude staff, taking your passport if you want to use the Wi-Fi, for which you have to pay separately from the café charges. Horrible.

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Sleep

Cheap rooms are offered by hotel of locomotive depot of Brest Railway station, on the Geroiv Oborony Brestskoy Kreposty street. Two-person room cost about $5 per person.

One of the budget bookable places is the 5 Rings/Pyat Kolets Hotel located inside the Brestsky Sports Complex in Gogolya Street. The hotel reception speaks English and is probably the most efficient one in Belarus budget hotels.

A classical mid-range hotel option in Brest would be Vesta Hotel, 3 stars and a substantial buffet breakfast, located 100 metres away from the Museum of the Recovered Values or Pyat Kolets Hotel.

Hotel Belarus, 6 Shevchenko blvd. Central location, several blocks away from river Muhovetz. Rooms are US$30–70/night for foreign citizens. Belorussian citizens still enjoy lower rates.

Another brilliant option is 5 Rings or 5 Kolets - a hotel built in 2007 on the third floor of Brest Stadium in Gogolya Street, a few hundred meters away from Vesta Hotel. During the high season which is in summer the place is booked out so a prior booking is the most reliable way to check in.

Undoubtedly upscale is the newly-opened Hermitage Hotel.

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Keep Connected

Internet

A lot of places are appointed with WiFi hotspots but you have to buy a card and go through the login routine to get online. There are a few internet cafes in the major cities, but you’re more likely to be able to access the internet from your hotel’s Wi-Fi.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Belarus is: 375. To make international calls from Belarus it is necessary to dial 8, wait for a tone, then dial 10. Calls from Belarus to some countries must be booked through the international operator. Public telephones take cards. Grey booths are for internal calls and blue ones for international calls. Prepaid phone cards are available.

There are 3 major GSM providers in Belarus: MTS, Velcom and Life. All of them offer no-contract GSM SIM-cards and USB modems for Internet access. Cellular communications are very affordable and popular in Belarus. Each of these companies has numerous stores in Minsk, Brest and other regional centres. You will need your passport to purchase a SIM card, but many tariffs are available only to those who are registered with the authorities in Belarus. However, a stamp by your hotel on the back of the immigration card in your passport is sufficient to be registered, and this is routinely done by hotels upon check-in.

Avoid using your home SIM card in your own phone. Switch off data roaming and use only wifi instead.

Post

Belposhta (Belarusian: Белпошта) is the national postal service of Belarus. Services are affordabele but slow: airmail to Western Europe takes a minimum of 10 days. Post offices are generally open between 8:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Friday, but some central offices in major cities keep slightly longer hours. Likewise, in rural small communicaties post offices might not be open every day. If you want to send a package internationally, use companies like DHL, FedEx, TNT or UPS, as they are faster and more reliable.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 52.096149
  • Longitude: 23.703091

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This is version 31. Last edited at 14:58 on Nov 11, 19 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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