When I wrote about apartments of modern and Soviet time, I forgot to write about communal or shared flats. These were the flats, shared by several families. It is very interesting to investigate how families lived in such flats. That story may surprise you!
An apartment that earlier belonged to one family, but after the Revolution of 1917 was either taken from the owners (if they left the country) or more families were moved to that apartment. The idea of Bolshevik government was that having many rooms for one family is too much luxury. Modern families do not need living rooms, dining rooms, study rooms, libraries etc. – they just need a roof above their head, a room where they can sleep. 9 square meters per person is more than enough. A lot of families were moving to Moscow after the Revolution and there was not enough of available real estate, so newcomers were moved to the existing flats.
And now – please imagine. Your family has to share an apartment with one kitchen and one bathroom with several other families. You may have 2 adults in the family, you may also have kids and grandparents, living with you. In any case – you personal private space is one bedroom. The rest is a shared space. How do families work that out?
Lets start with visitors. How do they buzz in? There were multiple door rings at the entrance or a note, which specified how many time you need to buzz the ring if you came to see Ivanov’s or Petrov’s family
Now, let’s move to kitchen. Having several fridges was not typical. Refrigerators were a novelty and were expensive. Some families did not have a fridge at all and stored food outside of window or below the window sill in winter. “Wealthy people” had their own fridge in their bedroom. If the fridge was in the kitchen and was shared – it would be a dorm-like setup – you have your own shelf or leave notes, attached to your food
Most often – you just had one landline and the phone was in the shared space – a lobby or a corridor. Your neighbors would always call you if they answered the call. But they will notice, who called you and will overhear your conversation. And will not be happy if you talk for too long when they are expecting an important call
In general communal living required a lot of skills:
Privacy management As you imagine – there is not much privacy in a communal flat. Your neighbors actually have too much information about you – they know when you leave to work, when you return, they overhear your phone conversations since the phone is in a lobby, they see all your visitors, they judge your habits (especially if you have any bad habits), they see how you dress and they even know which soap you use and how your underwear looks like (literally, since you hang it out for drying in the bathroom). So, even if you do not talk too much about your life, they see your life. Usually the way to manage privacy was to maintain privacy in your room and to limit conversations with neighbors to “need to know”
I am sure that there were professional studies on that subject. I will try to find them and update this post. And for now – here are some of my guesses:
I never lived in a communal flat myself, but when my parents were young – they lived in such flat in the very center of Moscow. My mom has mixed feelings about that time – on the one hand they were young and happily married, on the other hand – they had a neighbor, who had dozens of cats in her room and liked to collect garbage on streets. When my parents managed to buy their own flat, which was located further from the center – they were so happy to move out of the communal flat! It was a 3 room flat and they had furniture just for one room. So, my mom was moving furniture back and forth until they got enough furniture to fill that apartment. I find these stories super interesting as they are the stories of the life I never experienced myself!
My grand-aunt lived in a communal flat, also steps from Kremlin and I have been to this flat many times. There were 3 bedrooms, a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom. People, who lived in that apartment knew each other for decades and they had good relationship balance, so it was quite peaceful. But the landline phone was in the lobby, so overheard conversations were always commented upon. For example I remember that her neighbors had a teenage boy and some girl regularly called him and my grand-aunt disapproved of that (“a girl should never call a boy!”)
There were several ways:
The most straightforward was to wait when the State will give you a new apartment. In Soviet time, the minimum norm was 9 square meters per person. If a family of several people were living in one room in a communal flat – they were eligible for improving their living conditions. Getting a separate flat involved red tape and a long wait lists, but eventually a lot of people got new apartments free of charge. If you did not want to wait – you could do the following:
I wonder which other countries had a practice of communal housing. I assume that should be countries of former Eastern European block, but maybe this practice existed (or still exists) elsewhere? Please share your experiences with me! And if you happen to have photos of communal flats – I and the readers of my blog would be thrilled to see them!
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