Walking the streets of St. Petersburg



Walking the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia in September 2004, for the first time in my life, what a thrill!

My father always spoke about Russia in a lyrical way and he said that the communist regime at that time wasn’t at all, what Russia was all about. I couldn’t believe my ears then, but he was right.
I didn’t have a clue, why he had this tender feeling for Russia. He never had the chance to go there, because of the iron curtain; otherwise I would have taken him there to show him this wonderful place.
I’m sure he would have been proud of me, that I play in Russia nowadays.
Thinking about my dad brings tears to my eyes and the way he spoke lovingly about Russia and it’s people.
This article is to his memoriam.

Statue of Peter the Great

At first some remarks about the people of Russia:

A recent DNA-investigation showed us the remarkable outcome that all the nations in Europe descent from 1 ancestor, who migrated to the west thousands of years ago. He came from Kazakhstan and is, as a result of this, responsible for ‘The whole population of Western Europe’, proving that Russia actually belongs to Europe or even wilder, is it the opposite?

When I was a youngster, my dad told me about Czar Peter the Great, who lived in Zaandam, Holland for a while. It was an important centre of shipbuilding in the 17th century. In 1697, Czar Peter the Great of Russia worked incognito as ‘Peter Mikhailov’ at a Zaandam shipyard, studying shipbuilding methods of Dutch craftsmen, whom that avid nautical student considered the world's finest. He stayed at the humble timber home of a local blacksmith, Gerrit Kist. The Czaar Peterhuisje, is the eldest preserved house in the Zaan district. In 1895 Czar Nicholas II had it enclosed inside a brick shelter. It contains souvenirs of Peter's stay, including an exhibition on his life, the small bed into which the Czar of All the Russians squeezed his 2.1-m (7-ft.) frame, and displays recounting the history of the district and of shipbuilding on the river Zaan. Peter visited Zaandam again in 1698 and twice in 1717, each time paying Kist a visit.

Czaar Peterhuisje (Czar Peters home in Zaandam, Holland)

In 1811 (It was on a Tuesday, I think) Napoleon, visited Holland and said about Czar Peter ‘Nothing’s too small for this great man’ or something in that direction, when he saw the tiny house where Peter stayed.
Czar Peter directed Russia towards western culture, based on what he saw in Holland and build the city of St Petersburg on a piece of swamp wasteland in the middle of nowhere, using Amsterdam as a blueprint for the City’s architectural outlook.
St. Pete is amazing.

First trip to Russia in September 2004:

St. Petersburg

‘Peters court’

After numerous interviews, 2 gigs in special clubs and a TV-special at St.Petersburg I’ve been interviewed on Radio Roks 102 FM Interviewers were Dj Ms. Alexandra Romashova & Roks’ program director Mr. Alexey Rybyn. People were invited to call to the studio and ask me questions, which I tried to answer the best I could. I got some amazing answers from people as well , so read on and be amazed as I was.


Trip to the Ukraine:

The same year in 2004 a strange and wonderful thing happened.
I received an invitation for a solo concert in Odessa, Ukraine on the 16th of December at the venue ‘State Philharmonic Hall’, just a week before my birthday on December 24th.
First stop was Kiev and the next was Odessa.

The plane to Odessa was an Antonov-model and from where I was standing, I could almost shake hands with the pilot through the door of the cockpit, but the thing took off and away we went. Clouds of cigarette smoke coming from under the door to the cockpit and the guys (pilots) were dressed up for a ride to the North Pole.
Later I understood, that there was no heating at all in the cockpit but us, Marianne & moi, got there safely. The great thing about Russia and Russians is, that nothing is perfect but everything functions ….one way or another.
Odessa the 16th…………. interviews ….interviews ….interviews and I tried to read a couple of them and I can hardly believe I said this or that, incredible, but funny.


Sound check Philharmonic Hall, Odessa

After the concert I was invited to see Akkerman City! Which turned out to be a whole area on the north of the Black Sea across the water to the southeast lays….. Turkey.
They explained to me that the name Akkerman means ‘White Fortress’ in the Turkmenish language.
So I was ‘slightly’ flabbergasted and remembered the phone calls in St Pete from people, claiming that I was related to them, very distant, but never the less a family member. Later my aunt told me a story that there was a trading route from the north of Friesland (where my ancestry and the name Akkerman in the Netherlands come from) and the south of Russia (Ukraine) from the 3rd till the late 17th century.

All in all that made me feel tremendously proud, because I had found the meaning of the name Akkerman and were it came from. Most people in Holland think, Akkerman means ‘man from the land’ or farmer, if you like, but the word means something totally different…. ‘White Fortress!’

So my dad must have had a hint or something, but I’m not sure he knew about this!

Akkerman Fortress

A little historical background couldn’t hurt:

The site is a complex of buildings and fortifications that remained from the ancient Greek city of Tyras (6th c BC-4th c AD), early medieval town of Belgorod (6th-10th cc) and Akkerman Fortress (12th-19th cc) located on the Dniester Estuary in the present-day city of Belgorod-Dnestrovsky (Odessa region, Ukraine).

Tyras, founded by Greek colonists from Miletus and mentioned by Strabo, Ptolemy and Plinius, has preserved the remains of houses, stone paved streets, water tunnels, headquarters of a Roman garrison (building of vexillatio) and fortifications built of massive limestone plates, unknown anywhere else in the ancient Greek world. The fortress is the only example of medieval military that survived in south-western Ukraine. Originally it had 3 gates, 20 towers, a defensive wall, a defence entrenchment and the earliest in Ukraine remains of Turkish architecture, such as baths and a minaret. In contrast to it, however, Greek and Roman structures from Tyras were neither dismantled, nor rebuilt during the Middle Ages and have preserved their authentic appearance and layout. Furthermore, while other similar sites in Ukraine have only foundations of Hellenic fortifications, Tyras offers a unique opportunity to observe the original defensive walls and towers up to 5 m in height and the complex of Alexander's Military Headquarters.

Overlooking Tyras at the Black Sea & Lake Akkerman

Entrance to the fortress

With Nicolay the promoter in Fort Akkerman

Owner of the Fortress

The Black Sea on the other side of the bridge looks familiar to the place in Friesland near the lake, where I lived in the 70’s.

End of this story.


We did a 2nd trip to Russia on the 15th till the 21st of July 2005:

For a warming up we started in Archangelsk, birthplace of our promoter Sergey Kremensky.

A press conference was inevitable, so here we go: Alex, Veronica and me.

Questions, Answers, Answers …….Questions, etc.

A couple of radio interviews with great ladies and good fun too

The concert was planned in Club Koleso ‘The Wheel’, which was just finished the same day. The fantastic thing about it was that the construction workers said to the owners, they would work on to get the club opened just in time for the Jan Akkerman concert. Otherwise it would have taken another week to finish the construction of the club.

Alex gave me the honour to open the Club for him and we played our socks off for the people there.

Official opening of Club Koleso in Archangelsk

From left to right: Jeroen (bass) Marijn (drums) Moi (gtar) Coen (keys)

We took great pride and joy to perform for this audience.

Neil our sound engineer in full action, trying to make a good impression as well.

What we didn’t expect was, that in summer there’s daylight all through the night, because it’s so close to the North Pole, so here we are walking back to the hotel at 4 in the morning in broad daylight and later sipping a beer on the balcony. I mean, what more can a man wish for?

Well, of course I know 1 or 2 things from the R&R vault, but that’s another story in another editorial and not written by me…………..I suffered enough as a child.


The next day we went off to St. Pete to do the Peter & Paul Jazz Festival there:

Sergey’s genius is bringing people together in such a way, that in 2006 the North Sea Jazz festival will also be held in St Petersburg on the same spot where we did this concert.

Which is an old fortress (again) right in the heart of St Pete on the waterfront. Enjoy!


On stage

The Jan Akkerman Band

Marijn van den Berg

Coen Molenaar

Jeroen Vierdag

Jan himself

Later that night we went down to a place called ‘Streetlife’ on my request because the concert was in the afternoon and I didn’t want to hang around all night without playing, I mean since I was there anyway.


Later in the evening a man approached me at the bar and he started a conversation in Dutch, that I thought he was, but it turned out to be the brother of the owner of the nightclub. He never went to Holland, so he wasn’t able to speak the Dutch lingo in Russia. He might have if he’d been a sailor, because there are still tribes out there in the far north who speak Old Dutch because of the shipbuilding in the 17th century and that’s why there’s still a lot of Dutch words in the present-day Russian maritime language.

But nonetheless he finds Holland and the people there fascinating; he might have a point there. To me, the flabbergasting thing was, that he did this purely out of a hobby, he just picked up the language as a youngster and later on, on another after-after-party his wife joined the conversation speaking perfectly Dutch and with the same ease as her husband. Again a little later in the conversation, I asked them where they originally came from out of pure interest, he said: ‘Kazakhstan’!

That closed the door on me and on this little story. I know this impression is far from complete, but there will be more in the future, if I find the time.

T. b. c.

Jan Akkerman

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