Brest (Belarus)

Brest is a border town in the south-west corner of Belarus, near Terespol in Poland.

Understand

Fortress of Brest

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 Lithuany 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 tin 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 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. 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).

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.

Get in

Train, car, bus connections are with the local town on the Polish side, Terespol.

By plane

Brest Airport (IATA: BQT) has seasonal connection to Kaliningrad serviced by Belavia. A better option is to fly to Minsk or Warsaw and then take a connecting train.

By train

Brest train station

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 runs 3-4 times 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 commuter train across the border which runs twice a day. Most other trains connecting Europe and Russia also calls at Brest.

Connections with other cities in Belarus by BŽD are plenty, to Minsk there are up to twenty per day costing roughly 30,000 BYR. Schedule with interactive map available at .

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.

By car

See Belarus. 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 $5USD or so.

Get around

Transport within Brest city is very regular, with many different bus route through the city, and also regular trolley-buses through the city. Taxis are also easy to order and "marshrutkas" also operate throughout the city. The main attractions are all within walking distance.

See

Model of the main synagogue
The former Main Synagogue in 2013: Cinema "Belarus'"

Museums

The exhibition on Jewish history

Monuments

Do

Never seen so many street-lights per meter? Ulitsa Sovetskaya on a Saturday

Learn

Brest is home to two Universities:

Buy

There are many shops and boutiques on Sovetskaya street, which sell all kinds of products from fishing gear to real designer wear. Smaller shops are dotted around the town centre and there is a big "TSUM"- Central Department Store on Moskovskaya street. A big supermarket (Miks) with a wide range of food is on ul. 28 Iyulia, 8th trolleybus. Fresh food can be obtained on the "Kolkhos market" in the city centre (ul. Pushkinskaya/ul. Kujbysheva): Inside the closed market meat (a bloody lot!), cheese, bread and stuff, outside (half-open) fruits and vegetables. In front of the markets elder women and other people sell what they grow on their datchas or collect in the forests.

The half open part of the Kolkhos market

Eat

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

Drink

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

Sleep

Building at Lienina Street 9

Budget

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

Mid-range

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

Another brilliant option is 5 Rings or 5 Kolets - a 2007-built hotel located 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.

Connect

There are 3 major GSM providers in Belarus (including Brest):

All of them offer no-contract GSM sim-cards and USB modems for Internet access. Each of these companies has numerous stores in Brest city center. You will need your passport to purchase a SIM card.

Stay safe

Belarus has a low rate of crime, and the atmosphere is mostly very friendly even on big celebrations (when everyone is drunk).

Try not to wander off too far at night.

Cope

Buses do not run after 11:30PM so you will need a taxi.

Consulates

Go next

Grodno is the Belarusian Lviv, an old and beautiful town north from Brest. By bus it's some four hours and 10 Euro.

Bronnaya Gora is a village about 100 km north-west from Brest. The "elektrichka" to Minsk stops there. Near the village during WWII Germans murdered some 50.000 Jews, amongst them most Brest Jews (October 1941).

Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park (Belavezhskaya Pushcha) is an ancient woodland straddling the border between Belarus and Poland, located 70 km (43 mi) north from Brest. It is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest which once spread across the European Plain. It is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. There are buses going there from Brest.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, October 20, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.