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Museo León Trotsky
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Avenida Río Churubusco 410, México, Mexico 41000
+52 5 6588732
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Whatever Happened to Leon Trotsky?
January 27, 2010
Best of IgoUgo
"Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky? He got an ice-pick ... that made his ears burn ..." I'm probably not alone in the greater part of my knowledge of Leon Trotsky's final days coming from The Stranglers' song. They're right, though. Having somehow ...
"Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky? He got an ice-pick ... that made his ears burn ..."
I'm probably not alone in the greater part of my knowledge of Leon Trotsky's final days coming from The Stranglers' song. They're right, though. Having somehow survived an earlier attempt on his life, the Russian revolutionary was murdered at his home near Mexico City with an ice-pick to the skull. Seventy-odd years later, the house is preserved much as it was then as Museo Casa de Trotsky (Trotsky's House Museum) in the southern suburb of Coyoacan.
Expelled from the Communist Party and exiled from Russia due to differences with Stalin (this is, of course, the slightly abridged version of the story), Trotsky arrived in Mexico in 1937 to be met by the President Lazaro Cardenas and Frida Kahlo, amongst others. Trotsky and his wife were put up by Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, whose stunning murals can be seen across Mexico City.
A relatively well-to-do area with a faintly Bohemian atmosphere, Coyoacan is firmly on the tourist-trail thanks to its two world-famous residences. This being one, the other is the sometime-home of artists Kahlo and Rivera, la Casa Azul (the Blue House), just around the corner on Calle Londres.
Both houses are easily reached by Mexico City's excellent, cheap Metro system and a short walk. Trotsky's house is roughly equidistant from three stations (Coyoacan, Viveros and General Anaya), although Viveros is probably the best bet, entailing a more pleasant walk, across a park, than the nerve-shredding highway crossings the others demand. Whichever way you come, you'll need to head towards the main road, Avenida Rio Churubusco, from which the museum is set back on Calle Viena.
Today's Trotsky House is a fusion of the well-preserved quarters of the exiled Russian and a modern annex; entry is via the latter, and costs 35 Pesos (£1.75), plus a small charge to use a camera. Allow an hour or so to see everything here at a relaxed place.
In truth, the modern section of the museum is of limited interest. There's plenty of information here, but the presentation - long blocks of printed texts and panels of smallish labelled photos - is monotonous. It does provide a useful background to the house itself, and some of the photos are interesting, but it's not terribly imaginatively displayed, and the promising space is barely used.
To the left of the main hall, a ramp leads down towards the house itself, opening out into a garden, with Trotsky's quarters in the right-hand corner as you approach from the annex, the servants' to the left. Arrows suggest a path around the museum, but I found it more interesting to go backwards, taking in the servants' house first, if only for the striking display of Lenin's initial allies - several dozen faces showing the fates of the men as of Trotsky's time in the house. Various captions (dead, murdered, dead, missing, murdered, missing, murdered) sit beneath every headshot but two; Leon Trotsky (exiled) and Joseph Stalin (alive) - a chilling reminder of the ruthless way in which Stalin went about removing those who might stand in his way.
The main house is a surprisingly bare, bleak place with minimal luxuries. Dark and gloomy due to the boarded-up windows (in the name of security), it shows how simply Trotsky lived out his last years. Each room is open to visitors, although most are partially roped-off - remnants including his books, desk, beds and the secretaries' typewriters displayed beyond. A small amount of information is provided in each room, all the more interesting for telling you more about the use of each area and the events that happened there, rather than simply describing what you can see.
The most famous, and most absorbing of the rooms is the bedroom in which the first attempt on Trotsky's life was made. He and his wife were able to survive a storm of bullets by hiding beneath the beds, and the gaping holes and scarred, pockmarked walls illustrate how unlikely the pair's survival was.
Such luck was not to last, however. In 1940, aged 60, Trotsky was attacked in his study by a Soviet agent, Ramon Mercader. Struck in the back of the head with his assailant's concealed ice-pick (I was curious as to why this was the weapon of choice, rather than a knife or gun, but this wasn't explained), Trotsky was not killed immediately, but was rushed to hospital, where he held on for another day before dying. A selection of slightly grisly photos in the annex show him in his hospital bed, and give an impression of the wound.
Outside the house, Trotsky's grave stands in the middle of the garden, his ashes buried beneath. One or two other exhibits surround the space, including the chicken sheds the house's owner apparently derived much pleasure from.
All in all, Trotsky's House is a fascinating, well-preserved residence that could have been made more of as a museum. However, there's no shortage of information, and the house itself, as the main draw, is well worth visiting.
A trip here isn't a terribly uplifting experience; it's a shame to see such an architecturally pleasant house bricked up at the windows and gates, turned into a semi-prison, and one feels for the trepidation its residents must have lived in. Happily, Casa Azul, a few minutes' walk away, is a vibrant, cheerful place - which one you visit first is, I suppose, a question of whether you prefer your jolliness as a starter or a pudding.