The Vitamin Pharmacy

Olga Vasilieva, The Vitamin Pharmacy: Temporary Structures, 2021. Ink on paper, 52 х 32 cm. Courtesy of the Facebook public groups Petersburg in the Year Twenty-One: Line Art and St. Petersburger Ansichten in allen Variationen der Kunst
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The E.E. Brömme Mansion is a historic mansion in St. Petersburg. It is located in the Vasilyevsky Island District, at 41 12th Line, Building 1-Zh. An official regional cultural landmark, it is one of the few surviving wooden mansions in the city’s historic center. It is also known as one of the “Siege addresses”: the so-called Vitamin Pharmacy operated in the mansion during the Siege of Leningrad.

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In 1893, the lot was purchased by the brothers Eduard, Robert and Wilhelm Brömme. They were the sons of the German architect Eduard Georg Christian Brömme, who had settled in St. Petersburg in the early nineteenth century. The Brömme brothers were related to the famous Poehle family of Petersburg pharmacists Pele: their father was married to Wilhelm Poehle’s sister Wilhelmina Maria, and one of the brothers, Eduard, to his daughter Emilia.

In the mid-1890s, the trading company Brömme Brothers founded a factory for the production of essential oils and chemicals. In 1897-1898, additional factory buildings, designed by the architect A.P. Soskov, were constructed in brick on the lot where the mansion was located. The Brömme factory produced essential oils for perfumes and pharmaceuticals, fruit essences used in the manufacture of soda pop and confectionery, and aniline dyes.

The wooden one-story mansion with a mezzanine floor, which at that time belonged to Eduard Brömme and also served as the factory’s office building, was redesigned in 1906 by the architect V.S. Karpovich. The building was adorned with carved neoclassical decor, as well as two majolica panels and a majolica figured medallion featuring floral motifs, in a wooden frame containing the figures of griffins. All three ornaments were made at the Geldwein-Vaulin ceramic workshop by Pyotr Vaulin. The mansion and its fence faced the building setback line on the 12th Line, while the garden surrounding it served as a buffer zone between the house and the factory.

After the Revolution, the factory was nationalized. In the 1920s, it was known as the Fruit Aroma factory. In 1931-1935, the chemical plant of Politkatorzhanin, an industrial firm run by the Leningrad regional branch of the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiled Settlers, operated in the same facilities. The plant produced essences and oils for the food industry. After the society was liquidated, the plant was transferred to the People’s Commissariat of the Food Industry and converted into a vitamin-manufacturing plant (Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1). The wooden mansion was repurposed as cafeteria for workers and a kitchen, and was also used as an administrative building.

“The Vitamin Pharmacy”
At the outset of the Siege, Leningrad’s chemists and doctors said that, in addition to hunger, the inhabitants of the besieged city were threatened by diseases caused by a lack of vitamins in the diet — in particular, by scurvy. A research group was organized that included chemists, biochemists and engineers. Alexei Bezzubov, the director of the chemical engineering department at the Vitamin Industry Research Institute and a consultant for the Leningrad Front board of health, was appointed head of the research group. On October 15, 1941, it released draft regulations for the production of conifer infusions — a remedy for vitamin C deficiency. On November 18, 1941, the Leningrad Executive Committee issued a decree entitled “On measures to prevent vitamin deficiency.” Pine and spruce needles for the production of infusions were harvested on the outskirts of the city by teams of women. Carotene was also obtained from the needles. Later, the production of yeast from wood rich in B vitamins and the processing of saltbush, hogweed, cow parsley, sorrel, nettle, and dandelions were established. Infusions from these plants saved the servicemen defending the city from night blindness caused by a lack of vitamin A. Tobacco dust, found in Leningrad’s tobacco factories, was used to produce nicotinic acid for treating pellagra.

All these drugs were produced at specialized enterprises in the city, including the Mikoyan confectionery factory and Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1. The plant’s administrative building — the Brömme mansion — also functioned as the outlet where city dweller received their vitamin rations and was popularly known as the “vitamin pharmacy.” Vitamin plant employees warmed up and partially lived in the mansion, since it was easier to heat than the factory workshops.

Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1 on the 12th Line continued to operate after the war. From 1977 to 1987, it was one of the production facilities of the Farmakon chemical pharmaceutical company.

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People’s Memorial
Despite the fact that there has never been a memorial plaque on the building, Petersburgers remember the Brömme mansion as the “vitamin pharmacy,” a “Siege address.” There is a tradition of laying flowers outside the building on the commemorative dates of September 8 (the day the Siege of Leningrad began) and January 27 (the day the Siege was lifted). In 2021, residents of Vasilyevsky Island who are members of the Facebook group From the Spit to the Harbor organized a commemorative action that lasted from January 18 (the day the Siege was broken) to January 27.

“On January 18, we will bring photos of our relatives who went through the Siege on Vasilyevsky. We are not planning any big meetings or gatherings, but we hope that between the two Siege anniversaries, everyone who wants to join the action will bring photos of their relatives: those who stayed on the Island during the Siege; those who left the Island to defend Leningrad; and Siege survivors and veterans who themselves had nothing to do with the Island, but whose descendants now live on Vasilievsky Island. You can bring your photos on any day of the action and at any time. On January 27, we will collect all the photos (the memorial is intended as a temporary one) and keep them until next January.”

Consequently, flowers and wreaths were laid outside the Brömme mansion, and photographs of Leningraders who survived the Siege were posted on the mansion’s fence. A homemade plaque memorializing the Siege chemists and the “vitamin pharmacy” was also mounted on the mansion’s wall.

Source: “E.E. Brömme Mansion,” ru.wikipedia.org. Translated by the Russian Reader