Essays > Coping with Communal Life > Firewood in the courtyard
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How firewood for heating was stored in building courtyards.
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Although some buildings had steam heat even before the revolution, heating with woodstoves was widespread in Leningrad well into the 1950s. To keep a stove going through the winter required roughly four to six cubic meters of firewood (about five face cords). See the photos of a basic stove and an elaborate stove, left by former residents; see also this additional photo, where we see the stove from the clip "At Auntie Asya's"; this stove has not been used to heat the room in many years. People purchased unsplit firewood at special depots; once procured, the wood was stacked in the courtyard. Woodsheds were rare and only found at buildings with large, open courtyards, because constructing sheds against the sides of buildings was not permitted. Every family's wood was their own. A few lucky families were able to keep their wood in cellars or in store-rooms under the stairs, rather than in the open courtyard. It was, of course, possible to steal wood from other people's stacks in the courtyards, but neighbors watched out for each other. The wood in piles was often left unsplit, in part because it was much harder to abscond with whole logs than with already sawed and split pieces.

On weekends, family members usually spent time in the courtyard chopping and carrying in wood for the coming week. Those who couldn't saw and split wood for themselves might hire the janitor to do it and bring their wood into the apartment. The stacks of wood in the courtyards provided great labyrinths and hiding-places for kids and hangouts for teenagers; Lena tells a story about war games in the clip "How Many Tenants?" (Tour 5). By the summer, the stacks of wood disappeared, and the courtyards became more open spaces.

Click the image to see a larger version, uncropped and annotated.