- By Justin Varilek
- Nov. 27 2011 00:00
Main Industries: metallurgy, oil pipes, machine-part manufacturing, electricity, airplanes
Mayor: Vladimir Gorodetsky
Founded in: 1893
Interesting fact: Novosibirsk is home to the Institute for Cytology and Genetics, which has spent the past 50 years breeding a unique population of domesticated foxes that behave very similar to dogs in order to observe the effects of evolutionary selection.
Mayor Vladimir Gorodetsky (+7 383-227-40-10;
Olga Nezavayeva, president of the Novosibirsk Small and Medium-Sized Business Association Opora (+7 383-218-84-81;
Pavel Mityakin, director for the Novosibirsk Innovation-Investment Corporation (+7 383-227-43-84;
Sister cities: Varna, Bulgaria; Mianyang, China; Sapporo, Japan; Osh, Kyrgyzstan; Daejeon, South Korea; Kharkiv, Ukraine; Minneapolis and St. Paul, United States;
Strangers are apt to approach you and strike up a conversation, a grandfatherly voice wishes you well on the metro intercom “vsego vam dobrogo,” and the ruddiness of people’s cheeks is due primarily to the cold.
Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia and the country's third-largest city, offers a welcome contrast of warmth and immediate friendliness — possibly explained by its situation as a waypoint for travelers moving between east and west.
The first bridge across the north-flowing Ob acted as the lifeblood of the city and helped form its character as a layover for travelers. In 1905, Novosibirsk's position as a trade center was strengthened by the opening of a train station along the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
"In its day, the station was the largest in the Soviet Union — prior to World War II," said Olga Molchanova, director of economics, strategy and investment policy for the city.
Striving to ease modern traffic problems and further develop the city, municipal authorities are getting ready to build a third vehicular bridge across the Ob. During a visit to Novosibirsk on Nov. 8, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that the federal government would co-finance the project, which is expected to cost 14.8 billion rubles ($477 million).
NAPO Chkalova (15 Ulitsa Polzunova; +7 383 278-85-01;
Liotech (Selo Tolmachevo, Dom 16/1; +7 383 354-54-99;
Alawar Entertainment (41 Russkaya Ulitsa; +7 383-363-71-47;
World War II also played a major role in shaping the city's character. As the western portion of Russia was being overrun, factories were evacuated to the left bank of the Ob River. About 50 enterprises, including the Sestroretsky Instrument Factory from Leningrad, restarted their operations there in just a few short years. These plants made almost 27 percent of all the ammunitions used by Soviet forces and just under 16,000 planes.
The fall of the Soviet Union and ensuing economic crises meant an end to much of the city's heavy industry, already hampered by its remote location and severe weather. "Winter is seven months long. We need thick walls, heating and more lighting. And that all adds to expenses," Molchanova said. The city's isolation is one of the main reasons why officials are supporting the production of high-tech goods, which are more easily transported than heavy machinery, she said.
Q: What Novosibirsk industries are attractive to investors?
A: I think that there are multifaceted segments in the city that should interest foreign investors. We have proposals [to investors] in Moscow in spheres that are lagging [here].
For example, we were looking at water parks. There was a proposal and we showed our readiness to Russian and foreign investors, and they were ready to sign a deal, but then the last crisis came.
I think the hotel sector is generally covered, but there are some niches left. Construction of multifunctional sports complexes is more promising. We suggest foreign investors go in that direction.
Q: What are you doing to encourage investment?
A: We understand the current scale for development of industry for foreign investors in Novosibirsk, along with Russian businesses. We are currently supporting the completion of construction of the lithium battery plant of Rusnano and its Chinese partner.
We analyze and understand the interests of many countries in order to propose well thought-out incentives. The battle for investments is real between cities and territories and this is normal; therefore, about a year and a half ago, we created a special organization under Deputy Mayor Vladimir Znatkov to deal with investments and study the conditions to increase incentives for investors to enter our territory. I think that there is interest today and we are developing proposals for further investment. We are moving in that direction.
— Justin Varilek
Along with industry, culture spread to this isolated region during the war — including a taste for fine arts that accompanied the 120,000 Leningrad natives who moved to Novosibirsk due to the blockade. Many of them decided not to return to their ravaged hometown, and instead stayed and helped to form a cultural and intellectual oasis in the frozen wilderness.
In 1945, the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater debuted. Federally funded, the massive cupola-shaped building in the city's central square is larger than Moscow's Bolshoi Theater. Nine other theaters, 88 libraries and numerous movie theaters are spread throughout the city. The Pobeda Theater hosts 12 international film festivals every year.
The artistic passions of the city are now stoked by the staff and students of the 25 institutes of higher learning located throughout the city, and the famous Akademgorodok — a satellite suburb now home to about 127,000 people that was founded in 1957 as a center of research and engineering, thanks to the initiative of the famous academician Mikhail Lavrentyev and the Academy of Sciences.
Thanks to the strength of its intellectual reputation and current academic spirit, the federal government has started a technopark at Akademgorodok. Ilya Ponomaryov, a State Duma representative for Novosibirsk and head of the regional branch of A Just Russia, told The Moscow Times that the government hopes to recreate Boston in the steppe — where entrepreneurial initiatives are able to capitalize on the high-level of education around them. The government has allocated 21.7 billion rubles for the project. The nanotechnology and biotechnology facilities are complete and three towers for information technology are under construction.
Even political promotion is done with hospitality and warmth.
"When you smile, almost 90 percent of the time, people smile back," said Etibar, a student at the Siberian Academy for Civil Service, while handing out flyers for A Just Russia. "And the girls, they smile and their eyes beam."
What to see if you have two hours
Any local would advise going to the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater (36 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-22-715-37;
What to see if you have two days
Q: How Novosibirsk helped your business grow?
A: The fact that Novosibirsk is Novosibirsk is the thing that really made it an advantage. And the fact that I was American, from the San Francisco Bay area, and had a full understanding of the coffeehouse concept, I was able to dominate the market, and I still do. It is one of those things — you put a coffeehouse in the middle of the Arctic and you’re the first one, and it’s like wow, I’m the first guy.
The good news is that there are people here. Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in the country, and it is a huge country. It’s got Akademgorodok. The people here are very smart. It’s the provinces, but it’s not provincial. And the people here, all the ones who were interested in our product, they were the ones who had one foot in Moscow or one foot in Europe already. They are forward-thinking, since there are 25 or 30 institutions of higher learning or universities here. There are all of these colleges and universities and people say, “Oh, there’s a coffeehouse, cool.”
Q: What advice would you have for other outside investors looking to enter Novosibirsk?
A: I think that in general, Russia, just like it is in America and in Europe, is a developed country. And I hate this BRICS notion and all this kind of stuff. It is very difficult to associate Russia with some place like China or India because the percentage of people who are literate and the number of people who are well educated is huge in this country. So anybody who wants to get involved in Russia, I say find something that is going to tap Russians’ brains, not the brawn. Tap discovery, innovation, so programming and this kind of stuff. Factories are mostly moving down south. I would pray that one day we’ll see eBay and Apple and IBM and all these Silicon Valley guys. I think that it is a match, an obvious match.
— Justin Varilek
Novosibirsk is great for the whole family. Assuming you’ve already seen a show at the opera, there is no better activity that simply enjoying the pure ecological setting that you are in. Unfortunately Novosibirsk’s architecture is nothing to boast about — most of its development took place in the Soviet period — but if you are there in the summer, go for a walk around Akademgorodok and stop in to see current projects. Whether it happens to be the nuclear collider (Institute of Nuclear Physics, 11 Prospekt Akademika Lavrentyeva; +7 383 329-47-60;
Despite Novosibirsk’s young age, the Regional Studies Museum (23 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-227-15-43,
If you are looking to party, Rock City (37 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-22-70-108,
Where to eat
One location the locals are very fond of is Ekspeditsia (12/1 Zheleznodorozhnaya Ulitsa; +7 383-363-01-01,
Q: What sets your zoo apart from others?
A: The liger. She is an interesting object and in general presents value to science. Will the liger produce offspring and continue or not? These are some questions that need to be answered and the very fact that such a liger exists is interesting. I believe another liger lived in India about two or four years before it died there. Ours is three years old already.
Q: Will she be able to give birth?
A: We [briefly] placed a young lion with her this year. What does the future hold? Probably something will happen. If she becomes pregnant, this would also be interesting. We’ll see … I don’t like to make predictions early. When something is, it will be, as they say.
Q: Where would you recommend a visitor to eat?
A: Restaurant Beryozovka. The best in Siberia. They feed you there. There’s hunter’s trophies, you can get a first course, second course, third. Eat up and drink good beer.
Q: What should happen to improve the tourism industry?
A: First of all, tourist agencies should do their job. It depends on them more than anything. Then the image of Novosibirsk needs to increase; thirdly, infrastructure should be [improved]. We don’t have a single five-star hotel, or if I remember not a single four-star one. Hotels and all services should run well. And that is what we need to develop.
Q: How is investment in the zoo going?
A: We have signed a 500 million ruble ($16 million) deal to build a dolphinarium. There will be dolphin shows. And it should be finished by the end of next year. There will also be pavilions for giraffes, small apes and penguins. The pavilion for small apes and penguins should be built next year. It’s not that big of a project, about 100 million rubles.
Q: What part of the city is your favorite?
A: The zoo.
— Justin Varilek
If you are looking for a fancier option, La Maison (25 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 383-209-00-10) presents a delightful assortment of French cuisine prepared by Francois Fournier, who worked as a chef in five-star hotels in Switzerland before moving to Russia. Fournier has been known to prepare an entire evening event where each meal is completed with a specific wine from different regions of France. Meals, depending on your choice of wine, can range from 900 rubles to 3,600 rubles.
Any traveler passing through must also try the local pelmeni — the universal Russian delicacy allegedly born in Siberia. Beerman & Pelmeni (7 Kamenskaya Ulitsa; +7 383-362-12-62) offers 18 different types of pelmeni from salmon to reindeer. Nestled on the ground floor of the Doubletree Hilton, many foreign businesspeople will mix with local families to frequent this establishment. An average meals cost 750 rubles including a tea or beer.
Where to stay
Congress-Hotel (1 Vokzalnaya Magistral; +7 383-220-11-20;
Azimut Hotel (21 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 383-223-12-15;
As per the international norm, the weather is always a good topic. Locals say, "A Siberian is not a person who is afraid of the cold, but one who dresses warmly." Temperatures dipped to minus 51.1 degrees Celsius in the winter of 1915. However, thanks to global warming, the average range, depending on the season, is between minus 15 and plus 19 degrees Celsius.
How to get there
Seven airlines provide flights between Moscow and Tolmachyovo International Airport (+7 383-216-98-41
If time is not an issue, a second option is to participate in a two-day segment of the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Yaroslavsky Station and view the countryside as you pass through the Urals. A one-way ticket will set you back 5,400 rubles to 10,000 rubles, depending on your desired level of comfort.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the age of the liger Zita at the Novosibirsk zoo. Zita was 7 years old at the time this article was published, not 3.