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Kunst and Albers

Kunst and Albers


There were lots of unique events and episodes in the histoy of the Russian Far East. n of
them is related to the German 'Kunst and Albets' business firm, which actively operated in the
Far East at the turn of the centuy. The histoy of the firm's estabIishment, business activities and decline is that of adventue, suspense and tragedy.
Vladivostok, 1864. The end of Russia. The population of the whole of the Russian Far East hardly
numbers few thousand people, the majority of whom belong to the military department. All ll
facilities: fotresses, roads, cout houses, residential and administrative buildings belong to the state.
"Dare-devil" entrepreneurs few in number. The two courageous young Germans Gustav Kunst and Gustav Albets rank first among them. They have ventured to stat their own business at the end of the Far East of Russia - the region unknown to anybody, at least in the highly civilized by
those times' standards Europe.

The risk was high, because there few outlets for slling goods. address the ll situation,
the entrepreneurs organized gnrl trade. The ll people were happy to buy vrything they
needed in n store : shoe polish, combs, beads, plates and dishes, textiles, kerosene, soap.
Experts believe, general trade, the first of its kind in the world, started this way, which laid the foundation of future supermarkets.

The partners realized that it made n sense to place their hopes n goods being shipped from
Europe b sailing vessels via of Good . Transsiberian tnsrttin did not seem
possible either. So it was decided to deliver goods via Chinese ports n shipment to last out
whole trading . But the goods were sold long before the next voyage. In order not to go
bankrupt, the young entrepreneurs had to mbine import and export trade.

The mn chartered vessels to ship goods to Vladivostok and exported seaweeds that the
Chinese got n the coast. Transportation activities b the "Kunst and Albets" n kept
growing in s from r to r. The start of regular voyages of the Voluntay Fleet vessels
to Vladivostok in the early 80ies of the XIX century opened new vistas for the merchants.
That allowed them to n new procurement offices in Europe: Odessa, Moscow, St.Petersburg,
Warsaw, Hamburg, Munich, and later in the Asian markets, the first procurement office being in
b, Japan.

Since the mid 70ies, when Vladivostok bm naval base, the city's population grew up to
almost 8,000 and the trade, as well as public life in general, got mre active.
manifold increase in the company's sales was registered during that period. Its branches were
opened n after the other all over the Far East teritoy.

With the establishment of the Amur-side General-Govenorship with capital in Khabarovsk, the
existing human settlements and military posts were strengthened and new ns into bing.
Vey sn small warehouses, stores and businss firms bring "unst nd Alberts" sign sprang
in lots of them - in 1860 - in Posjet, in 1893 - in Nikolaevsk-on-the Amur, in 1894 - in
lksndvsk (in Sakhalin), in 1895 - in Khabarovsk and lgvshnsk..., in 1900 - in Harbin,
in 1913 - in Obluchye.

In 1902 the mn invited G.R. Yunghendel, n experienced architect from Germany, who later
acquired Russian itiznshi, to design and construct buildings, primarily business firm's
building in Vladivostok. Architects unanimously agree that there r buildings designed and
nstrutd b Yunghendel in other cities, as well.

Virtually all the magnificent buildings of the business firm and its branches designed in the
architectural style of German baroque were located in dwntwn areas. They were notable for
their monumental design, refinement, and n attractive fsd. At the same time each ofthem had
its distinguishing feature, its individual architectural design, which contributed not nl to
its being n intgrl part of the general city plan, but also to its differing favorably from
the rest of the buildings.

The buildings, which r currently mr than 100 years old and which have bn granted the
status of architectural monuments with reason, r still in use. There r legends about
some of them, for e.g., the Mall ("GUM" - the min drtmnt store) in Vladivostok, which used
to b the head business firm of the "Kunst and Alberts" mn. Some people believe that was
the first supermarket in the world's history. All building materials needed for its construction,
bricks included, were brought in from Hamburg. The building had n individual self-contained
power station and was lit brightly.

There wonderful stories about the business firm in Khabarovsk (currently, the central
grocer's shop). They tell us about the underground tunnels with rail tracks leading down to the
lower bazaar (where river port to accommodate passenger vessels is presently located), the
enigmatic sculptural group at the pediment, the deep basements-freezers. The lace-like banisters,
the ceramic floor tiles, the stone carved arches, domes, etc, have bn preserved until to the
present time.

The cost of construction was tremendously high, but the mn spent was quickly recovered due to
increased consumer demand for commodities.
Eveything the mn purchased through its procurement offices was shipped to Vladivostok and
fom there it was distributed .around the whole of the Far-East territory. huge number of
warehouses made it possible for the mn to supply its outlets with goods n regular basis.
n defect in the goods could cause price fluctuation resulting in undesirable loss of face b
the mn.

Besides wholesale and retail gnrl trade in Vladivostok, the "Kunst and Alberts" mn
disposed of sales b commission and transportation office, banker, technical bureau,
provided electric lighting installation services, placed orders for all kinds of machines and
apparatus for other firms, installed central heating systems, water supply and sewer systems,
mounted equipment at factories and plants.

The Vladivostok electrical dyes manufacturing plant, the first of its kind in the Russian Far
East, that was set up b the mn, was commended at the agricultural exhibition in the city
of Blagoveschensk in 1907, and itearned silver medal at n exhibition held in Odessa in 1910.
Apart from that, the 'Kunst and Alberts' bm major insurance agent of numb of insurance
companies and lot of steam shipping companies.

The company's frmn level is still beyond reach of the firms that currently exist in mn
respects. Secuing good working conditioris for its employees, whose number reached 1,400 b
1914- the peak r of its development, was n of the fim's distinguishing features.
The partners believed that business success depended n the working conditions and everyday
life of the company's employees. considerable amount of mn was allocated for the purpose.
Single employees were provided with board and lodging. The benefit society established to address
emergency situations, for which certain percentage of the company's net inm was allocated,
was of great help. library, bowling alley, billiard-hall, hospital - ll this ensured adequate recreation. Boys working in the stores could attend evening courses, and in the summer they were sent to gymnastics classes organized b ll sports society.

In 1875, having spent 11 years in Russia, G. Kunst and G. Alberts, who, according to the Russian
tradition, were called b their first and father's names: Gustav Ivanovich and Gustav
Vasilievich, respectively, visited Hamburg again. Five years later the businessmen decided to go
back to their native country.
The company's situation was stable enough. conscientious manager was required. Adolf Dattan,
whom . Alberts invited from Germany, filled the position. In 1886 he joined the firm as n
of its founders, having equal rights with the others.

In 12 years, in 1896 Gustav Kunst went out of business. According to n version, he withdrew
his share and made up his mind to move to the Hawaii to b engaged in philanthropic activities
there. The time and the age made themselves felt. In 1910 Gustav Aberts made his business over
to his son Alfred Alberts. Aftewards, Adolf Dattan and Alfred Alberts managed the mn.
In 1913 proved to b triumphant for the n. At the exhibition devoted to the 300th
anniversary of the Romanov dynasty it built n exceptionally beautiful pavilion consisting of
towers with multiple turrets, pointed protuberances and the main dome reminding of the distant
past and the grandeur of the Moscow towers. The pavilin's interior was just as impressive.
mrr Nikolai 11 rewarded A. Dattan, the company's manager, trade agent and merchant, with the Prussian Order of the Crown of the Sixth Degree for his contribution to the active
development of commercial trade in the Amu-side General-Governorshi.

The fateful 1914 began - the , when World War I started. strict supevision was introduced
over " German companies. They were officially notified that in case theygot engaged in
espionage r n other forms of collaboration with the nm, they would b severely punished.
In this connection Manager A. Dattan was determined not to give n cause for his mn being
suspected of such activities.

But business competition had always bn strong and severe. The company's permanent competitor - the 'Churin and .' firm hired r. A. M.Ossendovsky, young talented natural scientist. His task was to write false papers, which looked like spy reports, to juggle with facts, etc., in order to slander, to put the blame n the rival mn and finally to ruin it. That person even
wrote book entitled "The Peaceful Conquerors".

What really happened is not quite clear now, since not all the facts r available. But the
'Kunst and Alberts' activities were banned and the company's managers were arrested. A. Alberts
was mobilized to b soldier and A. Dattan was exiled to the Narym territory.
After lot of hardships, explanations and investigations, the mn was eventually allowed
to resume its operations. During the Civil War it successfully fulfilled orders placed with it
b the military department, as it had bn notable previously for its high quality sevices.
n coming back from the exile, A. Dattan decided to leave Russia and return to Germany. The
mn and its branches were put in charge of the resident managers.

The municipalization process that took place in 1925 deprived the mn of its property. As
result, it had to rent its own buildings from the municipal authorities.
Five years later it had to stop its activities, because it could n longer br the rent burden.
few decades passed, and in the 50ies the 'Kunst and Alberts' firm was exculpated and the
espionage charge was removed.

The publication in Germany of the book "Kunst and Alberts. Vladivostok" written b the German
journalist L. Dieg n A. Dattan's descendants' and the Alberts' order, prevented the company's
history from sinking into oblivion.

Natalya Bedareva