Hello, Lenin: A Living Tour of Soviet Memory in Moscow
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With comfortable shoes, visitors can spend the day in the Soviet Union without going beyond the capital city.
Soviet-era nostalgia can sometimes be misunderstood. For many Russians, and even for returning foreigners, it can simply involve that remembrance of things past: the smells, the tastes and appearances of their childhood, as has been poignantly demonstrated in films like "Goodbye, Lenin."
For others, a trip through the recent past is more about bearing witness to historical events.
Either way, it's easy to plunge into the past by simply spending a day in Moscow. Here one can walk through a park of monuments torn from their pedestals, or linger over Proustian reveries of porridge, stewed fruit and the exploits of Young Pioneers. Visitors can also get a sense of the fallout of failed utopia.
In the morning, the fog over the Moscow River is so thick that the spires over the Stalinist-era "wedding cake skyscrapers" are barely visible, and it is even harder to make out the imposing figures of the Sculpture Garden at Krymsky Val, next to the New Tretyakov Gallery of modern and contemporary art.
As the mist clears, viewers stroll through a garden where they can find six different versions of Lenin, a grim Stalin with a chipped nose and a suspiciously athletic Sverdlov, monuments that once stood in the city's central squares. An old-style cafe resembling a dacha, or summer cottage, serves up Okroshka, a summer soup, and tea.
The park began as a graveyard for these and other monuments. After the failed coup of August 1991, the Moscow government hauled the suddenly inconvenient sculptures to the area. Eventually, some were restored and the refuge for Soviet monuments evolved into a popular tourist site (known as Fallen Monument Park).
Today the museum features about 700 sculptures in bronze, wood and other materials. The most famous statue is "Iron Felix," a monument to the revolutionary and architect of Soviet terror, Felix Dzerzhinsky, that used to stand in a square of that name just opposite the KGB building.
Now Dzerzhinsky Square has reacquired its original name, Lubyankaya Square, and the KGB building houses the Chekist Hall of the Soviet KGB, which opened to the public as the FSB Museum in 1989. The museum is a favorite destination for American tourists and officials. It has lots of surprises in store for any visitor, as it tells the hidden history of the country starting from the first Russian counter-intelligence in fighting Tatar Mongol invaders up to recently declassified documents concerning the capture of agents and joint work with foreign intelligence services.
Moscow's historical center has many more Soviet establishments, from a recent crop of "pseudo-Soviet" cafes to authentic restaurants that serve pelmeni (dumplings) and shots of ryumochnaya (vodka). For those without the robustness to start the day with some ryumochnaya, one alternative is to start it off with semolina porridge, the staple breakfast for all children in the U.S.S.R. The cafe with the European name "Children of Paradise" has a Soviet menu: ten types of stewed fruit, homemade soups and semolina porridge without lumps.
The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines is an eccentric must-see organized by three enthusiasts who scour the country for broken-down gaming machines. Thanks to them, the museum's three modest rooms house a veritable time machine that takes Russians back to their childhoods as Young Pioneers, with Black Sea summer camps and soda pop vending machines. One such throwback stands at the entrance to the museum: visitors have to change thirty rubles (one dollar) for three Soviet-era kopecks to use the vintage machines and enjoy a glass of the fizzy, syrupy stuff. The owners already have an impressive collection of Soviet memorabilia to which the curators keep adding new items, and the number of rooms is growing. Isolated from all Western arcades and gaming, these machines had their own look--think Sputnik meets "The Jetsons."
In Soviet times all arcades were assembled at munitions factories. As many as 22 of them across the Soviet Union were busy working to delight Young Pioneers. The first machines were incredibly expensive, costing from 2,500 to 4,000 rubles, which was then almost the price of a Zhiguli car.
"Down with kitchen slavery," reads the caption beneath a poster showing a rebellious housewife that hangs at the entrance to the Soviet times cheburechnaya (a place that sells meat pastries). And sure enough, the cooks and waiters are all male. Moscow's best pastries stuffed with cheese can be found at 50 Pokrovka Street. That cafe also has appealing prices, good Zhiguli beer and a range of Soviet sodas in every color of the rainbow, from the green Tarkhun (Tarragon) to the dark-purple Baikal. There are old-fashioned valve radios playing Soviet songs and the walls are covered with Soviet-era posters. And smoking is allowed everywhere.
The building of the former Automotive Transport Ministry now houses GlavPivTorg, a restaurant that replicates Soviet-era government dining rooms, if one can imagine having that fantasy. The interiors have solid baize-covered ministerial desks, a red carpet and a library housing the collected works of authors ranging from Engels to Lenin.
Moscow has another phantom from the Soviet era, the tram-restaurant Annushka, named for the protagonist of Mikhail Bulgakov's famous novel, "The Master and Margarita," which was banned under Stalin. The restaurant shuttles through Moscow's historical center, offering a choice of three different routes.
Read more at Moscow travel site: en.travel2moscow.com
Remembering the Cold War
Even if you shout when you visit Bunker 42 (and you are not supposed to), no one will hear you buried 213 feet underground. It is located in the heart of the capital, which for nearly 30 years was obsessed with the possibility of a nuclear attack. The bunker was manned by 600 officers at all times.
In the 1960s, Bunker-42 was fully equipped with everything necessary to survive a nuclear attack, but today it is a museum. If you survive 18 flights of stairs, you can walk through secret tunnels, see Red Army communications equipment, and the situation room for the country's top leadership. Of course it would not be Moscow if it did not have a club, and it does.
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