Sunday, July 14, 2013

Moscow Then and Now Continued

 The last 40 years or so have been a period of rapid change, and nowhere more than in Moscow.
In 1970 when I first visited the Russian capital, there were huge lines of people waiting to enter Lenin's Tomb to catch a glimpse of the preserved leader. As foreigners, we were ushered to the head of the line. Today there is a very short line, if any, to view the body of the brilliant Bolshevik comrade.

In 1970 I attended a New Year's Eve party at the Russia Hotel, an enormous monolith facing Red Square. At one time it was the largest hotel in the world. At our party, we started toasting at, if I remember right, 4.p.m. Moscow time when it was midnight in the Soviet Far East. In 2007 the site of the hotel was invisible behind boards that hid a monstrous hole where the hotel had been. I'm not sure whether the site has been filled in by now.

In 1970 GUM, the beautiful arcaded shopping centre on Red Square, had little worth buying. In 2007, there was a lot to buy but little I could afford. I settled for a fast food lunch that provided me a view of the shops below, and being serenaded by a visiting pipe band that played "Scotland the Brave," a tune that would not have been heard in the Communist period.

Another huge change has occurred on the south bank of the Moscow River, where a rather gaudy white and gold cathedral, Christ the Saviour, now stands. In 1970 there was a year-round outdoor swimming pool here, and Muscovites were braving the cold and snow to enjoy a heated swim. The original Christ the Saviour had been torn down on the order of Stalin, who hoped to build a large Palace of Soviets on the site. However, when the soil proved to be inadequate for this project, the swimming pool was put in its place.

The bodies of Soviet leaders which used to be buried in the Kremlin Wall have, for the most part, been re-interred on the grounds of Novodevichy Convent. One wonders how leaders like Khruschev and Molotov would have liked the religious surroundings.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the triumph of capitalism over Communism better than the House on the Embankment. This upscale apartment building used to house Stalin's top henchmen, at least until they were hauled off to trial or the gulag. Today it is still a highly desirable address, and is surmounted by an enormous silver-coloured Mercedes-Benz symbol.


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