When I first came to Moscow I was with a friend from Leningrad,
Igor, who had offered to show me Moscow, and I had consented. That was
a big mistake. The most inappropriate person to introduce you to Moscow
is someone from "Peter", as Petersburg has always been called.
We got out of the train and he started to complain about Moscow: "I
hate it. Its a big village. Everybody comes here only for shopping!"
With his remark Igor referred to the fact that in Soviet
times almost the only place where you could eventually get rare articles
not obtainable elsewhere was Moscow. So everybody from another part of
the country who was on a business trip to Moscow, or on a holiday, even
visiting relatives, would get a list of things from friends, relatives
and colleagues at work to look for in the capital. "They robbed
the whole country in order to supply Moscow and Leningrad!", a man
in Irkutsk exclaimed to me in anger, 8 years after the fall of Soviet
Soviet era consumption paradise: The GUM
The most famous shopping mall of Moscow is the GUM (=
State-run Universal Shop) on Red Square.
It was built between 1890 and 1893 by the architect Alexander
Pomerantsev. The building was financed by a joint stock company,
whose majority was constituted by merchants who had had their
stands in the building that stood in this place before and
had proven too small and of bad quality.
Apart from the architectonical splendour of the building it
proved innovative in so far as it was the first place in Russia
where price tags were displayed, thus restricting the possibilities
Until the revolution the name of this building was the "Upper
Trading Rows". After the revolution it was used for administrative
purposes. In the time of the NEP ("New Economic Policy")
it became a shopping mall again and got the name used today. Again
it presented an innovation: The introduction of female shopkeepers,
unknown in Russia up to that day.
After the NEP was called off by Stalin and his government the
building again became an office building. In 1932 Stalins second
wife was layed out there after she committed suicide. Later there
were plans to tear down the building and build a new office building,
but for lack of funds and then because of the war these plans were
given up. After the war there were plans for a victory monument
in the place of the GUM. Finally the original purpose was restored
to the building, it was renewed and opened again as a shopping center
One of the most popular meeting places in Moscow is the
fountain inside the GUM. It was only installed in the course
of the reconstruction preceeding the opening in 1953.
In Soviet times the GUM was the magic place where all
scarce goods could be obtained. At least people believed that.
Someone from Moscow told me he once nearly got squashed inside
the GUM because he made the mistake to go there when there was a
big trade union conference in Moscow. People had come from all over
soviet Union and at the first possible moment everyone rushed to
the GUM to look for scarce commodities, forcing their way in without
The GUM is still called GUM though the abbreviation is
incorrect nowadays: It isnt state-run any more, but
has been privatized like any other valuable asset in Russia.
This spring it was sold to an Italian company.
The shops are been rented out to various private enterprises,
most of them from western countrys, and the GUM has become
an ordinary shopping center where you get the same fashion
junk as everywhere else in our globalized world.
Me and the fellow from Leningrad went to see the Kremlin.
He pointed at it and said: "There you see our ruin." "Why?"
I asked. "Here power is located", he said. "Everything
bad comes from here."
When I went inside the Kremlin, then considered the Centre of Communism,
I was astonished to find out it was full of churches. It must be a very
strange kind of communism that tolerates these symbols of religion in
its very heart, I thought. A communism based on nationalism that preserves
these monuments of Russian history and identity as part of its heritage.
Nowadays the churches have remained, even multiplied,
religion is respected and enjoys state support, and the only thing that
has remained from the whole communist "achievements" is the
Secret Service, strong and influential as in the times of Stalin.
source of all evil: The Kremlin and its surroundings
Alexanders garden beside the Kremlin wall. It was
laid out after the victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic
War in 1812. Its named after the tsar Alexander I.
| For the 850th anniversary of Moscow a new shopping center
was built by the side of the garden. First I heard with delight
that there was a fire there in 2004. Then I found out that it
was the historical building beside it that was built almost
in the same time that Alexanders garden was designed that
caught fire as rumours go, not quite accidentally. I
think its the building in the back, at th right. It seems
to have covered valuable real estate space someone was keen
to use differently.
When Moscow celebrated the 850th anniversary of its first
mentioning, in 1997, everything was fixed, the facades renewed
and illumination was taken care of. Moscow was then one of
the brightest lit cities I have ever seen.
|One side of the Red Place, showing the back
side of the Historical Museum and the statue of Marshal Zhukov,
one of the most important commanders of the Great Patriotic
War (= World War II).
||One of the towers inside the Kremlin Wall.
Is this really what you expect in entering the Kremlin?
And this picture was taken in 1990, when I first visited Moscow
and when Soviet Union still existed.
There are more churches in the Kremlin like that, I dont
even bother to give their history.
The Moscow Kremlin, in old medieval times,
was a kind of fortress to where people fled in times of turmoil.
The Russian fortresses or "kremls"
were places both of clerical as of governmental dedication,
as the church and the government were interconnected completely,
especially in the times of the "Mongol yoke".
Moscow is a city of big dimensions and of great extremes.
It covers an area of more than 1000 square kilometers, and houses more
than 8 million people. I have experienced this city in times of incredible
scarcity and of overwhelming abundance. Nowhere you can see so many expensive
fur coats, buy so many luxurious foodstuffs as in Moscow if you
have the money. On the large 6 to 8 lane streets that were built for parades
in Soviet times cars from Western Europe and Japan are either caught in
traffic jams, or they rush along at a speed as if they were on a highway,
making it impossible to cross these streets.
Meanwhile on the sidewalks homeless children, often
in the company of abandoned dogs, are trying to make their way through
the city jungle, organising themselves in gangs. There are more
homeless kids now in Russia in Russian called the "not-cared-for"
than after the Revolution, in 1921, when the phenomenon appeared
for the first time in Russia on a large scale.
Moscow is the city with the highest consumption
of heroin per capita in the world. A large part of the Afghan opium
ends up here, a kind of late revenge for the war. It is supplied
predominantly by Chechen drug dealers, another revenge for
Horrible things have taken place in Moscow and all of
Russia since the fall of communism and the introduction of "wild
capitalism". Children were stolen from the streets and sold abroad,
presumably for adoption or as spare parts for organ transplants. Elderly
people have been killed because they lived in valuable apartments in central
locations. Great masses of hobos have appeared on the streets and in the
underground, divided by the Russians into two categories: The "bomzhi",
who are just people without homes who still might find their way back
into society if they dont die before that, and "bitchi",
former intellectuals or people who occupied leading positions who never
can recover from the privation they have been cast into, and to whom homelessness
is just the last stage before death.
century Moscow: From the Tsars till Postcommunism
The Belarussian Station, more precisely: the
left wing of it.
The train stations
are monuments of a special kind in Moscow. When railroads started
to be constructed all over Russia about 1860, Moscow was not a priority
of the Russian government. Railroad construction around Moscow therefore
relied on private initiative. It was the wealthy merchants of Moscow
who played an important role in the planning and financing of the
railroad net around Moscow, and the train stations should be visible
proofs of their wealth and social importance.
The precursor of the building now
known as Belorussian Station was built in 1870 and called Smolensk
Station, as Smolensk was the first city to which this train line
lead. Later it was called Brest Station, as the line had been extended
till Brest. In honour of the 100th anniversary of the Patriotic
War (the war waged against Napoleon in 1812) and the Tsar who led
and won that war it was renamed Alexander Station. After the Revolution
it was called the Belorussian-Baltic Station, and finally in 1936
it received its present name. The original building was completely
reconstructed about 1910 according the plans of the architect Ivan
Strukov. It opened again in 1912, in its present form. As it was
one of the first buildings constructed from steel and concrete it
also constituted a landmark in the development of Russian architecture.
The Belorussian Station has had
her moments of glory: In 1928 Maxim Gorki arrived here, returning
from exile, and was welcomed by politicians and popular masses.
So was the reception in 1937 for the pilots Chkalov and Gromov who
had flown to America across the North Pole and returned by train
to Moscow. The most important arrival, though, was that of the first
soldiers-victors coming home in 1945 from Germany. A film has been
made where this moment is commemorated, and its title is "Belorussian
The Kazan Train Station at sunrise. This is the first
impression I got from Moscow when I first arrived there in
The Kazan Station, as it presents itself now, had a precursor
in the 19th century which was torn down to give room to a
bigger and more extravagant building. This happened in 1913.
The Kazan Station is a specimen of the Russian "Modern"
style, incorporating elements of traditional popular architecture,
in this case of the city of Kazan that is mainly Tartarian.
A lot of contemporary artists were called into the team
planning and constructing this new Kazan Station: Nikolai
Rerikh, Serebryakov, Kustodiyev, and so on.
It was meant to be more a work of art than a train station.
The whole project was disabled by the outbreak of World
War I, then by the October Revolution. It was only finished
to a certain extent in 1940.
Only in 1997, in the wake of Moscows 850th anniversary,
the station was renewed again, alledgedly finally the thoughts of
Shchusov were put into practice entirely.
These pictures, though, were taken in 1990.
Jaroslavski Station was built in in 1903-05 by the plans
of Fyodor Shekhtel. It is also a product of the Russian Modern
Style, that was based on similiar principles as the secession
style in Western Europe.
The model for this building may have been peasant architecture.
A friend of mine exclaimed, when he saw the photo: Looks like
Street along the bank of the Moskva river.
To the left one of the Stalin-era skyscrapers.
An architectural cross-section
While the green-white buildings to the left seem to be
prerevolutionary, the building on the right was constructed
in Stalins times. The white building in the back is
a "krushchovka", the type of residential buildings
that were quickly erected, in bad quality, in the 50ies and
early 60ies, in order to ease the housing shortage. The yellow
building on the left, in the second row, seems to be recent.
| A part of the Moskva banks called Frunze-Quay. The guy
after whom the quay is named was an important commander in the
Civil War and the first military theoretic of young Soviet Union.
Moscow has had at one time more than an estimated one
million illegal inhabitants, refugees from the civil war-struck regions
of the Caucasus, or Russians from other former parts of the Soviet Empire
where Russians have been persecuted since these regions turned into independent
states. In Soviet times and until recently one needed a permit, issued
by the working place, to be allowed to settle in Moscow, and whoever had
no working place was illegal, prey to corrupt law-enforcement institutions
who hunted them in order to obtain either money from them if they
could pay the bribes or rewards from their institutions for presenting
them as "dangerous" illegals. The residence permit regulations
the need for the "propiska" have been first abolished, then reintroduced,
the manhunt goes on, presumably even increased due to the control
regulations in the wake of the "fight against terrorism".
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