REV­O­LU­TION IN THE AIR

The red tide still washes over modern Moscow, mes­meris­ing vis­i­tors

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION MOSCOW - BILL WATT

There’s a queue in Moscow’s mag­nif­i­cent Red Square that can be seen snaking its way across the land­scape four morn­ings a week. For the less-in­formed, it’s a bit of a mys­tery why it’s there, end­ing as it does at an un­der­stated struc­ture on one side of the square.

But for those in line there is a deep sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion as they wait pa­tiently to see the body of a dead man … a very fa­mous and very dead man in­deed. They are about to view the per­fectly pre­served body of Bol­she­vik rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, founder of the So­viet Union. Date of death: Jan­uary 21, 1924.

And, once you make it to the en­trance of Lenin’s Mau­soleum, it’s all over in a minute. You take off your hat (if you have one), step past the stony-faced guards at the door, and it’s a solemn and eerily silent walk past the im­mac­u­late fig­ure of Lenin.

It’s not yet ap­pro­pri­ate to quip how small he was, or that he looks bet­ter at age 148 than most Aus­tralian politi­cians. For now it is a re­spect­ful and strangely mov­ing walk past a fig­ure of im­mense his­toric stature.

On leav­ing the mau­soleum the starstruck glow is im­me­di­ately jolted from you, re­placed by a more ap­pro­pri­ate chill when you spot the grave of one of his­tory’s worst mass mur­der­ers, Josef Stalin, a com­radein-arms of Lenin.

There is no fan­fare sur­round­ing Lenin’s Mau­soleum, un­der­stand­able since the Bol­she­vik leader him­self wanted to be buried in his home town of Ulyanovsk. It is a small­ish build­ing that sur­pris­ingly blends in with the rest of Red Square. And, as for Stalin, his grave is un­der­stated to the ex­treme, al­most lost amid those of his rev­o­lu­tion­ary cronies.

In­deed, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the smil­ing face of modern Moscow and its stern com­mu­nist past, which came to an abrupt end with the col­lapse of the So­viet Union in 1991, is a com­plex one but is felt nearly ev­ery­where in this great city.

From the so-called Stalin sky­scrapers that dom­i­nate the sky­line to rail sta­tions stun­ningly dec­o­rated with So­viet art­work; from tales of churches de­stroyed to tales of cathe­drals re­born. It can be seen in the vi­brant trade of com­mu­nist sou­venirs and the pow­er­ful memo­ri­als to So­viet war he­roes.

Just along the Moskva River from Red Square, there is the glit­ter­ing, golden-domed Cathderal of Christ the Saviour. Ris­ing more than 100m into the air, it is the tallest Or­tho­dox church in the world. The lo­cal tour guides all quiz trav­ellers on when they think the his­toric-look­ing build­ing was con­structed. The an­swer sur­prises most – the late 1990s.

Of course, there is a tan­gled story of rev­o­lu­tion pol­i­tics as an ex­pla­na­tion. A mas­sive Tsarist-era twin of the church had stood in the same spot un­til 1933 when it was blown up on Stalin’s orders. A Palace of the Sovi­ets was started but never com­pleted and, even­tu­ally in 1959, a huge heated out­door swim­ming pool was opened on the site. To­day, gaz­ing at the in­cred­i­ble new church that re­placed it, it is sur­pris­ing how some lo­cals still pine for the So­viet swim­ming pool they grew up with.

As Mus­covites basked in the warm wa­ters of Eu­rope’s largest out­door pool in the 1960s, the Cold War was heat­ing up in the form of the US ver­sus So­viet Union space race, a con­test beau­ti­fully doc­u­mented from the Rus­sian side at Moscow’s Me­mo­rial Mu­seum of Cos­mo­nau­tics.

And, sur­pris­ingly the mu­seum pro­vided more pre­served bod­ies of So­viet he­roes … this time of space dogs Belka (Squir­rel) and Strelka (Lit­tle Ar­row). The pair made his­tory when they spent a day in space aboard a Sput­nik space cap­sule on Au­gust 19, 1960, be­fore safely re­turn­ing to Earth.

A year later, So­viet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave US pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy one of six pup­pies to which Strelka had given birth, a bid to ease ten­sions be­tween their na­tions.

Like Lenin, the two space dogs look com­pletely at peace in their place of fi­nal rest, as tourists stroll past con­tem­plat­ing their place in his­tory.

The Red Army’s tri­umph over Hitler’s Ger­many in WWII is the proud­est area of So­viet his­tory for most Rus­sians, and so it’s not sur­pris­ing Park Pobedy or Park of Vic­tory is a must-see Moscow at­trac­tion. Eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by the Metro (a su­per-ef­fi­cient un­der­ground rail sys­tem), this sprawl­ing open-air park with its mon­u­ments, relics, mu­se­ums and places of wor­ship is an im­pres­sive re­minder of the sac­ri­fice, hero­ism, ter­ror and destruc­tion of the great­est con­flict in hu­man his­tory.

The cen­tral fea­ture of the park is the Mu­seum of the Great Pa­tri­otic War, which is both a doc­u­men­ta­tion of his­tory and a heart­break­ing me­mo­rial. The Hall of Re­mem­brance

A RE­SPECT­FUL AND STRANGELY MOV­ING WALK PAST A FIG­URE OF IM­MENSE HIS­TORIC STATURE

and Sor­row hon­ours the more than 25 mil­lion So­viet cit­i­zens who died in the war. Its ceil­ing is cov­ered in glass bead­ing, rep­re­sent­ing the count­less tears shed for those vic­tims. There are also dra­matic re­con­struc­tions of the cat­a­clysmic So­viet-Nazi bat­tles, in­clud­ing a stun­ning re­cre­ation of the fi­nal destruc­tion of the Nazi cap­i­tal, as seen through the prism of one nor­mal Berlin house.

In con­trast to the glory of Park Pobedy stands the cu­ri­ously won­der­ful Grave­yard of Fallen Mon­u­ments, of­fi­cially known as the Muzeon Park of Arts. Here you can see hun­dreds of dis­carded mon­u­ments from the So­viet era. A host of Bol­she­vik bad­dies ap­pear in var­i­ous guises. Lenin is par­tic­u­larly well rep­re­sented but there are oth­ers – Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezh­nev.

The park, which runs along­side the Moskva River, is quite peace­ful and also con­tains the modern art sec­tion of the Tretyakov Gallery. Plus, it lies across the road from fa­mous Gorky Park, once the pride of So­viet city plan­ning, so a great morn­ing or af­ter­noon in the Moscow sun­shine (fin­gers crossed) beck­ons.

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