Roller-coaster ride around Gorky Park’s history

One of Moscow’s most legendary places, Gorky Park, went from being a Soviet cultural staple to a symbol of post-Soviet kitsch. Now it is reinventing itself as a magnet for the city’s young and trendy.

Stretching along the right bank of the Moskva River, the park was opened in 1928. Named after the revolutionary writer Maxim Gorky, it was known as Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure. It was the Soviet Union’s first themed park, a place where you could take a dip in the river, or play sports or chess. There was even a parachute tower and some rides.

From the outset, the park was aimed not only at providing good fun for the proletarians, but also at cementing the Communist ideology. The park’s alleys and squares had names like the “Alley of the Pioneers” or the “Square of an Over-Achieving Worker.”

All over the park, statues were scattered glorifying the young Soviet state and its citizens. The most famous of them was called a “Woman with an Oar” by sculptor Ivan Shadr. The original was created in 1934, but was apparently deemed too sexy by Joseph Stalin. So the statue was exiled to Ukraine and the artist created another one, which was said to have pleased the Soviet leader more but was unfortunately destroyed during World War II.

The war brought other exhibits to the park, though. To boost morale, an exhibition of German weapons and machinery captured by the Red Army was set up here, and proved to be a huge success.

Having fast become the pride and joy of Soviet Moscow, the park served as an inspiration for dozens of similar ones across the Soviet Union. However, surviving the turmoil of the 1990s proved hard for Gorky Park. It became a giant money-making machine, filled with rides, kiosks and fast-food restaurants.

Even the legendary Soviet space shuttle Buran went on display there – although not the actual orbiter, but a test vehicle. And while some were eager to have their share of thrills, others saw the park’s chaotically located roller coasters as tacky and garish.

Now a massive makeover is underway. Gone are most of the rides, and so is the entrance fee. The idea is to bring the park back to its roots – ideal for a jog or a bike ride. A lot of its original look is being restored, so whether it is a picnic or stroll down history lane that you are after, come along to Gorky Park.

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