Reminders of the bad old days are Moscow tourist attractions


Now that all the V-E Day celebrations are over, history buffs hooked on the decades of intrigue and espionage that followed World War II can relive a little of both in Moscow this summer.

The Cold War, which lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has never been more tourist-friendly. There was a time not long ago when any visit to the capital of communism had to be coordinated through Intourist, the official state visitors' bureau. That not only meant travel and accommodations glitches, but it also virtually guaranteed never seeing many of the things that made the Evil Empire so evil in the first place.

Now, though, with traveling to Moscow easier than ever and plenty of new hotels and restaurants offering the comforts of home, it's possible to enjoy the city's vast array of Communist kitsch while living just like a bourgeois capitalist. And shouldn't that be one of the benefits of winning the Cold War?

Moscow these days is a place full of surprises, and one of the biggest for first-time visitors may be how many monuments to state socialism are still around. Statues of Joseph Stalin, Felix Dzerzhinski and other former heroes of the old regime were torn down and dumped in a city park shortly after the '91 coup attempt. But everywhere, hundreds of Lenin likenesses defiantly hold their ground. In fact, along with the resurgent Communist Party, the founder of the ex-Soviet Union, whose body remains on display in its Red Square resting place, is also enjoying a comeback.

Stalin and company have gotten a new lease on life, too. Cleaned up and in some cases remounted on their pedestals, their statues, located behind the New Tretyakov Art Gallery on the banks of the Moscow River, have been arranged into a theme park where anyone can go to relive the past or else contemplate how the mighty have fallen.

This eerie reminder of the way things were makes an excellent place to begin a one-day Cold War tour of Moscow.

For transportation, I always choose the subway. It's faster than a taxicab, and, unlike most things in Moscow -- suddenly one of the world's most expensive cities -- it's cheap.

The sprawling system's tunnels also happen to be veritable Cold War catacombs. Every station is different, and most pay homage to some great moment in Party history. Komsomolskaya (named for the Young Communist League) commemorates various phases of Lenin's career in colorful mosaics; Barracadnaya celebrates the anti-czarist uprising of 1905. My personal favorite is Revolution Square, with its dozens of bronze figures of Russians from all walks of life, each one armed to the teeth against enemies of the people.

A short trip from the statue burial ground is the real thing, Novodivichy Cemetery, the Forest Lawn of the U.S.S.R. and the last stop for thousands of state heroes. Tombs and gravestones are decorated with tanks, rocket ships and other symbols of past Soviet glory. Officially atheist in their approach to the hereafter, the Soviets memorialized some deceased bureaucrats as if they were still on the job. One high-level commissar is depicted sitting behind his desk, another is shown talking on the phone.

Cold War Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, known as "Comrade Nyet" for his hard-line posture, is buried in Novodivichy. So is Nikita Khrushchev, who built the Berlin Wall and ruled the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev's tombstone, which features a vengeful rendition of his head in a vise, was designed by Ernst Nezvisty, an artist whose work the late leader had publicly denounced. Incidentally, Kim Philby, the British spy whose career epitomized double agentry, is planted far less memorably in Novo Kutuzovsky Cemetery on the other side of town.

No more nightmares

The Kremlin, where most of these former officials worked, is a 15-minute Metro ride away. Once the backdrop for America's worst Cold War nightmares, the massive brick fortress has lost much of its power to scare. Posters of Marx and Engels that used to hang from GUM, the Gothic shopping mall on Red Square, have been replaced by ads for Pizza Hut and Benetton. Just the same, anyone interested in an Iron Curtain experience ++ doesn't have far to go.

The nearby Hotel Moscow is a perfectly preserved relic of the Stalin era. Upscale vodka drinkers will easily recognize it as the building on the Stolichnaya label. Overlook the slot machines and central-casting Mafia types in the lobby, and you can pretend you're in a 1940s movie.

A short stroll across Marx Square -- the name-change mania that swept Moscow a few years ago didn't redo everything -- is the elegantly refurbished Metropole Hotel. Lee Harvey Oswald once stayed there while the KGB considered his job application. Room rates have gone up in the last 35 years, but it's certainly worth a drop-in to see what a little foreign investment can do.

The KGB's big mustard-colored headquarters is right up the street. Until the giant spy agency was reorganized several years ago, Lubyanka Prison in the basement was where countless political detainees began their one-way trip to Siberia. Public tours were available briefly after the fall of the Soviet Union; now, though, the curious will have to use their imaginations to picture what went on inside.

Granted, Socialist architecture has all the warmth of a cell block, but that doesn't mean it's not worth studying, if only to see how the inmates once lived, and in some cases still do.

Take the new Russian Parliament or Duma. Home to Vladimir Zhironovsky and other outspoken lawmakers, it is called "the Nuthouse" by Russians. Yet can the new occupants possibly be any worse than the old ones?

The building used to belong to Gosplan, the Soviet economic agency in charge of implementing all those failed five year plans. This was the Kremlin's fiscal nerve center, and a gigantic Soviet coat of arms still decorates its upper facade.

Less Lenin

The Lenin Museum, two blocks away at the foot of Tverskaya (formerly Gorky) Street, is "closed for repairs," the Russian term for "out of business." This is where teams of scientists supposedly spent years studying the dead leader's brain, looking for hidden clues on how to bury the West.

The Lenin Library, on Novy Arbat Street and also closed for repairs, was, until the foundation gave way, another major Party think tank.

Following the crowds up Arbat Street, widened in the early 1970s to impress Richard Nixon, brings us to the "White House." This was the scene of Boris Yeltsin's standoff with coup leaders in 1991, and his tank attack on the legislature two years later. Shaped like a 20-story space heater, the renovated Byelli Dom, as Russians call it, is where the Soviet Union ended and something else -- so far, no one's sure exactly what -- took its place.

While the political scientists ponder that one, the Metro takes us back to Red Square and the must-see Lenin's Tomb, one more Russian landmark steeped in ambiguity. There are no more goose-stepping honor guards; nonetheless, interested parties can still view the body on Saturday afternoons. It's no longer Lenin's brain that puzzles attending scientists, but what to do about the orange tint the dead leader has acquired after 70 years under the lights.

During May Day parades, when the might of the Soviet military went on chilling display in the square below, the country's top brass appeared atop the tomb for their annual head count. Moscow is no less predictable today, but it certainly remembers the guy who started it all.

In a market space not far away, a man who imitates Lenin shows up every weekend to entertain passers-by. Actually, he looks so much like the original that people pay $5 to have their pictures taken with him. Which shows you just how far Russian has come since the Cold War.

9- In the old days, he would have been shot.


Moscow is served by most major international airlines. Delta has direct flights leaving New York, with summer round-trip fares starting at $1,068 on weekdays and $1,128 on weekends. Aeroflot has direct flights from New York, with summer round-trip fares starting at $873. Aeroflot flies to Moscow from Dulles with a stopover in Shannon, Ireland, with round-trip fares also starting at $873. Connecting flights leave daily from BWI. For information on hotels and sightseeing, contact the Russia National Tourist Office at (212) 758-1162.

The cheapest, most efficient way to travel around Moscow is by Metro. Tokens cost the equivalent of 15 cents, and once you've mastered some rudimentary Russian navigation, the system should not be a problem.

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