Moscow's Gorky Park ditches vodka and rides in hip revival

For years, Moscow's historic Gorky Park, the spooky location of US writer Martin Cruz Smith's thriller, was a tacky, neglected space with ancient rollercoasters, vodka and candy floss.

Now visitors lounge on beanbags, attend mass yoga classes and access free wifi on their laptops.

And the park is set to become one of the city's main venues for contemporary art when Dasha Zhukova, Roman Abramovich's partner, moves her Garage gallery there next year.

It's a strange turn of events for the park, which was laid out in the 1920s to show the new proletariat how to spend their free time in a more "cultured" way, with lectures and concerts.

The changes are being pushed through by the park's new director Sergei Kapkov, a close ally of the billionaire Abramovich and who was appointed by the new Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin in March.

"We wanted it (the clean-up) a lot - more than the previous park management," he told AFP during a stroll in the park.

"I think Gorky Park is such a symbol of Moscow and the new mayor understands this, so we started moving quite quickly... We absolutely needed to open up the park as a public space for Muscovites."

Kapkov has now been appointed Moscow's park czar, in charge of all its vast parks.

He heads Abramovich's National Football Academy and ran his campaign for governor of the remote Chukotka region, which Kapkov also represented in parliament until he took up the park job.

The most controversial decision was to take down the still popular rides which were the park's trademark, Kapkov said.

Gorky Park had some fairground rides as far back as the 1960s, but the rides multiplied over the 1990s.

"Of course I was a bit worried, but we had to remove the rides in any case. They were 26 to 30 years old. They were in a damaged, dangerous state - it was inevitable," Kapkov said.

The changes have brought new visitors to the park: locals rather than out-of-towners, he said.

- 'Unique experiment for Russia' -

"Last year, 80 percent of visitors were not Muscovites. People came here from the Moscow region for cheap rides, to drink vodka here. Now we don't trade strong alcohol. We have a completely different life," he said.

The park's programme director, Yekaterina Kibovskaya, a journalist who spent several years in New York, echoed the message.

"Everyone is sick of loud music, constantly cooking kebabs on camp fires. I think we are ready to relax in another way," she said.

"We want to show that in our park you can sit on the grass, eat buns and drink some pleasant, non-alcoholic drinks."

Signs thank visitors "for not being mean to the ducklings" and they can leave suggestions in special boxes.

"A lot of people thank us for the changes in the park but a lot of people ask about the children's rides," Kibovskaya said.

One pencilled message pleaded: "Bring back the big wheel," while another said simply: "Keep on doing what you're doing."

Visitors basking in the sun were positive about the changes.

"It's become very beautiful here after the reconstruction," said Alexander Krasnoshtanov, 20, a restaurant manager, who sat on a beanbag with his laptop.

"Mainly I use the wifi or go to the beach. I'm not bothered about the rides, but I would put some in for the children," he said.

"It's interesting for children, because you can cycle, rollerskate... The rides aren't the main thing," said a woman who gave her name as Valentina Vladimirovna, rollerskating with her two daughters.

In a move that would have once seemed unthinkable, Abramovich's partner Zhukova plans to move her contemporary art gallery Garage to the park next year.

In September, Garage will hold its first exhibition in the park as part of the Moscow biennale of contemporary art.

And in May or June next year, it will move into a temporary new home, a 1970s concrete pavilion, said the gallery's director Anton Belov.

"Maybe it's a unique experiment for Russia when we are bringing contemporary art into a park zone, and not an ordinary park, but one that is the most significant in Moscow and maybe even in Russia," Belov said.

"In the park there will be a lot of people for whom it will be the first encounter with contemporary art."

Ultimately Garage plans to move into the Hexagon, a large pavilion built in the 1920s for an agricultural fair by architect Ivan Zholtovsky, later known for classical revival Stalin-era buildings.

"It showed the first avant-garde art exhibitions, the first American cars, the first farm machinery," Belov said. "We need to give it new life."

Little remains of the original building, which was an open summer pavilion, and exactly how to reconstruct it still being discussed. Kapkov said the move could happen in four years.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz