Land of oddities, part II

Most tourists visit Moscow to see the ballet, the Kremlin, and the churches. There weren’t any Stalin tours when I was over there a few years ago. Requesting such from a Russian would prompt a suspicious retort: “Why would you want to see that?” They were amused, even proud, that a foreigner would be interested in their recent history. However, it was their history, and maybe it was still too fresh. They were ready to move on.

Reminders of Stalin were therefore more of the “if you know what to look for” variety: the “wedding cake” skyscrapers, the House on the Embankment (adorned with a Mercedes symbol of all things), the Lubyanka, the grand but unrenovated subway where Stalin spoke during German bombings, and Red Square of course.

And then there was the New Tretyakov gallery. It housed an incredibly interesting collection of Soviet art, including huge portraits of the mustachioed Friend of the Working People. After communism fell in the early 90s, Muscovites didn’t want monuments of Lenin and crew prominently displayed about the city, so they took them down (Stalin had been removed many years before). These dark reminders, including the Dzerzhinsky statue that ominously fronted the Lubyanka before being famously toppled in 1991, were eventually moved to a courtyard adjacent to the art gallery. The unkempt courtyard was coined the “Graveyard of Fallen Monuments.” Someone apparently decided that it was too good of a fate for the statues of Bolshevik monsters, and so gulag sculptures were added here and there.

What a motley sight it was a few years ago, another odd and yet moving spectacle of Russia. Alas, it sounds like less of it remains today.

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