Gorky Park Gets Gaudy New 'Miracle'

The sign said it all: "This ride does not stimulate the vomitus reflex." It was meant to be an invitation instead of a warning, but when customers approached and read it, they generally ended up walking away.

That's what life is like at "ChudoGrad," or Miracle City, the new $15-million, Western-style amusement park in historic Gorky Park. Visitors know they're supposed to have a good time, but they can't quite figure out how yet.

No longer is the venue a place known best for its creaky shooting galleries, babushka-run, 2-ruble skating rinks and hard-drinking private picnics among the trees, as immortalized in Martin Cruz Smith's thriller "Gorky Park."

Now Russians go there to pay $30 a head to enjoy the purest Western amusement park schlock -- fun houses, roller coasters, "Super Bowl" twister rides, and even a red-white-and-blue "Spaceball" This is a long way, ChudoGrad's directors admit, from the "History of the Transistor" exhibits in the old communist VDNKh fun park.

"It's a completely different thing than [people are] used to," said Igor Strizhok, the park's public relations director. "They used to have these tiny little rides, at best a ferris wheel, which really gave no thrill at all. Now they have top-caliber entertainment."

The park, which opened June 1, has mysterious origins. Strizhok refused to say who owns it, although he said it was a joint venture between "a Russian company and a Swiss company, who should both remain nameless." Segodnya has reported that the park was built without city permits, which Strizhok denies. In any case, it's here, apparently to stay, and Russians are getting used to it as fast as they can.

The most striking feature about the park is its overwhelmingly Western theme. The murals on the "Super Bowl" ride instruct Russians that the Colts are now located in Indianapolis and the Cardinals in Arizona; a generation of park-goers may end up knowing American football better than some of the older expats.

The language barrier could also pose some special problems. Just as Russians may not know the "Fliegender Teppich" is actually a flying carpet, they probably won't know to not raise their hands above their heads while riding the swinging contraption unless they look in their dictionaries under verboten.

Strizhok dismisses the Westernism of the park as unimportant.

"Let's face it -- the amusement park industry came from the United States and from Europe," he said. "Even in Japan, rides have American themes -- cowboys and Indians, gold rush, etc. It's nothing unusual that we have the same kind."

Even so, he said, plans are under way to Russify the park.

"We're going to build Kremlin-style castles all over," he said. "Our plan is to have a Russian-looking park by the end of 1997."

Ilya Mironov, 35, who came to the park with his two young daughters, was a big fan.

"Man, I feel dizzy," he said, steadying himself on the edge of a park bench after a ride on the "Spaceball." "Do I like it? Sure. I don't feel any smarter, but I like it."

The park is, certainly, a big hit with kids, who like the glitzy decor and have the added benefit of not paying the 150,000-ruble entrance and ride fee. At the entry gate, a huge, talking, moving dragon -- one of several massive hydraulic animals in the park -- beckoned kids in fluent Russian to enter the park. And kids enter -- particularly Moscow orphans, who, Strizhok said, come for free in special trips from orphanages once a week.

"Maybe it's not entirely a Russian concept," said Strizhok. "But it's a lot of fun."