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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summer in the City Still Means Gorky Park

I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change

From "The Wind of Change" by the Scorpions

Thanks to a handful of Scorpions lyrics and the Martin Cruz Smith Cold War thriller named after it, Gorky Park is up there with Red Square and the Kremlin as one of Moscow's best-known sights for Westerners.

However, images of bodies piled up in the snow or high-minded "children of tomorrow dreaming away in the wind of change" couldn't be further from the truth: For Muscovites, the place is neither sinister nor serious.

The Park of Culture and Rest in the Name of Maxim Gorky — most Muscovites refer to it as Park Kultury — was created in 1928 by combining an exhibition zone with the gardens of Golitsyn Hospital and Neskuchny Palace. The Soviet authorities set about designing a park to make people think edifying, patriotic thoughts — big statues, an even bigger set of colonnaded gates and immaculately tended gardens. Later, when the state started letting its hair down, came the creaky old amusement rides and the giant Ferris wheel, which is still churning round today.

Over the past decade, the park has played out its own miniature version of Moscow's post-communist experiences by first falling into disrepair and then being "saved" by the arrival of Chudograd, or Miracle City, a Western-style amusement park.

Chudograd, which has been going strong for five years now, is the kind of place that makes die-hard communists froth at the mouth, with its shameless devotion to instant, brainless entertainment. It's a harmless enough place though, aimed at nothing more than offering families a "safe and fun day out," as its director, Viktor Strizhak, put it.

Though an advertising poster claiming the park offers "the best rides in the world" is a little disingenuous, there are enough second-hand German roller coasters, twister rides, shooting galleries and fun houses to keep the kids happy for the day. And for refueling purposes, there are plenty of kebab shops, bars and overpriced cafes dotted about, all competing to drown each other out with whichever five pop songs are doing the rounds on Russian radio.

The only drawback is the cost of the rides, which at 30 rubles to 150 rubles a pop puts a hefty dent in your average Russian's wallet — though it doesn't stop 40,000 people visiting the park on a good day in summer.

"It is an expensive day out," said Lyuda Leonova as she waited for her 11-year-old son Andrei to come off the "Silver Mine" roller coaster, "but I try to bring Andrei a couple of times a year as a treat. He loves it here."

Along with many other parents, Lyuda did allow herself a turn on the paddle boats, however, which are a perennial favorite with park-goers and, at 20 rubles for half an hour, better value for money than most of the other rides. Next to the paddle-boat pond, the Ferris wheel — another throwback to the more old-fashioned Soviet attractions — is also worth the 30 ruble outlay: the five-minute trip offers some great views of the Moscow skyline.

On the riverbank just outside the boundaries of Chudograd is a more poignant relic, the Buran, a retired Soviet space shuttle that actually made a trial orbit of the earth by remote control in 1988, shortly before it was decommissioned due to lack of funds.

Five years ago, a company called Cosmos-Earth reinvented it as an attraction, offering 40-minute "flights" inside the shuttle designed to "capture all the sensations of space travel." This experience used to include a mandatory health check and a space lunch, complete with cognac, served on an astronaut's lunch tray, but sadly such gimmicks are no more.

The flight itself is a bit of a letdown, consisting of watching a 40-minute video while sitting in a gyroscopic chair. As you watch the countdown on the screen, you can easily imagine some of the adrenaline that astronauts must feel at a real launch. But the illusion is quickly dispelled: Rolling around in a Space-Age rocking chair is not most people's idea of space travel.

If you are really intent on experiencing weightlessness, you are better off heading for the Tarzan bungee jump, where for 1,400 rubles you get to hurl yourself off a 50-meter high platform toward a shallow-looking pond. Though the structure looks a little rickety, there have been no accidents since the jump was set up eight years ago.

According to Sergei Masslenikov, one of the jump operators, most jumpers are aged between 20 and 40, though an 82-year-old man once made the leap. Sergei wouldn't give any further details, preferring to respect client confidentiality. "Anyway, once people have jumped, they all fall the same way, don't they?"