Sunday, 20 May 2012

Kickin’ down the cobblestones

In the days of Boris Godunov, the area around present-day Ploshchad Ilyicha (named for Lenin’s patronymic, as he was often called “Ilyich” by his closest comrades) became home to the coachmen who ferried Muscovites to farms east of the city. Today, a preserved row of brightly painted 19th-century houses on pedestrian-only Shkolnaya Ulitsa makes a picturesque reminder of this horse-drawn era. Nearby, industrial sites are being repurposed into buzzing cultural spots: an expansive car museum occupies an old garage, an offbeat club and bookshop have roosted in a former factory and a metallurgical factory is slated to become a media center. Begin at Rimskaya metro station, taking a left at the first intersection in the underground passage to reach street level. Head south away from the exit and turn onto the first street on the right. Charming, car-free Shkolnaya Ulitsa looks much as it did in the 19th century, when it served as the main transportation artery for stagecoaches en route to Vladimir and Ryazan. Coachmen then occupied this strip of Easter egg-colored houses, each of which includes a gate for horses. Though it was renamed “School Street” in 1923, there was never a school nearby; as with nearby Library Street, the educational moniker was purely a gesture. The city reportedly has hopes to turn the street into a tourist destination along the lines of Stary Arbat. But for the time being, most pedestrian traffic comes from a Belarussian open-air market held here on the weekends. 9/2 Ul. Rogozhsky Val, 671-4625, open daily 10 am-9 pm, closed Mon. Head south on Rogozhsky Val. When it intersects with Novorogozhskaya Ulitsa, stop at the dark pink building on the left. Though less flashy than the privately owned Autoville museum across town, this massive retro car collection is bigger and more fun. Housed in an airy Soviet garage, it features an exhaustive assortment of Sovietmade cars as well as foreign makes, like the black Packards favored by Stalin and his henchman Beria in the ’30s. There are also bizarre curiosities such as the Zundapp Janus, a futuristic East German micro car made briefly in the late ’50s. The quirky Janus (named after the twofaced Roman god) has a front door leading straight into the front seat, as well as a door opening into the rear-facing backseat; Khrushchev acquired the vehicle when he was worried that the Soviet Union was falling behind in the trend toward compact cars. The museum also has a sizeable gift shop selling model cars and other swag. 38 Rabochaya Ulitsa Turn left on Rogozhsky Val and continue until the diagonal Rabochaya Ulitsa. Head left and stop at the concrete building on the right, a former factory. On the upper floor, a hip club-slash-bookstore in the mold of Project OGI offers books by Russian independent publishers by day and a wide range of indie concerts by night. The bookstore also has a cafe good for tea and pastry, as well as unusual gifts, such as posters featuring animated characters Cheburashka and Crocodile Genya. 11 Ul. Zolotorozhsky Val Return to the metro on Rabochaya Ulitsa, then cross the street to Ploshchad Ilyicha. The looming complex of buildings to the east belongs to the “Serp i Molot” (Hammer and Sickle) factory, which is currently slated for redevelopment as the new “Media City” complex. Founded in 1883 by a French entrepreneur, this metallurgical factory is one of the oldest in Moscow. Initially it specialized in making iron, nails and bolts. After 1917 the factory acquired its revolutionary name, and in the ’30s it became one of the Soviet Union’s leading steel producers. Today, it’s a hodgepodge of crumbling brickwork and colorful renovated buildings. If you’re feeling energetic, walk around to the far side of the complex for a look at the decaying House of Culture, which remains abandoned after recent plans to create a club there fell through. 1 Bulvar Entuziastov Walk back towards the metro on the side of the grassy park closest to the road. In the 18th century, the city’s eastern boundary lay in this area. Today, all that remains of the gates that stood here is this 1783 stone marker, which signals two versts to the city center (a verst is an old Russian measurement equal to 1.6 kilometers). 1 Bulvar Entuziastov Ploshchad Ilyicha would be incomplete without a Lenin statue, which is found to the right of the metro entrance. This unusually haughty Vladimir Ilyich, hands clasped behind his back and chin thrust to the sky, was installed here to mark the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, in 1967. Enter the underground passage to return to Rimskaya and Ploshchad Ilyicha metro stations.

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