The city that never sleeps? It’s probably arrogance and ignorance of the west to immediately think of New York. Look east, towards Putin’s Russia, where a dormant giant is waking up at an incredible pace. Seven different moments, from seven different days, illustrate this beautiful crazy Moscow.
Monday, 5.15PM, Zaryadye Park
The towers of the Kremlin loom nearby, not even hundred metres away from the entrance. The coloured domes of the St Basil cathedral are even neighbours. Both are eye-catchers, but the Zaryadye Park will become an even bigger attraction for Moscow.
Even the Muscovites themselves are extremely curious what their new park, opened mid-september, actually has to offer. So they queue after work to get through the ever-present security checks before they enter a new landscape in the heart of the city.
The site has a rich history, has for example been the location for a luxury hotel. But those were the Soviet days: Now Diller, Scofidio + Renfro architects from New York received the enormous task to fill this place with new life. They call their concept ‘wild urbanism’ (video), a park without paths, a perfect blend of nature and humans, a showcase of Russian flora from all nine timezones of this massive country.
At the moment it is more urban than wild. That partly has to do with the insane amounts of visitors, partly with several awe-inspiring buildings that the architects created. In that sense it is a perfect addition to Moscow, the city that always tries to impress with size.
Especially the amphitheatre, partly covered by an organically shaped glass ceiling, will become an eyecatcher for the city. There is also a pathway stretching outwards to the Moskva river. There is a hidden huge theatre, which is not ready yet. And there are lots of marked and unmarked ways to explore the site. It is ambitious, it is outrageously expensive, it is very Moscow.
Tuesday, 11.20AM, Khlebazovod 9 + Flacon
Hipster culture has reached Moscow as well. At Khlebazovod, a former factory that is so brand new it isn’t even entirely finished, you can literally find a dj-school, coffee lab, vape shop and graffiti paint shop side-by-side. Add some yoga and it is finished!
Neighbouring Flacon is a couple of years older and way more famous. In the former factory you can find dozens of hip sneaker stores, galleries, design clothing, co-working spaces and everything a hipster needs. The graffiti looks impressive, although it has been officially commissioned and approved, and thus lacks the rawness of street art. In summer there is even a swimming pool and outside cocktail bar.
These places breathe an unexpected vibrancy into Moscow. Flacon + Khlebazovod in the north are actually even relatively small, compared to their three brothers in the east. There you can find Arma, Winzawod and especially Artplay as new clusters of creative life. Nothing like the old Moscow, but who cares when you can get a latte in every style you want?
Wednesday, 5.34PM, Dinamo subway station
Rush hour. Every 60 to 90 seconds a new train arrives, and leaves again within 15 seconds. The endless escalators – the subway network lies deep because the stations also functioned as bomb shelters – deliver an endless supply of new travellers. The most amazing thing? Everything happens in almost complete silence.
Muscovites hardly talk in the subway. They read a book, play with their smartphone, or just close their eyes and relax. After disembarking, the silence continues. I started to call it ‘new modesty’, an extreme difference to the rude chaos of Berlin that I sometimes still have to get used to.
This modest behaviour is probably very true to the Russian soul: they don’t show their emotions easily. But when they do, they lay it all bare. All or nothing…
Outside the new stadium of Dinamo Moscow looms, still unfinished. It symbolizes the ridiculous ambitions of the city, the ridiculous pace pace of construction as well. The new complex will host a football ground for 26k visitors AND an ice hockey arena for 12k fans, all under one roof. Progress has been erratic, depending on the oil prices. But the builders keep building, and all around the new apartment blocks of the Arena Park are almost finished. Another couple of thousand of new dwellings for an ever-growing city…
Thursday, 8.25PM, New Tretyakov Gallery
Anyone who has ever been to the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg cannot be impressed anymore by the size of a museum. But the New Tretyakov, on the banks of the Moskva river close to Gorki Park, still makes a decent effort. It lays bare the enormous amounts of art that are being produced in this country, with an emphasis on paintings of the last century.
Don’t expect only patriotic images of the great leaders though. The Tretyakov has it all, from French-inspired impressionism to the amazing drawings of Georgy Vereisky. It takes hours just to take everything in, and that doesn’t include the temporary exhibition for the Moscow Biennale, which – amongst others – features a lot of Björk music.
It is also impressive how many people pop in after work, to have a quick look at their favourite art. Moscow doesn’t like early, but the city certainly loves late: like almost all museums, the Tretyakov is usually open until 9 or 10 in the evening. It’s a far cry from the impractical opening times in a lot of other cities. But on mondays… indeed!
Friday, 2.08PM, Tverskaya avenue
Well, it actually already is Saturday of course. But the Über economy runs at rush hour speed now. The metro, the backbone of the city, pauses between 1am and 5pm. Also in the weekend. So party-loving Muscovites (and tourists…) have to find the way home somehow. So everybody, me included, uses taxi apps.
It’s been a lovely night anyway, with an Italian friend who was here for a conference. Moscow absolutely loves Georgian food, so we were crammed into a restaurant where they served lovely dishes, starting off with khachapuri (cheese bread). Classic, hearty stuff. And after that it was off to the pub, to be surprised by the good vibes and the open attitude.
‘It’s all about money, money, money in this city’, admitted a blonde woman at the bar, without us having asked anything in that direction. ‘I have studied in Holland, but you could never make so much money so quickly as I am now’, she laughs. And off she went, into the night, with her taxi app.
Saturday, 4.25AM, Squat 3/4
It is a surreal location. A stone’s throw away from the Bolshoy theatre and the ridiculously posh and under an expensive Moscow hotel, the Squat 3/4 looks as if it can collapse every second. The small club is tucked away in an alley, and used to be a spa for rich people. Now the paint is slowly coming down from the walls, aided by the electronic music that pumps through the speakers.
The party is organized by Arma, the heroes of Moscow techno life. But authorities have been giving them a hard time lately, cracking down on bigger parties. Squat 3/4 is so small it is apparently no threat to public order, so a young crowd queues to get in.
It ain’t no Berlin, of course, but it is also surprisingly different from the usually extremely posh Moscow clubs. This at least smells of youth culture, of a bit of freedom, even a bit of sexual freedom in conservative Russia, which is making a public gay life very difficult. But as with almost everything in Moscow, if you look below the surface, you can see that a gay scene and gay life exist. You just have to know where to look. And the party? It goes on until 5pm on sunday afternoon, so it isn’t even that different from Berlin 🙂
Sunday, 9.30PM, Avia Park shopping center
Russia was accused of selling out, of going into hypercapitalism, after the fall of communism. But that might only be partially true: The main reason there are so many huge shopping centres, is simply the enormous size (13.2 million inhabitants in the city limits, 17 million in the urban area, according to Wikipedia). You need a massive size to serve all these people. So the Avia Park, on a former airport site, is huge and is crowded as hell on a sunday night.
This is where modern Russia shines. And it ain’t so different from the Alexa shopping center in Berlin, for example. Huge food courts, shops of H&M and Zara and Adidas, a huge cinema. The French sports brand Decathlon has a megamarket here as well. The technology is even more modern than in Western Europe, with cheap and reliable mobile internet (are you listening, Germany?) and contactless card payments virtually everywhere (are you listening again, Germany?).
Not a trace of Putin politics to be found here. At least not at first sight. If you ask Russians, they will mostly tell you they don’t really approve him. But that the situation is not always at bad as it seems from the outside. And in rural Russia, which still is the biggest chunk of the country, Putin remains much more popular.
So we don’t need to expect too many changes on that front during the upcoming elections, but in the meantime Moscow will rapidly continue to develop itself into a hypermodern metropolis. 24/7…