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Travel

Gorky Park: Moscow's coolest place

In the winter, Gorky Park turns into a shimmering winter wonderland which also offers, according to DW reporter Kerstin Palzer, the best ice rink in the world.

I have always loved ice skating. And for me it does not mean spinning perfect pirouettes or jumps in the air, but rather the sheer winter fun of standing on skates and to carefully risk those first steps on the ice to suddenly discover that you are gliding. Ice under my feet, cold winter air around me and if I'm lucky the chance to occasionally take a break to enjoy some mulled wine, hot chocolate or sausages.

Moskow Gorky-Park, Copyright: DW, Kerstin Palzer,

DW reporter Kerstin Plazer tries out her brand new skates

All this is available in Moscow's Gorky Park, the number one place to enjoy ice skating on Europe's biggest and most colorful ice rink. The park became really well known in the West during the early 1980s because it featured in a spy thriller named "Gorky Park"- even though the film version was shot elsewhere because foreign film crews were not allowed into Russia at that time.

The park became even more famous when the German band "the Scorpions" mentioned it in their song "Wind of Change" - which subsequently became the anthem of the thaw of the cold War and German unification. The lyrics include the lines: "Follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park, listening to the wind of change…"

Moskow Gorky-Park, Copyright: DW, Kerstin Palzer,

Colorful decorations around the rink

Actually, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the park was a sorry sight, run down and anything other than sexy.

Then in 2011, under new management, the park underwent major reconstruction and ever since Gorky Park has been the place to go for inner city recreation - tucked among Moscow's sea of buildings here you can enjoy jogging, inline skating, cycling and volleyball and in winter, ice skating of course. Here you encounter students, young families, old people and hipsters. When the ice rink opens at the end of November, it sparks a rush on the "coolest ice rink between Los Angeles and Vladivostok".

Virtually everyone in Russia can ice skate, so the rink has become an event, a popular excursion destination, and also place to see and be seen.

Moskow Gorky-Park, Copyright: DW, Kerstin Palzer,

Gorky Park offers several ice paths

At the center of the park, which stretches 10 kilometers (6 miles) along the shores of the Moskva river, there is a huge cube. As soon as it's dark, it lights up on the middle of the ice rink in purple, orange and blue - and dotted along the rink are little trees which shimmer with pink, blue-turquoise and white lights. I skate, initially very carefully as I'm still a little shaky, but I'm enchanted and fascinated by this sea of color from the lights.

The ice rink is as multifaceted as Moscow's oldest park itself is. The park was founded over 80 years ago in 1927.

Every year in November, paths that are usually used by those strolling through the park, are covered with water in order to turn them into magical ice routes. This means that I can choose a different route every time I skate full circle on the impressive 18,000 square meters (59,000 square feet) of ice. The only thing I have to be aware of is the "one-way-street-rule" of the ice rink - there are supervisors who will reprimand anyone trying to skate against the flow. But this is a good thing, because on a Saturday night there can be as many as 4,500 people on the ice in Gorky Park.

Moskow Gorky-Park, Copyright: DW, Kerstin Palzer,

Irina, Alexej, Rita and another Irina are all enjoying Gorky Park

I meet Irina, Alexej, Rita and another Irina, all in their early twenties, from Moscow and all great fans of the atmosphere here. "The music is fabulous, the people are really cool and the entrance fee is ok," they tell me. An entrance ticket costs up to 550 rubel, which is about 8 euros or $8.30. The price has gone up considerably over the last few years, but apparently the service has also much improved.

Irina really likes the fact that you can also rent ice skates here, so long as you leave a deposit of 1,000 rubel (14 euros /$15), which is returned in full when you bring back the ice skates.

The admissions system is organized on the basis of a kind of credit card, which you buy at the entrance. This card registers all purchases and other services, like hire of ice skates or locker for your own shoes while you're on the ice. Actually it is a clever system, which however becomes slightly overburdened in the evenings or on weekends. For instance, I had to wait in line for a good half an hour at the entrance just to pay to get in. But this also shows that there are lots of people in Moscow who do not want to miss this fun.

Moskow Gorky-Park, Copyright: DW, Kerstin Palzer,

Skating on illuminated ice

I experience the next "wow effect" when I turn on to a path after skating around the giant cube. Below me the ice suddenly lights up, in different places and in different colors, making a myriad of shapes. Stunned, I stop and look more closely. I've never seen anything like this ever before: under the ice there are 33,000 LEDs which can light up the surface in different colors.

As I skate onwards a young man swishes past me going at a fair lick on his ice skates which have brightly lit neon-green blades. Just ahead of me two men, who are both a little shaky on the ice, hold hands to support each other - which I find astonishing here in Moscow, where men usually try to act cool.

As I stop for a cup of mulled wine surrounded by very colorful, tacky Christmas decorations, I look out across the happy muddle of skaters and onlookers.

It is -4 degrees Celsius (24 degrees Fahrenheit), on a Saturday evening in Moscow and around me are thousands of people who laughingly move fast and slow, confidently or slightly shakily on their ice skates accompanied by loud music through the park all the way down to the river, which slices through this giant metropolis. It is the stuff that winter dreams are made of.

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