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Russia's most famous park is getting a makeover, but some Muscovites are worried the process might strip away the reasons why people have been going there for decades.
Gorky Park is perhaps the most famous park in all of Russia
Central Moscow's Gorky Park, named after Soviet author and founder of social realism Maxim Gorky, is the best-known park in Russia. In early Soviet times people went here for sack races, dancing and ice-skating, to be replaced in the 1990s with attractions like roller coasters and shooting galleries.
Now, at the behest of President Dmitry Medvedev - a fan of London's Hyde Park - Moscow authorities have begun to strip Gorky Park of the aging attractions and illegal kiosks and bars and turning it into a hip new park. But some worry that the average Muscovite visitor could miss out.
"I love Gorky Park," is printed in Russian on the waiters' grey hoodies as they serve mint lemonade, café latte or raspberry shakes at the café near Gorky Park's main fountain.
One of the patrons is 29-year-old Ekaterina, who is sipping a soft drink at one of the tables. She finds the concept ridiculous, and she doesn't like the jazzy music coming out of the loudspeakers in the middle of the fountain either. She has been falling out of love with Gorky Park since the beginning of the summer. It has been one of her favorite weekend hangouts since childhood.
Maxim Gorky wouldn't recognize the place today
"Before, everything here was more cheerful," she told Deutsche Welle. "You could hear people having fun coming from all the rides. You could get cotton candy at every other corner, kids ran around, having fun. There were shooting galleries and stalls where you could win stuffed animals – now there are only a few left."
Since spring, the rides have been gradually dismantled, as have the restaurants and kiosks, many of which operated without a license. Times are changing for Gorky Park.
Gorky Park's facelift has become one of the Moscow's mayor's pet projects ever since President Medvedev mentioned how much he enjoyed London's Hyde Park.
Work is expected to continue for the next year, but Gorky Park is looking quite fancy already. People sit in beanbags on the grass and surf the Internet on laptops and iPads, courtesy of the free wireless Internet the park provides.
There are outdoor yoga and fitness classes, a couple of trendy restaurants, a bike rental place and a beach on pontoons along the Moskva River. Meanwhile, onetime Gorky park fan Ekaterina has joined a social network group that's protesting the dismantling of the rides.
"Why do I need wireless Internet here?" she asks. "In Gorki Park I want to have fun, go on rides with friends. I can surf the Internet by myself at home."
With Gorky's Park long history, it's no wonder that the project has prompted a lively discussion in Moscow.
Long-time visitors of the park bemoan the loss of the carnival attractions
Its fame transcended the Iron Curtain. In the 1980s, American author Martin Smith Cruz named his Cold War bestseller after the park, in which three people get killed while ice-skating there. The movie version had to be filmed in Finland as Soviet authorities wouldn't allow the production in the park back then.
Dmitry, a 31-year-old photographer, is playing ping-pong. The tables have only been in Gorky Park for a couple of months. He says he'd always seen Gorky Park as being noisy, full of drunks and out-of-date, with unsafe rides.
"I came here three weeks ago for the first time in a long time on my skates," he said. "Now it's fantastic here - I've become a big fan of Gorky Park."
The price of gentrification
But for the Surow family, the latest outing to Gorky Park might be their last. Their 10-year-old daughter Masha misses the rides and her father Grigorij fears that the park's catering facilities might soon be priced out of range for his family and many others. At the moment most of the cafés and bars in the park are operated by a restaurant group which isn't exactly known for family-friendly prices.
"The restaurants here shouldn't be expensive, because it's mainly normal people who come here, also people from the region around Moscow. Many Muscovites are way too busy anyway."
The park's administration hopes that the revamped park will attract 9 million visitors a year and that young middle-class professionals will be among them. The budget for the renovations, coordinated by a trendy Moscow design institute, isn't small, especially because oligarch Roman Abramovich is one of the supporters of the mission to relegate Gorky Park's Soviet legacy to the past.
Author: Mareike Aden, Moscow (st)
Editor: Ben Knight