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Lifestyles of the Rich (if not famous)

April 9, 2009 at 9:21 am
By Kevin McGrath, Travis Raines, Kenney Bendiksen

Moscow has become a city of fabulous wealth since the fall of communism. Even before the Bolsheviks came to power, Moscow had a sizeable upper-class population, which spent untold amounts of money purchasing luxuries in the city's commercial district. The center of this district is Kuznetskii Most, where designer boutiques, major banks' headquarters, and other high-end shops can be found, making this street one of the most expensive in the city.

Originally a bridge (as part of its name, most, implies) over the Neglinnaya River, Kuzentskii Most was always a shopping area. When the River flooded, it was used for its original purpose, but even when the waters receded the rich came to visit the French-owned and -operated shops that lined the street. After the 1812 fire, much of the street was rebuilt in baroque styles favored by the aristocracy.


Since the 19th Century, Kuznetskii Most has been the center of the aristocracy's shopping and leisure activity. Writers, noblemen's sons, and all their friends were frequent visitors to the street, especially the famed Yar Restaraunt. Here, Pushkin was a frequent visitor and was well-regarded by the staff. Rasputin, the infamous cleric and advisor to the Romanov dynasty in its dying days, was said to have become so drunk here that he announced that he held the Tsarina Alexandra in the palm of his hand. (He proceeded to do a few things that are best not recounted in polite company.) Despite such oddities, Kuznetskii Most was known for its (overpriced) luxuries and its overall splendor -- even today, there are few buildings that were not built in the baroque style of the early 1800s.

 Not far from Kuznetskii Most is the massive TsUM, short for Central Universal Store. Originally the main department store of Muir & Mirrielees trading company, this monolithic neo-Gothic building was taken over by the Soviet government in 1922 and was used as a massive general store for the general populace. In modern times, it has been filled by the most exclusive and expensive of designer boutiques patronized only by wealthy New Russians.


 The drastic changes to TsUM since Soviet times were demonstrated during the tour in a rather unexpected fashion. As Katya, our assistant from Moscow State, stood in front of the store and explained its history, a passing babushka overheard our conversation. She approached us and cathartically lamented to us the state of "modern times"--specifically the changes in TsUM. We couldn't just walk away, and so we soon discovered that she had worked in TsUM for sixteen years (we think) but that nowadays she can't even go in the doors. Notice the doorman in the photo, as well as the anonymous upper-crust Russian who can go through the doors. Her wisdom delivered, the babushka bitterly wandered away down into a nearby perekhod.