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VVTs -- Russian shopping mall and county fair

April 29, 2009 at 11:13 am
By Andy Shenk

Last Monday Kenny and I took a trip to the Vserossiiskii vistavocni tsentr (Russian-wide Exhibition Center) located at metro VDNKh in the north of the city.  We sadly picked a terrible day to visit, with temperatures near zero and windy, damp weather to boot.  Nonetheless, Kenny and I were able to derive satisfaction from mercilessly taunting the gaudily obscene Soviet architecture, which dominated the expansive exhibition grounds.

Gaudy Exhibition Hall 

Most buildings were named after a former Soviet republic or ethnic region of Russia.  Our guidebook, for instance, touted the Armenian building for its bar and fine cognac.  Since Kenny and I arrived before noon the bar was not open, however, and all that we could see were kiosks advertising travel to Armenia, Armenian knickknacks and an American cowboy-style clothing shop with a Confederate flag.  After finding only electronics, clothing and jewelry in several more impressive looking buildings Kenny and I gave up on finding an interesting exhibit, as the name of the center might have suggested, and completed our tour of the grounds outside.  

At the far end of the park there was an old Soviet spaceship on display, along with an Aeroflot airplane, but other than that little to see.  The few people at VVTs that morning were largely interested in shopping, for which special vans drove shoppers to the various buildings, and the place seemed a shell of its former significance in the Soviet Union, when it displayed the achievements of Soviet technology and architecture and wowed crowds with its exhibits of future life in the USSR.  The feeling I got from the modern-day VVTs, however, was similar to the depression I experience walking into the cavernous, often-deserted 1980’s shopping mall in my hometown.  Rather cold and disillusioned, even an advertisement for the Museum of the History of Torture could not entice us as we exited underneath the massive six-columned archway that fronts the park.  

Columned Entrance to the VVTs  

Nonetheless, to my shock, just six days later my perception of the VVTs took a dramatic turn.  Invited by a couple of guys that I met at church Sunday morning to go up to the VVTs for the afternoon, I quickly agreed—disappointed in the location of our excursion, but happy that they had invited me to come along. We drove there, which was my first car ride since being picked up at the airport on March 25, and parked in a free, nondescript lot a half-mile or so from the VVTs.

The weather Sunday was gorgeous, with temperatures in the 70’s and perfectly clear skies.  Entering the park, I was amazed by its transformation from just a few days earlier.  Thousands of people were strolling the grounds, roller-blading, riding bikes, enjoying ice cream and other treats and going for rides on the many amusement rides set up for the weekend crowd.  Everyone was dressed in their colorful best, and the contrast in color from Monday was astounding.  Sadly the park’s fountains were not yet working, but even that couldn’t detract from the beauty of the day.  

Looking back, the atmosphere at the VVTs was quite similar to that of a county fair in the USA.  Large crowds, beautiful weather, gaudy entertainment and junk food—reason enough to gulyat’ (Russian for “take a walk and have a good time”) in any country, never mind the artificial absurdity of it all.