The monstrous Hotel Rossiya — Europe’s largest hotel with 3,200 rooms — was demolished in 2006. My Muscovite friends tell me that when it was taken down, every building within a half-mile was immediately overrun with cockroaches. Gross.
Two years earlier, the Moskva was taken down to make room for a new Four Seasons. The Moskva was famously designed in four architectural styles because no architect had the courage to ask Stalin which of the four he preferred after he simply marked all of their alternative proposals “approved.”
Now we learn that Detsky Mir is going to be completely gutted in a $200M renovation. Detsky Mir (Children’s World) is not only the largest children’s store in Europe, it’s also an important piece of Soviet History. It sits in Lubyanka Square, right across from the Lubyanka building and prison, the current headquarters of the FSB and the HQ for the KGB, NKVD, Cheka and other names for the Soviet political police.
Why was it placed there? Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, had two passions: one was defending the revolution through murder and persecution; the other was children. In addition to leading the political police, Dzerzhinsky also founded the Soviet orphans’ bureau. The joke about Dzerzhinsky was that he would kill the parents and adopt the children. I do love morbid Soviet humor.
In case you don’t recognize Dzerzhinsky’s name, it was his statue that was taken down by the Moscow mob that stood up to the coup in 1991, at the time the most bold act of resistance by Soviet citizens.
In any case, the children’s store placed on Lubyanka Square in Dzerzhinsky’s honor in 1961. History buffs: if you’re planning to go to Moscow, go soon. Before long, there won’t be much more to see in the way of old Soviet landmarks — only Four Seasons hotels and Sbarros. And if you do go, be sure to visit the sculpture and monument graveyard near Gorky Park — it’s one of the most eerie and generally cool places I’ve ever been to.
— Scott Paul