Last week's top cultural event was the opening of Dasha Zhukova's Centre for Contemporary Culture in a converted modernist bus station, popularly known as the Garage. Yes, Roman Abramovich's glamorous girlfriend has founded an art centre that rivals London's Tate Modern. Presently, it is showing a retrospective of the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Ilya Kabakov is a Russian-Jewish conceptual artist who worked for 30 years in Moscow and now lives in America. This week's walk strolls past and into the new gallery and discovers on the way that the area once famed for prisons and poverty is full of interesting surprises. The Meyerhold Centre, immediately outside Mendeleevskaya Metro, is one of many cultural enterprises in historic Novaya Sloboda ("new suburb"). Named after the experimental theatre director executed by Stalin, the Centre has been true to its name, staging innovative works like the recent season of fringe plays from Edinburgh. Turning left into Lesnaya Ulitsa, about 200m north of the station, you will see the barbed wire wall of the infamous Butyrka Prison on the right. At number 55 you arrive at the "Museum of the 1905-6 Underground Press" (1) which is open Tues-Sun 10-5. In this late nineteenth century brick house, you can see the original type-set of radical workers' newspapers.
Turning left again into 1st Miusskaya Ulitsa, pass the round building of the Chemical-Technical University and walk to the end of the road where the grand archways and Corinthian capitals of the Russian State Humanities University loom overhead on the right. Turn left into Veskovsky Pereulok, go under the underpass and on past columned Novoslobodskaya Metro along Seleznevskaya Ulitsa. Behind the station, the Chinese shopping centre includes the Druzhba Restaurant, famous for its authentic spicy food and hearty portions. There is an impressive red and white church to the right whose beautifully decorated interior is well worth a look. A bit further on along Seleznevskaya, the official museum of the Internal Affairs Ministry (MVD) is housed in the late eighteenth century yellow building with what looks like a lighthouse on top (2).
Passing the old Seleznevsky Banya, cross over two side roads and bear slightly left into Pereulok Dostoevskovo, identifiable by the tramlines. The bearded statue straight ahead is Dostoevsky. He was born in a little house in the grounds of the Maria Hospital here. Part of the house is now a museum (3), open in the afternoons from Thursday to Sunday. Turning left along Ulitsa Dostoevskovo, you pass between the grounds of the hospital where the young Dostoevsky played and some picturesque houses across the street. At the end you reach Ploschad Borby and turn right into Ulitsa Obraztsova. On the left are the gardens and pink and white buildings the State University of Communications and, opposite (at number 12), a dilapidated house in which the Railway Engineer and academic Vladimir Obraztsov lived for the last twenty years of his life. His son, Sergei, was the famous puppeteer who founded the Obraztsov Puppet Theatre with the clock, quite nearby on the Garden Ring.
The former Bakhmetevsky Bus Station, aka "The Garage," is just beyond the University at number 19a (4), freshly repainted in red and white with numbered hangar doors. It is not immediately obvious that the gallery is open, but you simply need to ask the security guards to let you in through the gate and then walk along the right hand side of the building to get in. The architect Melnikov designed this elegant parallelogram in 1926 to house 104 buses. Vladimir Shukov, who built the Shabolovsky Radio Tower, did the roof. The incredible 8,500 square metre space has free admission and currently houses "The Alternative History of Art." The exhibition presents Kabakov's avant-garde art, some of it disguised as the work of other fictitious artists. Don't miss "The Red Wagon" in the huge hall at the end, where you can sit and look at a painted socialist realist utopia while listening to Soviet music. There is also a cafe here, leather sofas and a model of the bus garage near free booklets about its architectural history.
The area has a strong Jewish heritage. Round the next corner to the left on 2nd Vyshelavtsev Pereulok, flanked by a dilapidated wooden house and a semi-circular warehouse, is the only synagogue in Russia to have been built during Soviet times. Coming back to and crossing Ulitsa Obraztsova, walk along Lazerevsky Pereulok, over two more roads to reach the blue and white Church of the Holy Ghost (5). The path to the left of the church leads past a horse-training field into the flowery Festival Park. Coming out of the gate back onto Ulitsa Sovietskoi Armii, walk round the park fence to the right to find a bus stop next to the main road.
The neon-fronted cinema opposite the bus stop is the Kino-Teatr Gavana. The cranes that are visible behind it are building another cultural centre dedicated to the acclaimed Soviet actor and comedian Arkady Raikin. Behind this is the Satirikon Theatre (6) where his son, Konstantin is currently playing King Lear to packed houses and standing ovations. But unless you want to buy tickets the theatre itself is not worth a detour. Catch any bus going right along the main road to Rizhsky Vokzal. Before you leave the area, check out the fresh produce market behind Rizhskaya Metro Station. Besides the spirit-lifting displays of fresh rosemary, apples, purple figs or small tomatoes from Baku, the market specialises in flowers with everything from bunches of country cornflowers to air-freighted orchids. ■
Family friendly features
As well as the space and colour of the Garage, the playgrounds and animal sculptures of the Festival Park and the fruit-sugar candies in the market, there is also the Moscow Railway Museum (7), hidden behind the ornate white and turquoise Station building. A miniature railway and dozens of historic locomotives are open Weds-Sun 10-4 with steam train rides available most weekends at noon.