We planned to visit a few more Metro stations so we started at Prospekt Mira with its polished walls and vaulted ceiling and then the short journey to Arbatskaya with its cream walls and elegant chandeliers and designed to be used alternatively, should the need arise, as a nuclear fall-out shelter.
Our destination was Victory Park at Poklonnaya Hill on the outskirts of the city and this meant leaving the Metro at Park Pobedy which, at ninety-four metres, is claimed to be the deepest Metro station in the world. I know, I know, if you have been paying attention then several posts ago I told you that Saint-Petersburg was the deepest Metro in the world but, depending upon what measure you use, it seems that both claims are true. Saint-Petersburg is the deepest overall on average and this Moscow Station has the actual deepest single point – so there you are!
The escalator is one-hundred and twenty-six metres long, has seven-hundred and forty steps and takes three minutes to get from the platform to the surface. We took the ride and left the station entrance into the fading light of the evening and walked the short distance to Victory Park.
In the United Kingdom it took over sixty-years to erect a monument to World-War-Two Bomber Command but in Russia the previous Soviet regime erected obelisks and memorials all over the place. This huge open air museum commemorates victories in probably the two most misguided military adventures in the last few hundred years, firstly Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and having learned nothing from that Hitler’s operation Barbarossa a hundred and thirty years later in 1941.
I found it to be a strangely solemn sort of place and we walked through the flower beds and the water fountains with their crimson lighting displays (was that meant to symbolise blood I wondered?) I was bought up on tales of the war told to me by my father, these were always gallant tales about impossibly brave paratroopers and square jawed commandos, about fearless desert rats and valiant fighter pilots, about courageous heroes and stiff upper lips, about medals and honours; I am certain that he never really understood what the war was like in its brutal reality.
He had books about the war; ‘The War’s best photographs’, ‘The Empire Youth Annual’ and three bound volumes of the weekly newspaper ‘The War Illustrated’. These told the stories of the sinking of the Bismarck, the Dam Busters raid and Montgomery’s victories in the North African desert. The horror of the war in the East and the inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps didn’t feature quite so predominantly and so fuelled by dad’s stories and patriotic British war movies starring Kenneth More and Richard Todd I grew up in some way thinking war was glamorous, brave and worthy.
At the centre of the park is an obelisk, exactly 141.8 meters, which represents 10 centimetres for every day of the War, a towering monument where St George (Patron Saint of Russia as well as England) slays a dragon below a monument that sets out the faces and instruments of war, soldiers, civilians and weapons are represented here to set out the horror, suffering and ultimate futility of it all. Starting at the bottom and reading upwards are the names of the besieged Russian cities until victory is finally reached at the top and behind the obelisk and the museum is a memorial to the victims of the prison camps and the sinking sun cast moody shadows of the suffering people depicted there.
It was getting quite late now and the shadows were lengthening and somebody somewhere flicked a switch and the fountains were turned off so we retraced our steps and left Victory Park, descending the elevator back to the Park Probedy Metro station and then took the short journey home where leaving the Metro at Rizhskaya, the scene of the 2004 Chechen suicide bombings that killed ten people, we were pleased to see that the old lady had finally sold all of her simple flower bouquets and was on her way home.