An insider’s view of Moscow
“What happened to you, Russians?” asks Die Zeit journalist Alice Bota who has been living in Moscow for the past two years. She has never seen Colombians dancing in the streets, Argentinians singing out loud and Mexican girls posing for a photo with Russian police officers.
“In a capital where everyone is hurrying everywhere all the time, Russians who hardly normally speak only a couple of phrases in broken English, suddenly stop and ask foreigners if they need help. Ticket sellers who have never been very polite before are now all smiles, and they try to greet you in English. In a usually silent and lifeless metro, people suddenly start talking to each other or singing,” Bota writes.
But she was mostly surprised how everyone in Moscow celebrated the Russian national team’s successes.
Christian Esch, chief of Der Spiegel magazine’s Moscow’s bureau, also wrote a long story about the Russian capital’s transformation in the past ten years that he has spent here. According to Esch, the most serious changes have come under Sergei Sobyanin. And preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup only expedited these transformations.
“Those arriving for the World Cup in Moscow will be in for a big surprise. The Russian capital does not look like most Germans may think. Even those who have been here once will hardly recognise the city again. Moscow has changed considerably in the past two years,” Esch writes.
According to Esch, he was really impressed with the post-Soviet atmosphere after arriving in the city in 2008.
“Viagra ads spanned the wide Kutuzovsky Prospekt. Ancient Ladas and glittering black Porsche Cayennes parked across pavements/sidewalks. Drivers seldom stopped at pedestrian crossings. Even the smallest supermarket hired a security guard. Kiosks mushroomed in front of every metro station,” the journalist recalled.
Gorky Park was the first to change after Mr Sobyanin took over. The aging rides were dismantled, admission became free, manicured lawns appeared, free yoga and dancing classes, as well as Soviet-era ice cream counters became popular. The sceptics assumed that the rest of the city wouldn’t change so soon.
Metered parking was introduced, and cars no longer line the pavements (sidewalks). City streets are also being improved.
“The streets now look tidier than before, although they seem more sterile. The streets are narrower, and the pavements (sidewalks) have become wider. New buses now use designated transit lanes. People can even bicycle in Moscow without risking their lives. The city has designated cycling lanes and bike-sharing stations. In 2008, I felt like a lone cyclist in Moscow,” the journalist writes.
He singles out Zaryadye Park and Moscow’s quick conversion from the post-Soviet 1990s to the Modern Age.
In the run-up to the tournament
Journalists from The Guardian in the UK have reviewed the city’s efforts to make things more comfortable for guests. The Stalinist architecture and monuments still give the city an imposing look, but at ground level everything has become more approachable. The atmosphere in Moscow is different; the streets have a different rhythm. Now it’s pleasant and convenient to walk in Moscow. Signs and announcements in the Moscow Metro are bilingual.
The city government has launched Moscow Metro) mobile application in six languages to help visitors and has provided free English-language lessons to 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 licensed taxi drivers. But the newspaper complains about some taxi drivers who charge exorbitant prices for a ride from Sheremetyevo International Airport to central Moscow.
Although many Western publications criticise Russia and remain sceptical about the country’s development, they now realise that the infrastructure, built in the run-up to the tournament, will continue to function after the big event.
Der Tagesspiegel lists city development statistics: 76 new metro stations with designerly interiors and differing considerably from their classic Soviet-era equivalents will be built through 2020.
“Guests don’t have to worry about accommodations. Since last fall, over 100 new hotels have opened, in addition to private flats whose owners have to pay 18 percent profit tax,” the publication notes.
World Cup facts and statistics
A new fan zone opened at the city’s initiative near Spartak Stadium after the Russian national team took an unexpected victory against Spain and made it into the quarterfinals.
“The Moscow Metro is showing World Cup games on the underground and it's brilliant,” The Irish News goes on to say.
A total of 350,000 riders watched the Russia-Spain game in the metro, according to the Australian edition of Four-Four Two football magazine.
In all, 8,720 screens in 1,896 carriages showed the match live, and 14 million people have watched the games in trains since the beginning of the tournament.
Party 24 hours a day
A festive atmosphere rules supreme in Moscow, with Berliner Kurier also feeling the excitment. The newspaper recalled the 2006 story when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup and placed third.
What Germany experienced 12 years ago, is now being repeated in Russia. Russia is not this open very often. Greetings from Moscow: Television is enthusiastically calling Stanislav Cherchesov a moustached Gagarin. The coach once played for Dynamo Dresden and was also goal keeper for Austria’s Tirol under Joachim Loew, the current coach of the German national team, the newspaper writes.
According to Berliner Zeitung, no cases of racism were reported in the Russian capital, despite the fears. No one shouted insulting chants, and football hooligans were nowhere to be seen.
“The Russians are excellent and hospitable hosts, and I did not encounter any racism here,” a fan from Senegal who was asked not to go to Moscow told the newspaper.
Police respond appropriately to the happy masses and have not cracked down on the boisterous holidaymakers on Nikolskaya Street.
Events reached a climax Sunday, 1 July when the Russian national team defeated Spain in a series of unexpected penalty kicks during a round of 16 match.