Polytechnic Museum

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One of the oldest science museums in the world, this well-established institution in Moscow, Russia, is at the time of writing (March 2018) undergoing a massive transformation. I only saw the temporary stand-in Polytechnic exhibition at the VDNKh, which included a substantial section on Soviet nuclear weapons development. This alone made it interesting from a dark-tourism perspective. Presumably such a section in a similar form will most likely be incorporated into the new museum proper that is currently in the making.   
More background info: The origins of the museum go way back into the late 19th century. An 1872 Polytechnic Exhibition was the beginning, followed by the first proper permanent museum set up in 1877 in a dedicated building at Novaya Ploshchad in central Moscow. This became a much coveted institution, including its large lecture hall, which hosted not only scientific presentations but also e.g. musical performances and discussions of avant-garde art.
The 20th century brought many changes and challenges. During WW1 the building doubled up as a hospital for wounded soldiers. After the October Revolution of 1917 the museum lost its funding by the government and hit especially hard times during the Stalin era, which brought an end to the open lecture culture at the museum. During WWII the museum was as good as shut down. But in the Khrushchev era it started to blossom again.
This was partly fostered by the Space Age, as the successes in the Space Race against the USA in the early 1960s gave rise to much hopefulness in the USSR. The popular science lectures in the museum's great lecture hall were back too.
In the late 1980s the museum was made the main Museum of History of Science and Technology of the USSR, a status it also retained in the post-Soviet era. In 2010 it was decided to give the museum a substantial makeover. And this is still ongoing at the time of writing (spring 2018).
Not only is the historical main museum building in the city centre undergoing a complete overhaul, an all-new Museum and Educational Center is projected too, to be housed in a hyper-modern structure designed by an Italian architecture firm at Sparrow Hills near the Moscow State University (see under Moscow).
The exact status of these projects is a bit hard to ascertain. Some sources said it was all projected to be completed by 2017, others say 2018. When I was in Moscow in August 2017, the old museum was certainly still closed, and its website still says it is too. As for the new branch of the museum, I haven't been able to find even a trace of a construction site on Google Maps at the location indicated by the architecture firm's own website. So it's all a bit of a mystery to me. The latest development on which there is plenty of information is about the Italian architecture firm winning the design competition in 2013, but so far not much seems to have actually come of this in the physical world.
When I was in Moscow the Polytechnic Museum had a stand-in exhibition at the VDNKh, and this is what the text below is about. It will become outdated and ultimately redundant at some point, but when exactly that will be is currently unclear.
What there is to see: NOTE the following text is about the exhibition of the Polytechnic Museum at the VDNKh, not about either the old city centre Polytechnic Museum that is currently being refurbished (at the time of writing, in March 2018), nor its new branch (allegedly) under development.
The stand-in exhibition of the Polytechnic Museum at the VDNKh was given the title “Rossiya delayet sama”, meaning 'Russia does it herself'. It's kind of a motto signifying that it's all about scientific achievements (or future ambitions) that are completely “home-grown”. Fair enough. There's certainly plenty that the Soviet Union and Russia could be proud of in that regard.
The title is also a bit of wordplay, though, as the acronym RDS is the same as in the designation “RDS-1”, which was the name of the USSR's first atomic bomb, detonated at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (the Polygon) in 1949.
A replica of the RDS-1 device (nicknamed “Joe One” in the West, in allusion to Josef Stalin) was placed at the very heart of the exhibition to serve as the key object on display. And it does not just sit there idly, no: visitors can step on a special board in front of the replica that then triggers a light-and-sound show with flashing white light followed by lots of loud rumbling, vibrations underfoot and wild LED lighting.
Apart from that perhaps somewhat cheesy show element, this whole section about nuclear energy is certainly of prime interest from a dark-tourism perspective. Near the bomb replica is a section featuring a screen on which an actress appears as Sadako Sasaki, the famous Hiroshima bomb victim (see Hiroshima Peace Museum) who's best known for starting the tradition of making paper cranes as a peace symbol. A whole bunch of these hangs from the ceiling in this exhibition too.
Right in front of the RDS-1 mock-up is a special armchair with a video screen mounted to its side that tells more about the first Soviet nuclear test. And along a side wall a series of screens is mounted (with good-quality headphones) where you can watch video footage (and listen to Russian commentary) about the Soviet nuclear weapons programme, and in particular about the scientists involved in this, including Andrey Sakharov (see Sakharov Centre), the “father” of the Soviet hydrogen bomb.
The videos all come with English subtitles too (which are not perfect but halfway OK). All labelling in the museum is also bilingual, so it's quite a foreigner-friendly exhibition by Russian standards.
Of the remainder of the museum less is of primary interest from a special dark-tourism perspective, though some of the exhibits in the nuclear section about the “peaceful use” of nuclear energy may be an exception (given the USSR's history with nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl or Mayak, though these are not especially picked out as a theme here).
Somewhat related is the section on nuclear fusion or the exhibit demonstrating plasma energy, but the sections on radio technology, holography or calculating machines are probably of less interest to a dark tourist. But those who like hands-on exhibits and interactive set-ups may enjoy playing around here more.
Somewhat more exciting from a darkish perspective may be the medical section about artificial joints or even whole mechanized limbs.
Finally there's a section about big ambitions for extraterrestrial stations on the Moon or even on Mars, represented by cutely fantastical models of such colonies. Yet these ideas are at present more science fiction than a realistic prospect. Real space exploration is covered too, though, namely through a model of the very real Soviet Lunokhod remote-controlled lunar rover (see also Cosmonautics Museum) and a mock spaceship hanging from the ceiling.
So all in all there may not be quite so much for the dark tourist here, but what there is is certainly enough to warrant a visit to this exhibition. Especially the RDS-1 and the video footage of the Soviet nuclear weapons researchers is absolutely worth it.
Of course, when the proper museum reopens at its original location there may be even more reasons to pay it a visit as a dark tourist. And if the new branch near the university ever becomes reality, that might also be worth considering. As of today, though, I cannot say anything about these. It'll have to wait until I come back for a return visit to Moscow ...
Location: The historical museum buildings are right in the centre of Moscow, just south of the Lubyanka on Novaya Ploshchad, but the stand-in exhibition that's in operation while the old museum is undergoing refurbishment is (was?) at Pavilion 26 at the VDNKh. There's a potential location of an all-new Museum and Education Center of the Polytechnic Museum at the MSU in Sparrow Hills in the south of Moscow, but the status of the latter is currently unclear (see above).
Google maps locators:
Polytechnic exhibition at the VDNKh: [55.8344, 37.6217]
City centre historical museum buildings: [55.7578, 37.6296]
Potential (?) site of the new museum branch: [55.6961, 37.5293]
Access and costs: a bit unclear with regard to the old museum and its new branch, but the stand-in exhibition at the VDNKh that I visited required a bit of a walk, but was't too expensive.
Details: To get to Pavilion 26 at the VDNKh first get to the dedicated metro station of the same name (line 6, orange) and take the north exit. From there it's a ca. 1.2 miles (2 km) walk along the VDNKh's main avenue. Pavilion 26 is just west of the big Vostok Rocket on open-air display at the centre of the square. (Alternatively you could get the metro to the next stop, Botanichesky Sad, from where the walk is slightly shorter, but more difficult to navigate.)
To get to the historic main museum building in the city centre either take metro line 1 (red) or 7 (purple) to Lubyanka and head south, or get metro line 6 (orange) or 7 (purple) to Kitay Gorod and head north. The huge museum building is impossible to miss (but at the time of writing it's closed for refurbishment).
If the new Museum and Education Center materializes at its prospective location (see above), that would be reachable by metro line 1 (red) all the way south to Universitet and then it's a few hundred yards' walk up Lomonosovsky Prospekt in a north-westerly direction. But that's just tentative at the time of writing (March 2018).
The exhibition at the VDNKh has/had the following opening times: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily except Mondays.
Admission: 150-300 RUB
Time required: depends on how deep your interest in all things sciencey is. If you only concentrate on the nuclear weapons section you won't need much more than about half an hour, but if you want to do everything else and engage in the various hands-on experiments and interactive elements etc. then you could probably spend a couple of hours in this museum.
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under Moscow.
The stand-in exhibition of the museum at the VDNKh obviously combines best with just that, and also with the Cosmonautics Museum, which you pass en route from the metro station (see above). From the Monorail station that you pass en route as well you can also get to the Ostankino TV Tower. Everything else would be far away.
The historical main museum building in the city centre is right next door to the Lubyanka, and it's also just a short walk from Red Square and the Kremlin.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Moscow and VDNKh.
  • Polytechnic 01 - brain zonePolytechnic 01 - brain zone
  • Polytechnic 02 - bright brainPolytechnic 02 - bright brain
  • Polytechnic 03 - RDS-1Polytechnic 03 - RDS-1
  • Polytechnic 04 - bright flashPolytechnic 04 - bright flash
  • Polytechnic 05 - inner workings of RDS-1Polytechnic 05 - inner workings of RDS-1
  • Polytechnic 06 - the story of the Soviet nuclear weapons programmePolytechnic 06 - the story of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme
  • Polytechnic 07 - Hiroshima cranesPolytechnic 07 - Hiroshima cranes
  • Polytechnic 08 - fuel rods of a nuclear power stationPolytechnic 08 - fuel rods of a nuclear power station
  • Polytechnic 09 - space explorationPolytechnic 09 - space exploration
  • Polytechnic 10 - Lunokhod moon roverPolytechnic 10 - Lunokhod moon rover
  • Polytechnic 11 - Moon colonyPolytechnic 11 - Moon colony
  • Polytechnic 12 - Mars colonyPolytechnic 12 - Mars colony
  • Polytechnic 13 - digitalizationPolytechnic 13 - digitalization
  • Polytechnic 14 - industrial robotsPolytechnic 14 - industrial robots
  • Polytechnic 15 - artficial jointsPolytechnic 15 - artficial joints
  • Polytechnic 16 - artificial limbsPolytechnic 16 - artificial limbs
  • Polytechnic 17 - plasmaPolytechnic 17 - plasma
  • Polytechnic 18 - model of a fusion reactorPolytechnic 18 - model of a fusion reactor

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