Founded in 1945, this enormous wooded area contains the huge Komsomolskoe Lake and is a very popular location for promenaders. It’s certainly one of my favourite haunts for an early morning stroll on a Sunday. Significantly redeveloped in recent times and now benefiting from major enhancement, it is also now the home of the Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War. At the time of writing, the building works and the process of relocation were still ongoing, but as a glorious homage to the perceived golden days of yore and the heroism of the ultimate victory over the Nazis, the iconic hammer and sickle flag of the USSR was flying proudly from its cupola in the middle of the building site. The Minsk Hero City monument on Pobediteley Avenue marks the main entrance to the park and the new museum is immediately behind it.
Walk through the main gate and uphill along the avenue to Victory Fountain at the top, where a delightful panorama across the lake and beyond awaits. This is a lovely spot. You are likely to share it with elderly folk holding hands, children rollerblading with their mothers and couples promenading. If you live in one of the many high-rise developments that surround the park, it’s a wonderful garden to have right outside your building, all at your boundless disposal and free. Head on down to the side of the lake and track left towards Bird Island with its boardwalks and nature trails through the woods. From the edge of the island there are fine views across to the suburbs beyond the lake, with the BelExpo exhibition centre and the new-build of the president’s huge and ornate office and residence in the foreground. Completed in the autumn of 2013, it was not in use at the time of writing.
Retrace your steps off the island across the wooden bridge festooned with the padlocks of lovers andhead lakeside to your right, where you will find seating galore and a summer café to enhance your appreciation of the view. At this point you will be alongside the massive redevelopment at Hotel Victoria. At the weekend, there are families at leisure as far as the eye can see here. And if you’re in need, the sweetest public lavatories you will ever encounter can be found in the park, directly in front of the main BelExpo hall, complete with a lobby, ornaments, artificial flowers galore and two elderly attendants waiting to charge you the princely sum of BYR3,500 to avail yourself of the services there. As you walk on past the new presidential complex, it just gets bigger and bigger until it fills your field of vision. Look out particularly for the design of the glass panels matching the edging on the country’s national flag.
You can then complete your circumnavigation of the lake and park, through picnic areas with sunshades and outdoor showers, beaches with delightful children’s play areas complete with a mini-lighthouse and jetties, and a fitness trail, before you reach the grand entrance gate where your exploration began. At this juncture in your ambling I have one more thing for you to do. Walk out of the park at the main gate on the corner of Masherova Avenue, cross over the road and head uphill along Drozd Street for 200m, turn round, and take in the vista laid before you. To my mind, it says everything there is to say about this city, this country and the national psyche. The glory of the Victory monument, with the gleaming new Great Patriotic War Museum behind it, the hammer and sickle flag of the old USSR fluttering in the breeze; eight-lane boulevards carrying very little traffic, with hardly anyone walking the scene; block after block of Soviet-style concrete in a 360-degree panorama; wide open spaces and grand Utopian town planning on a massive scale; trees and concrete under huge open skies, where the eye is always drawn up and to the horizon. It’s quite a view, and a rare treat for the senses…