Blog: Simon WarburtonChanging winds

Simon Warburton | 5 February 2013

Last flight of the night out of an almost empty Heathrow - the residents of Windsor must have loved us roaring over at 250kts at 11pm - on the Aeroflot Airbus A321 to Moscow and en route to see GAZ Group in Russia.

The time went quickly as we slipped over northern Europe and down into a frozen Moscow dawn, whose snowy landscape just reinforces how elemental a country Russia remains.

I'm with the Bell Pottinger PR company, who heroically stayed behind in the Russian capital to wait for connecting American journalists and allowed me to fly ahead for the 255 mile hop to GAZ's home town of Nizhny Novgorod.

I've only recently finished reading 'Russia,' a fantastic tome by BBC correspondent, Martin Sixsmith, who spent 20 years in Moscow and to come here so soon really brings his sparkling prose alive as this place has a resonance that is impossible to ignore.

If that's possible, it's even more wintry here out east than Moscow, with snow driving horizontally as I looked out earlier, although Russian hotels being heated to an almost super-human degree, I opened the window to let the Arctic blast take a few degrees Celsius off.

Nizhny Novgorod used to be known as 'Gorky' after the Communist writer, reputed to be one of Uncle Joe's favourites, but has now reverted to its more traditional usage.

Nowhere perhaps more than Russia is the issue of city names more powerful and evocative. There is a debate raging here about whether or not to rename Volgograd, Stalingrad and this in a country that went back to St Petersburg from the emotion-laden Leningrad.

We're due to meet the GAZ Chairman, Bo Andersson, tomorrow at his sprawling factory - dinner was scheduled for last night but travel delays meant an evening in the hotel lobby with a cheese sandwich - minus the gherkins which I extracted - who actually likes gherkins...?

This hotel has had its fair share of dignitaries including Boris Yeltsin - whose confident face beams out from a proudly-displayed picture - but the town's former closed status means relatively few foreigners have ventured here.

I you-tubed Nizhny before I came - the tourist images look a million miles from the rows of faceless tower blocks on the road in from the airport - and all to the ubiquitous soundtrack of 'Wind of Change,' by The Scorpions whose tune I now can't get out out of my head.

Writing this, I've just looked at that Scorpions video from their 1991 concert in the iconic Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and yes, some of it's cheesy and corny, but there are equally some immensely powerful images beamed into the heart of one of Europe's most history-fuelled cities.


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