The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged Russia

Moscow: Stalin Bunker

The word “bunker” evokes images of a grim concrete shelter; dark, dank and ugly. Well maybe for most people, but not if you’re the Red Tsar.

Moscow’s Stalin Bunker is positively palatial, with faux marble columns, a large domed conference room, and a paneled private office.

Between 1933 and 1939 the Soviets built a sprawling secret underground bunker complex at Izmailova, in the Eastern suburbs of Moscow, as a refuge from potential German air attacks. It was built using convict labor, under the pretense of being foundations for a giant stadium. “Stalin’s Bunker” was an even more secret refuge within this complex. The bunkers are connected by a 15km tunnel to central Moscow, with various side connections into the metro network.

The complex was abandoned in 1949, as it was far too shallow to resist nuclear weapons. It fell into disrepair and then after 1991, the Stalin Bunker section was restored and opened as a museum. Unfortunately most of the furniture and decorations are not original, but my guide assured me that they’d tried hard to reconstruct the original appearance, and pointed out a few pieces of original furnishings.

Although it was built for Stalin, he never actually used it as his main base. He probably visited on a couple of occasions, but he preferred to stay based nearer the Kremlin.

Stalin's Bunker Entry Hallway

Entry Hallway

Stalin's Bunker Conference Room

Conference Room

Stalin's Office.   Chair is original, Scotsman is not.

Stalin’s Office.
Chair is original, Scotsman is not.

The central conference room has impressive acoustics, supposedly so that the quiet spoken Stalin could be easily heard by all his subordinates.

Practicalities

The Stalin Bunker is still well hidden, with no external signage. It’s at 55.797412, 37.751028 at Izmailova. Use the Partizanskaya Metro stop, then go North along 890th Proyektiruemyy Prospekt, past the fantasy-land Izmailova Kremlin and look for a side lane East marked “ФОП ИЗМАЙЛОВО”. At the end is a closed gate. At the pedestrian entry at the side of the gate, explain that you’re going to “Bunker Stalina” and they will let you through. Then head down the ramp to the right. At this point you’ll see the guardian tanks. The bunker entrance is through the blue steel doors opposite the tanks.

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You need to book a tour in advance and it’s not cheap. The price depends on the group size, from 4900 Rubles for a one person tour, to 1600 Rubles each for a group of six and up. That will get you a knowledgeable English speaking guide and about an hour inside the bunker.

Their website (in Russian) is at www.cmaf.ru/branchs/bun  Their contact email is sbunker@mail.ru.

The Museum of the USSR

IMG_0795The Museum of the USSR is a new and quirky museum at Moscow’s VDNKh exposition center.

It’s really a “Museum of Everyday Life” in the USSR, with several large rooms full of everyday Soviet kitsch. Old fashioned electronics, teddy bears, Soviet motivational posters, etc, etc.  It’s all reasonably amusing.

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But the star of the show is the Lenin. A faithful replica of Lenin lying in state, just as in the Mausoleum. Except as you watch, this one’s chest rises and falls. Lenin lives! A miracle! IMG_0804B

It’s not a very serious museum and not worth a special trip. But if you’re out at VNDKh it’s worth a ten minute visit.

It’s in VDNKh Pavilion 2 at 55.828668, 37.631514. Website (in Russian) is www.museumussr.ru. Hours are 10-7 every day. Entry is 250 Rubles.

space aliens in red squareWhile in Moscow, I discovered that the space aliens who landed at Chelyabinsk have now set up camp in Red Square. A giant shimmering force field covers Lenin’s Mausoleum. Of course the authorities claim it’s a bubble tent to shelter repair work on the mausoleum, but this is Russia and who believes the authorities?

More seriously, I am curious whether we will see any noticeable changes when the repairs are unveiled.

Update 15th May 2013: The Lenin Mausoleum Reopens with no visible changes.

False Dawn in Murmansk

Murmansk false dawn, in early afternoon.

Murmansk false dawn.

I was in Murmansk for the Winter Solstice.

The city is North of the Arctic Circle, so the sun never actually rises in mid-winter. I had been vaguely expecting that I would be encountering a 24 hour night, but no, the sky was actually a bright twilight from about noon to about 4:00pm, as the sun lurked just over the horizon. In mid afternoon, the rosy fingers of a false dawn even made an appearance to the South, before gently fading out again.

"Alyosha". Still guarding Murmansk.

“Alyosha”. Still guarding Murmansk.

Murmank hosts a fine resolute Lenin, the charming Museum of the Northern Fleet, and a strangely poignant 30 meter high concrete statue of a Soviet WWII soldier, nicknamed “Alyosha”, still resolutely watching the skies for German bombers.

I had arrived by train from St Petersburg and I took a local minibus over the border to Kirkenes in Norway. The Norwegian border officials asked various slightly strange questions (“Where is your Norwegian exit stamp!?”) and did a particularly thorough search of my pack. I only realized later that they had assumed I must be returning from a short trip from Norway into Murmansk and so they became very suspicious when I denied having any Norwegian exit stamp. Sigh. Normally entries to Western Europe on a UK passport are easy, so this caught me by surprise.

Grozny

On my way from Vladikavkaz to Astrakhan, I stopped off in Grozny. I’m not sure what I expected from Chechnya, but it wasn’t this.

Almost all the buildings in central Grozny are new, built after the devastation of the second Chechen War.  But there is now another enormous new wave of construction under way, with several multi-storey towers and many, many blocks of new low rise buildings.  I wandered through what felt like an endless construction zone.  It isn’t all prestige fluff either – there seem to be many well constructed new apartment blocks too.

People in Grozny seemed slightly surprised to see a tourist, let alone a foreigner from exotic “Shotlandiya”, but they also seemed pleased and welcoming.

The city has a very different feel from most of European Russia.  This is definitely an Islamic city, with most women wearing headscarves and many men wearing muslim caps.  And on Friday afternoon there was a large crowd coming out of the grand new mosque.

Chechnya, and Grozny in particular, seems to be going through a relatively stable period at the moment.  (The key word being “relatively”, there are still periodic incidents.)  There is a lot of armed security sprinkled around the city, but it is generally low key.  The city feels bustling and prosperous.

It’s worth a visit.  More Grozny photos.

Practicalities: I came in by marshrutka from Vladikavkaz via Nazran and took the very slow 602C train out to Astrakhan.  (Note that at Nazran the Grozny marshrutkas arrive/leave at a separate bus stand about 1 km South of the main bus station.) I stayed at the pleasant and friendly Hotel Arena City.

Hotel Arena City Security Guards

Hotel Arena City – Night Watchmen

 

I checked out of the Arena City before dawn, so I got to meet two of the night-time security team.  They had stopped in for a quick tea break while two more armed guards patrolled outside.  While Grozny is mostly stable these days, this is still the North Caucasus, so I guess a little extra security isn’t too surprising.

 

Stalin in Vladikavkaz

I’m in Vladikavkaz (“Lord of the Caucasus”), North Ossetia, Russian Federation, where Stalin lurks.

I was visiting the fine WWII memorial park “Monument to Glory”.  And there he was, posed casually in front of a giant historical mosaic.

The most surprising part is that the bust is new, added in 2009 by the local Communist Party.  Presumably with the assent of the city government.

According to the Lonely Planet Russian guide, there are at least a couple of other Stalin busts lurking around North Ossetia.  Lonely Planet asserts that there is a local fondness for Stalin due to ethnic politics: in the 1940s, Stalin left the Ossetians in place but deported their hated ethnic enemies, the Ingush, en masse.  Hmm.  It’s possible, but it seems a stretch.

As it happens, the memorial park also has a small, touching memorial to the 2004 Beslan tragedy, when Ingush and Chechen terrorists attacked a North Ossetian school.

Also in Vladikavkaz I spotted an unexpected billboard.  At first I thought it must be an advert for the Russian equivalent of the History Channel, or suchlike.  But no, it’s quite serious.  It’s from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the message is “He was a communist!  Come join us!”  Interesting!  No hint of ambiguity or historical reticence there.