The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged Stalin

Samara: Stalin Bunker

I am in Samara, where I have successfully infiltrated the Stalin Bunker.

The bunker was build in great secrecy and in great haste in 1941, when Moscow was in danger and Kuibyshev (aka Samara) was the fallback Soviet capital.  But Moscow survived and Stalin chose to stay in the city even during its most dangerous moments, so the bunker was never actually used in anger.

The bunker entrance is hidden behind an innocuous steel door. You then head down 8 flights of stairs, mounted in an armored steel cylinder, to reach the top of the bunker proper. The bunker then occupies seven levels, with the “Stalin” level at the very bottom, 190 steps from the surface.

The current decor is a modern restoration of what the long ago Stalin headquarters might have looked like.  There is a large formal conference room, with a giant war map.  Opposite is a mid-sized office, with a giant “Stalin Desk”.  All ready for the great man, should he suddenly reappear on the scene.

The Bunker authorities make heavy play on the Stalin name, although he probably never actually visited. The authorities also carefully preserve a distinctly Stalinist style towards visitors.  They only admit pre-arranged groups and do not allow individuals.  It is possible to pay for of an entire group of 20, but you still need to book in advance and since the bunker authorities don’t have an email or speak English, you typically need to work through a tour agency (more below).

I was lucky enough to arrive as a group of fourteen young students and their teacher were about to enter.  I was initially given head-shakes and my entrance fee turned away.  But after a bit, after there were some discussions in Russian, I was deemed harmless and allowed to tag along with the student group.  This meant I needed to wait patiently through several very thorough lectures in Russian on the history of the bunker, but that was a small price to pay to get into a tour.

On the way out, make sure to admire the modern Stalin-themed stained glass window near the entrance.

Practicalities: The bunker is at 57 Ul. Frunze (53.196710, 50.098201), under the Academy of Culture. It has its own separate entrance around the back. Nominal hours are 11-1 and 2-3, Mon-Fri.

Stalin Bunker Plan

Stalin Bunker 1 Stalin Bunker 2

Stalin Bunker conference roomStalin Bunker OfficeStalin Bunker Stained Glass

I emailed three tour agencies to try to arrange a visit (Samara Tour, Y-RA, Samara InTour) without success. Eventually I reached a company “holiday-tours@mail.ru” who were willing to set up a tour for me, but at the group rate of 5000 Rubles, which seemed a little stiff.

The best bet is probably to try to join on to an existing tour. There seemed to be groups going through roughly hourly, on the hour, when I was there. It seems that if they are under the group size limit (which I think is 20 people) and you seem harmless, they may let you tag along. I paid 80 Rubles for my visit, but I may have lucked into a student discount.

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.

IMG_1001  IMG_0995

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.

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.

Stalin in Virginia

Stalin in VirginiaThe US National D-Day Memorial is in the small rural town of Bedford, VA. Overall it’s a fine, elegant and well designed monument, commemorating a key WWII event.  But it has recently become noteworthy for a certain small addition…

The Memorial include busts of the principal allied commanders and of all the principal allied leaders. The Stalin bust is on the unfashionable, little visited Eastern edge of the Memorial.  It is the only publicly displayed Stalin bust that I know of in the US. The biographical plaque takes prominent note of the elimination of the Kulaks, the Great Terror, and the relocation of nations.

Unfortunately all the leader busts are quite weak. Stalin is a bland representation of a stern faced foreigner with a moustache. It lacks the personality one sees in the better Stalin busts or photographs. There is no hint of the sly, insightful look in the eye, or that subtly malicious, knowing smile. Oh well: the Churchill is even worse and the Truman is almost unrecognizable.

Other parts of the Memorial are much better. There is a well conceived memorial pool with bronze soldiers wading to the beach from a landing craft. A series of hidden high pressure fountains erupt sporadically among the troops. Noisy and unpredictable, they simulate incoming rifle fire and add dynamism to the scene.

Well worth a visit if you are in central Virginia.

Despite the 2008 war, neither Gori nor its famous Stalin Museum seem to have changed much since my previous visit in 2007.  The tall statue of Stalin still dominates the town square.  The Stalin Museum still provides a positive narrative of Stalin’s life with a  focus on the great Soviet WWII victory, and no mention of any awkward topics.  The only change I noticed was the addition of a small gift shop, where the faithful can buy commemorative tee-shirts and mugs.

I know that Gori suffered some bomb damage in the 2008 war, as well as being briefly occupied by Russian troops.  However there is no longer any visible damage in the central parts of town.   In general, things actually seemed slightly more prosperous than I remembered from 2007.

[Update:  The Gori Stalin statue was removed on 25th June 2010.]

Batumi's Stalin Museum

The Stalin Museum in Batumi is much more modest than the imposing Gori Stalin Museum.  It comprises three mid-sized rooms, in a former worker’s hostel which housed the young Stalin when he was organizing workers in Batumi.   However, the Batumi museum provides a much more personal and enthusiastic touch than in Gori.  Your 3 Lari admittance fee includes a guided tour (in slightly halting but workable English) from the Museum’s curator. It quickly becomes clear he has true enthusiasm for his work and he believes Stalin was, on the whole, a positive force.  He uses the familiar arguments: without the crash industrialization program of the 1930s the USSR (and the West) would have lost WWII and, without Stalin, the crash industrialization program would never have happened.

Curator + Stalin

Stalin ‘s stay in Batumi was reasonably brief.  He was arrested and imprisoned after organizing a workers protest where a number of workers died in a confrontation with the authorities.  (See Simon Sebag Montefiore’s “Young Stalin” for details.)  The museum includes the room where Stalin stayed and supposedly the actual bed he slept on.  Other than that, it includes a modest collection of idealized Stalin paintings and sculptures, and reproductions of various stock photographs of the young revolutionary, including his classic police mugshot.

Since I seemed interested and polite, the curator was kind enough to take my picture with a flag of the Soviet Republic of Georgia, beside an idealized statue of the young Stalin.

If you are in Batumi, it is definitely worth visiting, if for nothing else, as a glimpse into an entire alternative world view.

Curator's Office

"Stalin's Bed"

Stalin's Mugshot

Scotsman + Georgian SSR Flag