The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged USSR

Moscow: Bunker 42

Bunker 42 is an authentic Soviet era nuclear bunker in Moscow, now open as a museum. It is extremely cool.

The main tunnels provided 7000 sq meters of space, 65 meters under Moscow’s Taganskaya Hill. You enter through a fake building on the surface, which provides four meters of protective concrete around the bunker entrance. The deep tunnels are further shielded with a meter of concrete and four inches of steel. It was built in the 1950s and was an active Soviet nuclear-era installation, functioning as a hardened command and communication center for the Moscow military leadership. A prototype of the bunker design was tested at Semipalatinsk and after various domestic animals inside survived a large nearby nuclear blast, the design was approved for Moscow.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the bunker was kept on high alert with 650 military staff in full lock-down for ten days. Ten days that might have changed the world…

The tour starts by descending the 288 stairs from the entrance to the main bunker core. Then we watched a short introductory film, explaining the nuclear arms race from a Russian/Soviet perspective and describing the motivation for the bunker. It was very interesting to hear that alternative perspective, where the Soviet Union is at risk, but the Cuban Missile Crisis still a potential catastrophe for both sides. It was also interesting to hear our guide’s overtly pro-Soviet perspective, including such phrases as “… until our country was destroyed in 1991 …”.

The bunker occupies four giant tunnels, which are cross-linked and also have service connections into the Moscow Metro system. In most places the tunnels are split into two stories, but there are occasional full double-height sections. Unlike the Stalin bunker, this feels like a real hardened war bunker, full of steel and concrete. It’s great!

The canteen and living areas have been converted into a modern restaurant and conference center for special events.  (The perfect place for a wedding!)

As part of the museum, they have a pair of missile silo control panels, imported from a real Soviet ICBM site. Once again I managed to get one of the command chairs as we simulated a launch. The procedure is a little more complicated than at the Titan silo. We had to each simultaneously turn a control key, then enter the launch codes, then each of us simultaneously push a button and turn a key. Unlike the Titan silo, the Soviet crews had the launch codes in a safe and could in theory launch independently. It was fascinating to emulate a Soviet launch, though a little less spooky than doing it in a real missile silo.

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Practicalities

IMG_1151The bunker entrance is at 55.741701, 37.649088 at Building 11, 5-y Kotelnicheskiy Pereulok. The nearest metro is Taganskaya. The bunker entrance is a little hard to spot. Look for a side entrance on the South of 5th Kotelnicheskiy Lane with a barrier gate and then about ten meters in a steel gate with a large Soviet star. That’s it!

You need to book in advance. A place on an English language tour costs 1300 Rubles. Our group had twelve people, which I think is their maximum. The tour lasts 90 minutes. The Bunker-42 website is www.bunker42.com and their contact email is cwm@bunker42.com.

For the film, our group was offered the choice of a 30 minute English language film, or an 18 minute Russian film with English subtitles. We opted for the shorter film, as that would give us more time actually touring the bunker. This turned out to be an unexpectedly good choice, as we got to see the Russian/Soviet perspective on the nuclear arms race.

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.

Novorossiysk: Brezhnev

I’ve bagged Lenins by the dozen.  And even a couple of Stalins.

But a Brezhnev?  In the wild?  Now there’s a real rarity.  But there he was, striding casually down the street in downtown Novorossiysk.  So I nabbed him.

This isn’t the doddering, geriatric Brezhnev of the 1980s.  This is the rising apparatchik, posed with a hint of rebellious informality, a loosened tie and a jacket casually slung over one shoulder.  Not the wooden politburo veteran, but the younger man-of-the-people getting ready to grab power.  The Brezhnev who recklessly sped in (and sometimes crashed in) high-end foreign cars.

The most amazing thing about the statue is that it was erected in 2004, long after the fall of the USSR, paid for by local public contributions.

Why does Novorossiysk love Leonid Brezhnev so?  Well, Brezhnev liked to emphasize his heroic war record, centered on the Northern Caucasus, including Novorossiysk.  As Brezhnev rose in power, so did his remembered heroism and so did the remembered importance of (among others) the heroic battle of Novorossiysk.  And so in 1973 Novorossiysk was awarded the prestigious Soviet title of “Hero City”, one of only a dozen such.  And the citizens are no doubt grateful for this favor.

Balaklava: Giant Secret Lair

In Balaklava, Ukraine, I visited one of the USSR’s super-secret  bases, “Facility 825”.  This is a giant semi-submerged underground lair, where submarines could enter, be refueled or repaired, and be entirely invisible from the air.

Oh yes, and it was designed to survive a 100 kiloton direct hit.

The base seems to have been conceived in the early 1950s. It was constructed by the teams who had built the Moscow and Kharkiv metro systems, so it isn’t too surprising it takes the form of a giant tunnel, with a concealed entrance in the Balaklava harbor and an exit into the Black sea.  The tunnel is wide enough to allow subs to be docked at one side for maintenance, while others slid past in the main channel.

The base is also chock-full other tunnels, for the supporting humans and for the various arsenals.

Facility 825 was super-secret in its day. The entrance is designed to be invisible from the air.  They were initially worried about spy planes, but of course this also worked well against satellites.  The Soviets apparently hoped to keep even the existence of the base entirely secret, using various ploys to conceal the construction work.

But where are the nuclear wessels?

It was decommissioned in the early 1990s, but even today it’s hard to find reliable data on what was actually based there.  It is generally cited as a “nuclear base”.  But as far as I can figure, it was only used for Whiskey and Romeo diesel powered subs (the tunnel was probably too narrow for the later nuclear subs).  There were probably nuclear warheads, but even that is a little unclear.

It’s all a wonderful relic from the Cold War.  It’s rather sad to see it turned into a rather desultory museum.  Where are the international super-villains when you need them?  Why aren’t aspiring megalomaniacs bidding frantically to “borrow” it for “historic renovation”?  Alas, we live in banal times.

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Russian Warship, Sevastopol

Russian Warship, Sevastopol

Russian Warship, Sevastopol

Russian Warship, Sevastopol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

The city was formerly host to the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. After 1991, the fleet was partitioned between Ukraine and Russia and both halves are still based at Sevastopol, although most of the warships I spotted had Russian ensigns.

Like Vladivostok, Sevastopol was a closed city during the Soviet era, so it feels strange to be able to wander freely and admire the once guarded fleet.

The city also hosts an eclectic mix of memorials from the Crimean War, WWII and Soviet periods.

Crimean War Cannon, Malakhov Mound.

WWII Artillery, Malakhov Mound.