In the States I am sure there are bunkers, but I have never heard of any that give tours. In Russia, World War II and the Cold War seem to loom larger in people’s minds today than in America. WWII was fought on Russian soil and the Nazis got very close to Moscow. Even today Russia still has a Cold War mentality – them versus the West (US, NATO, etc). All the metro stations were even designed to be bomb shelters. So it is not surprising that you can take tours of bunkers!
I was excited when the American Women’s Organization I am involved with offered a trip to Stalin’s bunker used during World War II in Moscow. Getting there was an adventure in itself. We have friends who have a car and drive themselves around the city and offered us a ride. Driving in Moscow is not a task for me! Michael and I jumped at the opportunity to catch a ride. However, Russia has many streets with the same or very similar names. They entered what appeared to be the only street with the name into their GPS. Lo and behold, we did not end up at the bunker but in the middle of an industrial complex. Thankfully they had a map in the car and are as good map readers as they are drivers and were able to find the street where we needed to go on the map. We were a few minutes late, but seemed to only have missed a long lecture that we were able to get the five minute version of afterwards!
The bunker itself was sort of disappointing. People speculate that Stalin was there a few times when the Nazis were particularly close to Moscow. There was a tunnel that connects the bunker directly to the Kremlin. It is sealed off now. In the bunker was a recreated room that was set to look like Stalin’s war room with a map of the battle lines, a desk, and a game table. They were all replicas. The other part of the bunker was turned into a Georgian restaurant and conference center that can be rented out. It didn’t feel very authentic.
The following weekend we joined the British Women’s Association for a tour of the Cold War Bunker in Moscow. Immediately it was clear that it would be more exciting than the previous week’s tour. The Cold War Bunker was built in the mid 1950′s. They created a building on the outside to resemble other buildings on the block. Inside the part of the building that was above ground was reinforced concrete. To get to the actual bunker you have to walk down 18 floors (and we walked the 18 flights up to exit) to a depth of 65 meters below ground. The bunker was built to withstand a nuclear attack, and 100 to 600 people worked there on a daily basis.
We were shown a video that I would describe as a propaganda film. It gave a history of tensions between the US and the USSR during the Cold War. Let’s just say it wasn’t told from the point of view I learned in school.
At one point volunteers were requested for a simulation. Naturally, I was the first to volunteer, but I should have thought about the task at hand in advance. I had to sit at a desk and was given keys and told buttons to press to set off a simulation of a nuclear explosion. There was a video where a Russian city was bombed. As retaliation my job was to turn a key and press a button and blow up….New York! I can’t say I enjoyed watching a nuclear explosion hit the center of NYC.
The highlight of the tour was a room where there were Kalashnikovs and military equipment that we could try on. The guns are much heavier than I imagined. We were able to sit at desks in USSR military uniforms.
Thankfully the Cold War is over and the bunker is now a museum and of course in true Russian fashion you can rent it out for a conference or turn it into a dance club for the night.
From Russia with Love,