Travel

The Cold War lives on deep under Moscow

Part of the 600m of secret inter- connecting tunnels 65m under Moscow.
Part of the 600m of secret inter- connecting tunnels 65m under Moscow. Contributed

DOOMSAYERS who get a kick out of reckoning the end of the world is nigh are no doubt keeping their underground vaults stocked, despite being disappointed in their predictions so far.

But no matter how well they prepare, it will be nothing compared with what Russia's leaders did back in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War.

They dug a monstrous 7000sqm bunker 65m under Moscow, with 600m of inter-connecting tunnels to various chambers, and stocked it with food, medical supplies, an air-recycling system, generators, water from a well even deeper below, and installed a vast telecommunications system.

It was designed to enable Communist Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, their families and a thousand or so chosen military leaders and their staffs to exist there for up to three months, directing operations in the event of a nuclear attack from the West.

Today, the bunker is a popular tourist attraction, with the company that owns it working with entrepreneurial zeal to provide a peek at Cold War preparedness.

Muscovites can hire out anything down there from a restaurant to a banquet hall; a conference centre for 1000 people; get married; hold a corporate promotion, or watch movies in the cinema.

And in a private room originally planned for Khrushchev's predecessor, Joseph Stalin, whose idea the bunker was, hold that very special dinner party for 40 or 50 mates. Sorry... comrades.

Quarters originally planned for Stalin, now a lounge.
Quarters originally planned for Stalin, now a lounge.

Officially the bunker was designated the Tagansky Protected Command Point, and to build it without Western spy-planes spotting from the air what they were doing, the Russians built it not just 18-storeys below street level, but actually below Moscow's underground Taganskaya Metro railway station - that was publicly announced as being renovated at the time.

So each night hundreds of workers were slipped in on special last trains for the night to excavate or do technical installation work until dawn, and slip out again on trains that simply appeared to be the first for the day.

The bunker was maintained until 1995 when it was decommissioned and closed.

In 2006 a Russian company bought it to create a tourist attraction and museum, paying the equivalent of $20m for the cob-webbed collection of tunnels, rooms, old supplies, now-outdated communications, and piles of weapons.

Now tourists enter via a nondescript entrance next to a one-time school building, and can either take the high-speed lift or 288 steps down into the bunker. There they'll see much of the communications centre as it was in its heyday: radios, typewriters, radar screens, banks of telephones, air-raid sirens and rooms crammed with bunk beds.

Now called Bunker 42, guides dressed as KGB officers invite visitors to don KGB uniforms, too - and sling an AK47 or other decommissioned weapons over their shoulder for souvenir photos.

Entry tickets (about $35) need to be pre-purchased on http://www.bunker42.com.

A visitor is fitted out with replica survival gear.
A visitor is fitted out with replica survival gear.

Topics:  cold war, moscow, russia, travel



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