June 03, 2013

Bunkering down in Moscow. Cold War secret revealed.

David Ellis

DOOMSAYERS who get a kick out of reckoning the end of the world is nigh, and disappointed nothing happened back in December last year and again in February this year despite all their forebodings, are no doubt already stocking their underground vaults to ensure they get through future events they predict will see the rest of us fry, freeze, drown or in some other way be obliterated for our ignorance.

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 7000 square metre bunker 65-metres under Moscow, complete with 600-metres of inter-connecting tunnels to its various chambers, and stocked it with food, medical supplies, an air-recycling system, diesel generators, water from a well even deeper below, and with a vast radio and landline telecommunications system.

It would be sufficient to enable Communist Party Secretary, Nikita Kruschev, 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 troops still in the field in the event of a nuclear attack from the West.

It certainly left in the shade the preparations of those on our television sets who kept  telling us that the Mayan calendar had shown the world would end on December 21 2012, and if it didn't that a massive asteroid would knock us off our axis in February of this year.

Their shipping containers of food, bottled water and whatever else they kept showing us were mere trifles compared with the Russians' effort.

And today, with the Cold War gone, that Russian bunker is now a popular tourist attraction, with the company that owns it working with all the zeal of a western entrepreneur to promote a peek at Cold War preparedness. And Moscovites 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 meeting room originally planned for Nikita Kruschev's predecessor, Josef Stalin whose idea the bunker was, hold that very special dinner party for 40 or 50 mates… sorry, comrades.

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 flouted as being renovated at the time.

So each night hundreds of workers were slipped into Taganskaya on special last trains for the night, to descend to the bunker, excavate or do technical installation work there until dawn, and be slipped out again on trains that simply appeared to be the first for the day…

And thus all the spy-planes would spot each morning was the supposed rubble being carted away from the renovations of the Metro.

The bunker was maintained and serviced from the mid-1950s until in 1995, with the end of the Cold War between East and West, it was decommissioned and closed.

Then in 2006 a Russian company bought it to become a tourist attraction and museum, paying the equivalent of AU$20m for the dusty, cob-webbed collection of tunnels, rooms, old supplies, now-outdated radio and landline telecommunications, and piles of weapons.

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 (now smartened-up) 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 dress as KGB officers and visitors are invited to don KGB uniforms too – and sling an AK47 or other decommissioned weapons over their shoulder for souvenir photos.

Or watch documentary films of the Cold War era – and note posters that describe Bunker 42 as "a symbol of the greatness of our Motherland…" which are balanced by others that refer to Bunker 42 being "a memory of armament race futility…"

Entry tickets (approx. AU$35) need to be pre-purchased on www.bunker42.com



[] PART of the 600m of secret inter-connecting tunnels 65m under Moscow. (Bunker42)
[] PRIMITIVE-looking now, how Russia's leaders would continue directing the war in the 1950s. (Bunker42)
[] DRESSED-UP: A visitor is fitted out with replica survival gear from the bunker's early days. (RegentHolidaysUK)
[] QUARTERS originally planned for Stalin now a Bunker 42 lounge. (Bunker42)
[] TAGANSKAYA Railway Station, Moscow: the West trickedinto not knowing what was going on below. (MoscowInfoInc)

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