Following last week’s overview of Bunker 42, let’s have a closer look at the delights that Moscow’s infamous hole in the ground has to offer.
To briefly recap, It was the Soviet government’s last stand, should international relations degenerate into all-out nuclear war. As well as a refuge, it was also a military control centre – and potentially a civilian one too; should there be anything or anyone left to govern, afterwards.
Ever-developing nuclear weapons technology outstripped the protection that the bunker could offer and it became unfit for its intended purpose.
By 1986, it’s vulnerability could no longer be sanctioned and operations were moved elsewhere. However, after becoming declassified in 2000, full decommissioning did not take place until 2006, when the premise were sold by auction. So, what to do with a reinforced hole in the round? Read on.
In case you were assuming an underground pit the size of a coal bunker, think again. Bunker 42 covers over 7000 Sqr. metres and was designed as a self-contained survival chamber that would permit hermetically-sealed survival for ùp 90 days. That’s: food, electricity, access to clean water (via artesian wells), recycled air and more.
Surface access was(is) via an innocuous side-street building on Kotel’nicheskiy Pereulok – originally a mere shell that functioned as a glorified entrance hall. Alternatively, a hidden door in Taganka Metro provided access to a secret platform where dedicated night-trains were available for bunker staff and others with appropriate clearance.
Today, the bunker exists principally as a themed, Cold War museum. Mock-officious attendants in KGB uniforms issue “security passes” to visitors who are then escorted inwards as if they were incoming staff -’all part of the Cold War retro-immersion, you see. It’s principal attractions are guided tours, a replica of Russia’s first atomic bomb, a ‘live’ control centre, various cold war relics, and audio-visual content.
It sounds fascinating: some Cold War history, a simulated atomic strike and a ballistic missile launch “experience”, stripping down the infamous Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifle and more – all depending on which tour you select of course.
To get the fullest experience, you need to be a Russian speaker, as most tours (each lasting over an hour) are unsurprisingly in the native tongue. These are bookable in advance (a must), however there are only 2 “special” English language tours per day. Being a foreigner essentially doubles the price for every bunker excursion too: English or otherwise. Welcome to Russia. At the time of writing you can expect to pay over 20 UK pounds for each English tour. That’s a combined running time of approximately 3 hours, incidentally.
Pluses and minuses
The obvious choice for us would naturally be one (or both) of the English-spoken tours, but together they exceed the 40 UK Pound mark – a serious investment. Some online commenters have felt a little short-changed by the deal, especially if lost at the rear of a group of 50 attendees and struggling to hear the guide.
Also it appears that only a handful of rooms in one quarter of the bunker’s layout are accessible during excursions, which on the surface (or under it) seems a little ‘short’ frankly. Another option is to go with a Russian language tour (or several) -but to take along the English language audio guide; it seems that more is on offer with such a combination; at the price of spontaneity and personal interaction with the guide of course.
One serious consideration is the descent into the bunker itself, -especially for those with mobility issues. It’s a 10 minute+ trudge down 18 flights of stairs! Mercifully there’s a lift option at the end of the subterranean tours (assuming that you don’t fancy those stairs again), although it’s in the restaurant area (yes there’s a restaurant) and not immediately obvious.
Bunker 42 also has another side to its character. In a surreal contrast: song and dance, featuring a military choir and some traditional Russian footwork is part of the Soviet Russia tour. There’s the aforementioned restaurant, conference facilities and band rehearsal rooms -if you fancy eavesdropping on some Russian heavy metal. You can even play laser shootout games and go paintballing. Something for most -if not everyone, then.
Oh, apparently the floor is uneven in parts too, which could be a problem. You have been warned.
Photo by Michal Huniewicz