Saturday afternoon:watches synchronized – almost – departing Alpha Echo headquarters in stealth mode @ 12:00 or (thereabouts); Our mission: locate unknown Russian underground facility – AKA Bunker42.
We headed to a named, if not known, Metro station to meet a named if not known tour guide. The order, if we decided to accept it was to take a metro and head to Taganskaya Metro and ‘mill around’. Mr Expat was in mid ‘mill’ when another of our party arrived on foot followed by 2 more who had checked the bus routes and then the last of our visit posse. Once all the troops were rallied outside Taganskaya Metro, tour guide located and accounted for, we weaved our way down alleys and in between buildings in this quiet residential area. Making our way to a building hidden in plain sight, Mr Expat can’t help feeling like he is in a 007 Bond movie as the theme music plays in his head.
Reaching an eggshell-yellow coloured building, to the untrained expat eye seems like yet another Moscow-like building. But in fact, tucked away in a local residential area and mere minutes away from the Metro, is a secret establishment that most of the average Muscovites on the street don’t know about. Covering this top secret bunker is a large building that residents back in former days were told was a library. With no windows and a few pot plants strategically positioned, who would have thought this would be Stalin’s location of choice to hide away from danger during World War II. Inside this fairly innocuous building was a huge concrete and granite dome-like structure designed to withstand the impact of the largest of bombs.
After receiving our secret agent passes, we entered the area, fronted by a door weighing about two tons followed by a zig-zag anti blast tunnel. The bunker is divided into three blocks positioned side-by-side, hidden sixty five meters or seventeen floors below the surface. Mr Expat opted for the stairs thinking 65m was not that far, but then he always was old school feet and inches. We regrouped in the first passage before making our way to the first block – mostly because of the wheezing and breath catching from the descent. Here in the steel reinforced tube-like tunnel, a desk was located were people in soviet times would have to sign in for a second time before proceeding through to the restricted blocks of the bunker.
Once we reached the first block, the entered an area where different types of missiles were on display. Located beneath a large black and green map of the world on a large projection screen, were two stations where military staff would receive orders to turn their security keys and initiate a bomb launch if fired upon.
In a fun simulation, two candidates played out how this would have been done in previous days. First they would turn key number one and wait for further instructions, followed by the insertion and turning of key number two. After receiving final instructions and a secret launch code, they would punch in the number sequence on the panel and press the green launch button. Over head on the large screen, a video simulation displayed the course and different stages of how the bomb would be deployed and the impact it would have. Even though it was simulated, it felt very close to real although the consensus was that it should have been a red button!
After blowing up the world, we went up a small staircase and tried not to get lost in the maze of tunnels and passages. We ended up in a area where a large door slammed shut behind us and red lights flashed as the sirens went off before a very authoritarian voice made announcements in Russian. Too scared to move a muscle and not being able to see a single thing in between the intermittent pitch dark and red flashes around us, we experienced what it would have felt like had Stalin needed to evacuate the bunker for whatever reason.
After all of the ‘agents’ had regrouped, we entered the second block of the bunker where the radio and control room was located.Here they had a three-dimensional module of the bunker showcasing how deep it is beneath the surface and the layout of the three blocks of the bunker. It also shows the rail tracks of one of the metro lines that passes in front of one of the doors. (This particular door has been closed since some visitors to the bunker like to play ‘freak out passengers on the metro’ by making their camera flashes go off as the train goes by). In the room they had various different gas masks and weapons that you could pick up and try on for size. We were told that back in the day the bunker had a self-destruct mechanism – when in the control room, staff had sixty seconds to execute task before the self-destruct mechanism is automatically activated. No pressure then!
The tour had a great deal to offer, Mr Expat, as ever, intrigued by the logistics – how to move this much earth and debris without arousing suspicion; how to get 2000+ workers into the bunker spotted and most importantly whether there will be a lift to take him the surface!
To conclude our visit to this amazing location, we were guided past a modern banquet and wedding venue – site of an Armageddon party on 12/12/12 and into a video room where the history from the end of WW2, the development of atomic bombs, the race for space and the beginnings of the cold war and Bay of Pigs incident through to what we have now. It provided visitors with a brief, albeit slightly biased, slant on recent day history. A definite must-see for any lover of world history, nuclear and military development.
And yes, an elevator did await Mr Expat which made his day and the journey home much more pleasant for me!