Top Secret Underground Bunker

IMG_2091IMG_1996

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.

IMG_2119 IMG_1997 IMG_2004

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.

IMG_2017 IMG_2041

IMG_2007 IMG_2018

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.

IMG_2056 IMG_2103 IMG_2049

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!

IMG_2111 IMG_2112

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!

Patriarch Ponds

It’s 9.54 am and this expat is rushing for an appointment at 10:00; Mrs Expat called shotgun and is, as ever, in charge of the GPS. (this expat, who, at 13, was the only one in the house who could set the timer on a video recorder, is now a bit of a technophobe – is is that ‘technofool’?) Svetlana, the woman in our GPS, tells us to turn right in 120 meters, forgetting the slight lag in satellite time, we duly obey only to hear – ‘you have left [the] route’. I pause to hear the next instruction, fortunately it was one of the very few left turns allowed in Moscow. A quick left turn and suddenly a gap in the tall Stalin era buildings and a small park around a pond. But more astonishingly, a gap wide enough for a car to park; this gap about 50 meters from my appointment, this gap in the shade of a silver birch – the trifecta Muscovite motorists long for, but rarely get.  We had made it to Patriarch Pond by accident and not a tram smash in sight! (readers of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita will be sniggering to themselves at this literary reference – or not!)

IMG_1880 IMG_1881

Appointment over, we went for a walk in the park. Sadly the restaurant on the lake was closed, even the swans and ducks were having a lazy morning, almost not caring that an eager toddler was throwing bread at them. But then the park is a lazy place; children playing on swings; couples promenading; mothers perambulating with their new born, bohemian types sipping coffee and reading and a few tourists with their oversized cameras that may (or may not) be over compensating for something. However, perhaps the most dangerous thing of all in the park were the octogenarians power walking forcefully doing laps around the park, armed with ski poles, iPods blasting away, leaving a trail of dust, small children and barking dogs in their wake.

IMG_1883 IMG_1884 IMG_1885

Although Patriarch’s Pond is the setting for much of The Master and Margarita, the park is mostly dedicated to Ivan Krylov, a writer of fables, much in the style of Aesop; and grower of incredible sideburns. Along with a statue of Ivan there are some sculptures depicting scenes of his writings. Including a rather nice one of an elephant’s bottom reminding this expat of an old British folk song – the hole in the elephant’s bottom, which, depending on the version, is amusing or simply risque! [various versions can be found at http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=64019] As people pass by the sculptures various parts are rubbed for good luck and so retain their brass look whilst, like Ivan himself, the rest is aging and weathering well.

As we walked back to the entrance, which, I guess, would now become the exit, we paused to brush off the dust raised by the lapping, aged power walkers, whilst owners pulled back on the leashes of their dogs encouraging them to cease barking. Brushing off the dust, four things were considered by this expat:

  • that these octogenarians caused more havoc and debris than the tram crash at the beginning of Bulgakov’s novel;
  • that we should leave before they circled round to us again;
  • whether Mrs Expat would appreciate Krylov style sideburns and;
  • that this expat didn’t get to use the phrase ‘elephant’s bottom’ nearly often enough

So, getting into the car Mrs Expat and Svetlana were treated to a tuneless verse or two of that folk song.