Totally Not Top Secret

PHOTO by Mikhail Metzel / TASS
Where to observe previously top-secret Cold War artifacts in Moscow

“A time of spy games and the Berlin Wall” – that’s how American news channel CNN described the Cold War between the US and the USSR. Modern Moscow, with its gleaming shopping malls and trendy cafes, looks like a completely different city than the one the dominated its side of the Iron Curtain, the channel reported. However, memories of that disturbing era can be found everywhere in the Russian capital. CNN reported on which Moscow museums can transport you back in time.


CNN wrote that this museum in Moscow’s Taganka neighbourhood would be an ideal film set for the Cold War comedy “Dr. Strangelove.” It was declassified in 2000 and a museum was opened in it in 2006.

This site was built in the very centre of Moscow immediately after the first Soviet nuclear tests, when authorities realised the power of nuclear weapons. Object GO-42 was supposed to be a shelter for top officials. It could accommodate up to 3,000 people for 90 days and keep them in complete isolation from the outside world.

By the time the building was complete, the political situation in the world had changed. The bunker’s application transformed as well, from a shelter for Stalin and his entourage to a command post for long-range aviation control. In the mid-1980s, the command post was moved to another location because the bunker could no longer resist modern high-precision weapons and it suffered from flooding.

There are 11 guided tours available at the bunker and two of them – Soviet Russia and KMB – are only for those 18 and older. The first programme includes a "frontline shot" (100 ml of vodka) with Borodinsky black bread and pickles while the second one features a film about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The museum offers extreme tours for children and there is also a thematic restaurant in the bunker.

The Central Air Force Museum

To see Cold War relics, tourists can take a commuter train, known as an “electrichka” in Russian, to go to Monino, the site of the Central Air Force Museum.

CNN journalists called the items there, “masterpieces of aircraft design.” For example, there is a “Soviet Concord” Tu-144 and the Mi-12 helicopter, the heaviest in the world that was designed for lifting cargo. The friendly and experienced guides, mostly elderly women, can meet visitors at the museum.

You can take one of three thematic tours at the museum – “The Origin and Development of Aviation in Russia,” “The Air Force in World War II” and “The Post-War Development of Aviation,” or you can combine two of them. Those who wish to visit the museum during the New Year holidays should be aware that it's closed from Jan. 1 to 3. It will also be closed on Jan. 7, which is Christmas in the Russian Orthodox Church, but it will reopen on Jan. 8.

Belka and Strelka 'Space Dogs'

At the end of the list is the Space Museum. As CNN wrote, “the story of the Soviets conquering space fascinated the whole world.” Journalists suggest that visitors check out the copy of the first artificial satellite and other space era artifacts. Besides, don't miss the story of Belka and Strelka, the two dogs who came back from space alive and whose stuffed bodies are now on display at the museum, as well as their predecessor’s, Laika, who went to space on a one-way mission. At nearby VDNKh, you can see an aerospace exhibition with an exact copy of the Buran spaceship.

The museum hosts an annual “Donor’s Day” for the children and grandchildren of those who worked in the Russian space industry. Astronauts themselves and collectors have donated objects from personal collections to the museum.

This year, astronaut Oleg Artemyev gave the museum his helmet, as well as gloves and photos with stamps from the International Space Station. The grandson of Friedrich Zander, the pioneer of space equipment, is donating the letters and books of his illustrious ancestor while the Kvant company gave parts of solar batteries from the moon rovers, spaceship batteries and much more. These are only some of the gifts received by the museum this year.

Several exhibitions are on display right now. One of the most interesting ones is a collection of cartoons called “Gagarin's Smile.” These are the works of cartoonists from dozens of countries devoted to space and astronauts. The exhibition runs until Jan. 15.

The Caspian Sea Monster

Another museum where Americans can admire the work of Soviet engineers is the Navy Museum near Skhodnenskaya metro station. It's described as the house of the “Caspian Sea Monster.” Is it a ship? Is it a plane? No, it’s an ekranoplan, a surface effect ship, or SES!

The SES “Orlenok” is in fact one of the main items at the museum. This 58-metre-long landing vehicle can transport 200 marines and two tanks at a speed of 400 kilometres per hour. The Americans called it “the monster” because of its size and the way it looks.

CNN admired the hovercraft “Skat” and the submarine B-396 Novosibirsky Komsomolets, both of which you can see at the museum. You can go as part of a tour or book your visit individually in advance. Museum entry is free every third Sunday of the month, although the tour guides don't work on those days.