Stalin's Bunker - a Surprise Under an Athletic Field
By Linda Lippner
Who would have thought that north-east of town, near Ismaylovo Market, is a perfectly preserved bunker for Stalin in case things got a little hot around Moscow during the Great Patriotic War? I’d heard of Hitler’s Bunker in Berlin, but that was directly under the Reichstag. The Soviets probably thought a bunker in the countryside was a much better choice for their leader if the Germans managed to drive up to the Kremlin. So plans were laid, or dug, actually, as a tunnel was constructed for motor vehicles to drive directly from the Kremlin to a nice country spot out near Ismaylovsky Park long before us tourists were going out there to buy souvenirs and cheap artwork.
Seventeen miles of tunneling was completed by 1939, and a bunker was constructed deep underneath a fake athletic field. Seeing the field now, it still looks rather fake, with very old and cracked, asbestos-covered stadium-seating going up about fifty rows above a nice but small grassy playing field. The theory was that anyone flying over the area would just think that the city government was developing more out-door play opportunities for its citizens. Of course, no one was supposed to notice the approximately 2,000 workers that were commuting out to the bomb proofed construction site – according to our guide at this very unusual tourist destination.
Stalin apparently tried out the secret tunnel, visiting his secret quarters twice: once in 1940 and again in early 1942. There was no information on whether he spent the night, or who came with him. But it is a rather large underground “dacha”, with all the conveniences and comforts of a homefrom- home. On our tour, we were shown a fabulously spacious reception hall and conference room. The most remarkable feature of the conference room was the perfect acoustics which allowed everyone to hear Stalin, since he spoke in a very soft voice. Naturally, since it was a secret bunker, whispering was de rigueur. And no one would want to ask Stalin to repeat himself. We tourists all tried out whispering and it was amazing how one’s voice traveled around the room.
Adjacent to the conference room was a private study, which today is filled with memorabilia such as one of Stalin’s many pipes, some of his books, a painting of Stalin and General Zhukov playing pool in the Kremlin, and a military map of Moscow on the wall behind his desk. The map was very detailed, with swooping “arrows” drawn to show the advance of the Germans and the “push back” arrows of the Soviet counter-attack. Apparently, maps had to be replaced often as Stalin liked to demonstrate his superior military skill by drawing on the map his versions of how things should be done in the battles.
We weren’t able to see the bedroom, but a grand dining area on the other side of the conference and reception room is also on the tour. It is now a Georgian restaurant, open to the public, with more Stalin memorabilia in display cases around the sides of the rustically decorated room. Since the whole complex is part of the Central Armed Forces Museum, and is called the “Commander-in-Chief Reserve Command Post," it is surprising to find out that you can rent the dining room for your own Bunker buffet or party. A unique opportunity for the “Captains of Industry” that abound in Moscow, I would think.