Stalin Museum, Volgograd
A very bizarre little private museum in Volgograd
about Joseph Stalin
that is totally celebratory of the man (no mention of purges, repression and Gulags). It's in Russian only, too, so it may not be something for many foreign visitors. But it's close to Rodina Mat on Mamayev Hill
, so can easily be tagged on.
More background info: It's not easy to find any solid information about this museum, how and when it came about and why at this strange location.
All I've been able to glean online is that it goes back to a private initiative by local businessman Vasily Bukhtiyenko, who was obviously an admirer of Stalin
and decided to express this admiration in the form of a museum that displays his collection of all these memorabilia and relics related to the Red Tsar. The museum apparently opened in 2005, accompanied by a good deal of controversy.
The museum's mission is in fact clearly stated on its (also rather cryptic) website: it wants visitors to “reassess” their opinion of Stalin, i.e. in a positive way. The glorification and one-sidedness is totally unabashed.
The museum's founder, curiously, was brutally murdered (by electric shock devices and by being bashed over the head) in April 2010. Whether this had anything to do with the museum is unclear, but is probably unlikely (some kind of business quarrel or murky connections to organized crime, or both, could also be plausible scenarios – I haven't been able to find out anything further about the case and its investigation).
In any case, the museum is still going, so somebody must have inherited it or taken it over. The current staff are certainly also very enthusiastic about their little cult-of-personality den.
What there is to see: Once you've negotiated the entrance and paid the admission fee you are directed down to the basement, where the museum is located (beneath a hotel that's – defiantly – called “Stalingrad”). Before you head down to the basement take a look at the white marble bust of Stalin in the foyer – the words next to it are a prelude of what the museum is trying to re-enforce: it translates as “After my death, a lot of garbage will be put on my grave, but the wind of history will dispel everything.”
At the bottom of the stairs you are greeted by a triumphant Stalin
portrait (in that Napoleon-like pose with one hand under his coat's lapel) – the first of many yet to come. There are several further Stalin busts around as well, and in the main room of the exhibition is a recreation of Stalin's office ca. 1942-1943 (i.e. the time of the Battle of Stalingrad
), with a dummy Stalin standing proud behind his desk … yet this particular dummy bears at best a passing resemblance to the man. Surely they could have made a more realistic effort.
Along the walls are text-and-photo panels and lots of newspaper cuttings (mostly from Pravda) and in rows of glass-topped display cabinets numerous Stalin-related memorabilia can be seen.
All texts are in Russian only, no translations, and nor is there an audio-guide or anything. So if you don't know Russian, you won't get much out of this exhibition. But if you go with somebody who can translate for you (I had my wife with me who's a Russianist) you may learn some odd details. But the overall message is very clear whether or not you understand any of the written words: “Stalin was great man deserving of our utmost admiration.” That's basically the summary.
Amongst the few concrete artefacts on display is one of those vinyl records with speeches of the great man – as seems to be a common exhibit in Russian
museums. Other than that there are various books by or about Stalin and various medals and little things like that; nothing spectacular.
The many photos show Stalin alone or with Lenin
, with Mao
, with his wife and also with Churchill
and Truman (see Potsdam Conference
). In addition there are some images of Stalin statues – and one caught my eye because it looked just like the monument by the Volga in Krasnoarmeysk
– only with a Stalin
instead of a Lenin
standing on the pedestal. And indeed, originally, when the nearby Volga-Don Canal was completed, a giant 24m-high Stalin was erected here, which was however demolished in 1961 when Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd as part of the USSR
's then de-Stalinization campaign. The pedestal was left empty until the even bigger (27m) Lenin took over this vantage position.
After yet more Stalin photos, busts and propaganda posters it was time to head back upstairs. Here you can also have a browse of the rather large selection of wares in the souvenir shop
. In addition to replica Stalin medals, coffee mugs or plates with Stalin
on or books about the man, you can also purchase more general items such as matrioshkas, mock-hand-grenade lighters, Russian-themed T-shirts (also ones with Stalin prints on) or scale models of the nearby Rodina Mat
statue (from tiny, cheap plastic ones just two inches tall to luxury versions nearly a foot tall and in expensive packaging).
All in all
: visiting this museum is only really worth it if you either have a genuine admiration for Stalin
or get some kind of amused kick out of such displays of cult-of-personality one-sidedness, or just like looking at Soviet
relics of all sorts. In terms of informational, let alone educational value, the museum is utterly missable. Yet since it's so near Rodina Mat
, and if you have time spare and just enough curiosity about such a bizarre place, why not tag it on all the same ...
in the basement of the Hotel Stalingrad on Mamayev Hill
, right behind Rodina Mat, in the north of Volgograd
; the address is: 102, Ulitsa Rokossovskogo (улица Рокоссовского).
Access and costs:
easy to get to from Mamyev Kurgan
, but not from anywhere else (unless by taxi).
To get to the museum either tag it on to a visit to Mamayev Hill and Rodina Mat
in that chapter) – just keep going past the summit of the hill and the giant statue in a westerly direction, carry on along the footpath and after a couple of hundred yards you come to the car park in front of the museum.
Or, in the highly unlikely event that you want to go to this museum but NOT to the Mamayev Hill memorial complex, then you could get a taxi up the rear of the hill direct to the museum. I would suggest you still ask to be taken to the top of Mamayev Kurgan, though, as local taxi drivers may not even be familiar with the museum – or try asking for “Hotel Stalingrad” ('Gostinitsa Stalingrad'), which is in the same building.
Some may even consider actually staying at this hotel – and dine in its Soviet
-themed restaurant (see below
). You'd be very close to the museum and the Mamayev Kurgan complex – but far from everything else, like you're not even in a city. I don't think it would have been for me ...
Admission: 125 RUB, plus an extra 100 RUB for a photo permit.
Opening times: daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
When I arrived at the museum it was still early because I had made sure I got to Mamayev Hill
in early morning light for photography, so it was still only about 9 a.m. when my wife and I got to the museum door. However, the staff kindly allowed us in early, so the opening times seem to be negotiable.
Time required: Depends on a) whether you can read Russian, b) how deep your interest in Josef Stalin is and c) how well you can tolerate complete OTT cult-of-personality bias. “Fans” of the generalissimo might be able to spend a whole hour or more in here. I struggled to stay more than 15 minutes … (we slowed down, because we thought it would look impolite to leave so soon, after they'd just made an exception for us by allowing us in a whole hour before the official opening time, so we dragged it out to just under half an hour).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see Volgograd
The most obvious combination is of course Mamavey Kurgan
and the giant Rodina Mat statue that is just a few hundred yards from the museum.
Even closer is an open-air museum of sorts, right next to the car park in front of the museum – and it may actually be associated with it (I don't know). Here several tanks and armoured vehicles as well as a few Soviet
-era military planes stand around, apparently a random collection – and as the only commodification small labels provide the names/types of the various objects (in Cyrillic only). It's just a little add-on for military hardware fans.
And for those into these things too, the cafe-restaurant attached to the Hotel Stalingrad in the same building may also be a treat: it's called “Dugout” (some give the name as “Blinding”) and is themed on the Great Patriotic War (WWII
), is full of militaria and Soviet
memorabilia as well (including a Stalin
portrait, of course), and the waiters and waitresses wear military uniforms. The food is allegedly Russian, European and “field cuisine”. I didn't try it, so can't say anything about how palatable (or not) the stuff served here really is.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Apart from the good views over the Volga from Mamayev Hill and the little new church just south of Rodina Mat
, not much at all.
- Stalin Museum 1 - entrance
- Stalin Museum 2 - Stalin inside
- Stalin Museum 3 - another Stalin
- Stalin Museum 4 - more Stalin stuff
- Stalin Museum 5 - yet more Stalin stuff
- Stalin Museum 6 - badly made Stalin dummy
- Stalin Museum 7 - Stalin medal
- Stalin Museum 8 - murdered museum founder
- Stalin Museum 9a - open air displays outside the museum
- Stalin Museum 9b - Soviet-era planes too