Stalin Line

  
   - darkometer rating: 3 -
 
One of the main WWII-related sites in Belarus. It's more a military theme park than a memorial, and only a small part actually incorporates remnants of the original pre-WWII “Stalin Line” of defensive fortifications. But the collection of Cold-War-era Soviet planes and missiles is quite impressive.   
More background info: The name “Stalin Line” is of course a reference to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin. It was a discontinuous line of defensive fortifications along what was the western border of the USSR before WWII. It is often compared with the Maginot Line in France (see Alsace-Moselle Memorial) from the 1930s. The Soviet Stalin Line, however, was more a number of fortified points than actually a proper defensive line. Its purpose was partly a defence against an attack from the west, but more in the sense of breaking up an attacker's front into separate “channels”.
   
However, it never actually assumed any significant role in war. When Nazi Germany did attack Poland in 1939, the secret addenda to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact came into effect, with the USSR taking parts of the eastern territory of Poland. That way, the Soviet outer border was moved westwards and the Stalin Line was subsequently abandoned in favour of the building of a new line of defence further west. The guns and ammunition were thus taken from the bunkers of the old Stalin Line. Apparently some in the Soviet military would have favoured keeping the Stalin Line as a possible second line of defence, but it didn't come to that.
   
So when Hitler did launch his attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, the new defence line wasn't yet in place and the old one was largely useless against the onslaught of the German Wehrmacht, even though parts of the Stalin Line were quickly remanned. In any case, such old-fashioned fortifications were pretty ineffective in the new modern warfare of highly mobile “Blitzkrieg” attacks.
   
After WWII, the Stalin Line was left in its abandoned state and was largely ignored. Hence some of the structures survived more or less intact until the collapse of the Eastern bloc and Belarus becoming an independent state in the early 1990s.
   
In 2005, the present “Historical and Cultural Complex Stalin Line” was opened to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory in WWII.
   
Today, some remnants of the “Minsk fortified district” part of the Stalin Line are incorporated into what is really a highly commodified military open-air museum. This is one of the most popular destinations for excursions from Minsk, in particular for domestic tourists, as well as Russians, but the odd Westerner is also taken there on private guided tours …. see below.
   
   
What there is to see: I went to this site as part of a day tour from Minsk with an English-speaking guide. That was good because there is very little English signage and in general not that much information anyway. On the other hand, much of this complex doesn't require so much background information. It's more a visual affair.
    
Many domestic visitors (and Russian tourists) also indulge in the various activities that are on offer here – such as firing machine guns, taking a ride in a tank or even boarding an old Soviet helicopter for short scenic flights. I did not partake in any of these, but watching other people keenly taking up all these offers gave me an impression of being rather in a theme-park-cum-playground (with all those toys for boys … of all ages).
    
Some of the activities also have nothing at all to do with the war theme of the park, such boat rides on the artificial lake in the centre of the area. People were also having picnics on the lawns between the tanks etc., so there was a rather strange funfair atmosphere all round.
    
They also do “re-enactment” performances here, for which there is a big grandstand. But at the time I visited, the seats were empty and the “stage” was too. They have a ruined house and burnt-out vehicles in front of the grandstand and I presume this is where the mock battles are staged.
    
But here's the order in which I saw things on my tour. We started with the bunkers that were actually part of the namesake “Stalin Line”. You can go inside, where dummies in period uniforms bring the interior to “life” to a degree, and see the rear of the guns that poke out of the bunker.
    
Outside there are also smaller bunkers you cannot enter, some anti-tank obstacles (apparently they're originally Czech) as well as a few sections of reconstructed trenches.
    
Moreover there's a short stretch of a reconstruction of the former Iron Curtain, border fortifications complete with a watchtower, barbed-wire fences and a mine strip. So it's already leaving the narrower historical topic of WWII and moving into the Cold-War era.
    
Between the car park and the border and trench reconstructions is a “shooting range” and you can hear the loud “bangs” all the time, especially from the anti-tank gun. They're not using real live ammunition, though, only blanks. However, with every pulled trigger they recreate the impression of a grenade hitting the ground by remote-controlled synchronized explosions that send black puffs of smoke into the air at regular intervals. It's clearly a very popular “activity”.
    
From the elevated ground by the grandstand for the battle re-enactments I also got a good view of the short landing strip where an old Soviet helicopter was picking up passengers for scenic flights. These add to the general soundscape too as every so often the helicopter would pass overhead. I also witnessed a few tank rides, and these emit a very characteristic sound too … plus thick plumes of exhaust fumes.
    
Behind the grandstand is a collection of artillery pieces and armoured vehicles and tanks on (stationary) open-air display. Then we walked round the lake towards the collection of more modern war gear. These are all post-WWII Cold-War-era exhibits, mostly from the 1960s and 70s.
   
Included are a couple of big MiGs and other war planes, also some military helicopters, as well as a collection of missiles, ranging from surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles to ballistic missiles that would have been capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Some of these displays come with small panels giving some basic technical specs. These also come with a translation into English. Otherwise plaques and panels are in Russian/Belarusian only.
   
Behind and beyond the planes and missiles are rows of various military land vehicles, including some rather huge mobile radar stations that look like straight out of some old James-Bond movie.
   
One more tank sits atop a mound and is part of a memorial that proclaims in big letters on the front “glory to the victorious people”.
   
Finally: by the car park and gate to the complex there is also a bust of Josef Stalin surrounded by wreaths and bunches of flowers, so there seems to be a bit of cult of personality about the Red Tsar still alive here. The bust itself, however, looks quite new so is presumably not original.
   
All in all, I came out of this place with mixed feelings. Seeing some of the missiles and fighter jets was really cool, as I admit I have a certain fondness for Soviet-era aerospace technology designs. But the tanks, guns and trenches left me rather cold and witnessing all the theme park “activities” was rather strange. I somehow do not feel fully comfortable with the juxtaposition of deadly war machines and bouncy castles for kids or the general funfair frolicking about.
   
   
Location: about a half-hour drive from Minsk, Belarus, some 20 miles (30 km) to the north west.
   
Google maps locator: [54.058, 27.297]
   
   
Access and costs: easy but expensive by private guided tour; much cheaper but complicated to get there independently.
  
Details: To get the most out of the Stalin Line it's best to go on a guided tour from Minsk (see below). In theory you can also get a regional bus or marshrutka from Minsk, which takes about an hour and a half. But if you don't speak the language, this could be a daunting exercise. Or you could even drive it yourself.
   
If you have your own means of transport, take the main Prospekt Peramozhtsau avenue north from the centre of Minsk and keep going until you've passed under the Minsk Beltway motorway. Then turn left and immediately right again onto the P28 trunk road towards Molodechno. Just after the turn-off to the village of Lashany, the Stalin Line complex appears on your left. There's a barrier and guardhouse where you have to get a ticket and park your car on the large lot by the cafe. From here you have to explore on foot. Parking costs 2 BYR extra.
   
Opening times: Tuesdays to Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Mondays.
    
Admission: 15 BYR for adults, 5 BYR for students and children (in 2016) – but if you go on an organized guided tour, the admission fee will be included.
    
Additional activities such as riding a tank or firing guns at the shooting range come in at hefty extra fees, and none of that will be in included in a private tour (nor will there really be time for such things, unless you make special arrangements in advance).
    
Guided tours: if you do not speak Russian/Belarusian it is advisable to go on a tour rather than going independently, a) because it's logistically difficult and b) there is very little English information at the site apart from an overview map of the area and a price list. There are a number of operators offering stand-alone tours to the Stalin Line or incorporate it into longer programmes. I paid ca. 130 USD for a 3.5-hour tour from Minsk with a private guide/driver (you can contact me for details if you're interested in this).
   
    
Time required: Depends. Some local visitors apparently often spend all day here, but as part of a guided private tour from Minsk, it's about three and a half hours in total, one hour of which would be spent on the journey there and back.
   
   
Combinations with other dark destinations: I had the excursion to the Stalin Line incorporated into a full-day tour from Minsk that also took in Maly Trostenets, Khatyn and the Glory Mound in the morning, before we continued here after lunch in Minsk.
   
Naturally, Minsk makes for a combination as well, especially its Great Patriotic War Museum, of course.
   
   
Combinations with non-dark destinations: See under Minsk.  
   
   
   
  • Stalin Line 01 - bust of the eponymous dictatorStalin Line 01 - bust of the eponymous dictator
  • Stalin Line 02 - overviewStalin Line 02 - overview
  • Stalin Line 03 - Czech hedgehog anti-tank obstaclesStalin Line 03 - Czech hedgehog anti-tank obstacles
  • Stalin Line 04 - bunker doorStalin Line 04 - bunker door
  • Stalin Line 05 - inside a bunkerStalin Line 05 - inside a bunker
  • Stalin Line 06 - bunker gunStalin Line 06 - bunker gun
  • Stalin Line 07 - trench reconstructionsStalin Line 07 - trench reconstructions
  • Stalin Line 08 - more bunkers and other fortificationsStalin Line 08 - more bunkers and other fortifications
  • Stalin Line 09 - border strip reconstructionStalin Line 09 - border strip reconstruction
  • Stalin Line 10 - boom!Stalin Line 10 - boom!
  • Stalin Line 11 - helicopter taking offStalin Line 11 - helicopter taking off
  • Stalin Line 12 - in flightStalin Line 12 - in flight
  • Stalin Line 13 - open-air war-games theatreStalin Line 13 - open-air war-games theatre
  • Stalin Line 14 - part of the stage for war gamesStalin Line 14 - part of the stage for war games
  • Stalin Line 15 - tank rides are offered tooStalin Line 15 - tank rides are offered too
  • Stalin Line 16 - tanks, tents and toiletsStalin Line 16 - tanks, tents and toilets
  • Stalin Line 17 - tanks and bouncy castlesStalin Line 17 - tanks and bouncy castles
  • Stalin Line 18 - it is a militaria funfair reallyStalin Line 18 - it is a militaria funfair really
  • Stalin Line 19 - missilesStalin Line 19 - missiles
  • Stalin Line 20 - missiles and soldiersStalin Line 20 - missiles and soldiers
  • Stalin Line 21 - ScudStalin Line 21 - Scud
  • Stalin Line 22 - big MiGStalin Line 22 - big MiG
  • Stalin Line 23 - MiG-23Stalin Line 23 - MiG-23
  • Stalin Line 24 - radarStalin Line 24 - radar
  • Stalin Line 25 - Glory to the Victorious PeopleStalin Line 25 - Glory to the Victorious People
   
   
   
   
   
   

© dark-tourism.com, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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