Panorama Museum & Old Mill Ruin

   - darkometer rating: 6 -
The principal museum in Volgograd about the Battle of Stalingrad, the turning point in WWII. In addition to its indoor exhibition (which is rather old-school) and the big panorama of the battle that gives the place its name, there are open-air displays of tanks, artillery, etc. around it. And the visual pivot of it all is the war ruin of the former Grudinin Mill, which is by far the largest war relic not just in Volgograd but probably the whole of Russia.    
More background info: for some general background of the Battle of Stalingrad see under Volgograd. (and also Museum Pamyat and Tractor Factory).
The origins of the museum go back to a predecessor from 1937, which then focused on the “Defence of Tsaritsyn”, i.e. how the Bolshevik Red Army took the place in the Russian Civil War, years before the city was renamed Stalingrad. This old museum building on Gogol Street still exists, and it covers the city's old history up to the Civil War and early Soviet days, but no longer anything about WWII or later (see under Volgograd >combinations.)
In 1943, just after the Battle of Stalingrad, the museum was augmented with items from this battlefield, and the name was changed to include the “Defence” of both Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad. The renovated museum under that name opened in 1948.
After the city was renamed Volgograd, the museum had to change its name again too. And so from 1962 to 1982 it was simply called “Volgograd State Defence Museum”.
The current museum next to the Old Mill ruin was only set up in 1982, and opened its doors to visitors in 1985. So it's a late Soviet design. It was also then that the name Stalingrad slipped back in, in the full title “Panorama Museum of the Battle of Stalingrad”. The panorama inside the circular concrete building atop the museum proper is one of the largest of its kind (see below).
The Old Mill ruin next to the modern-style panorama building is what's left of the Grudinin grain mill, an imposing five-storey red-brick industrial edifice that was built in 1903 (and originally owned by German brothers, ironically). Like the rest of Stalingrad it was severely damaged in the shelling during the months of the battle. Yet after the war it was left standing in its empty-shell ruined state with all the damage visible to serve as a memorial monument. It is the only large ruined building left in the city – the rest were either repaired (like the old museum building) or cleared away altogether and built over from scratch.
The Old Mill ruin can be seen as almost as iconic a landmark of Stalingrad/Volgograd as the famous Rodina Mat statue on the summit of Mamayev Kurgan in the north of the city.
What there is to see: The first thing to strike you when you approach the complex is the stark contrast between the red-brick ruin of the Old Mill vis-à-vis the ultra-modern concrete structure of the cylindrical panorama building.
The big, roof-less ruin of the former Grudinin grain mill is quite breathtaking. You can only see it from the outside (obviously) but on closer inspection you can make out reinforced concrete pillars inside the empty shell, and the semi-collapsed top floor also has exposed reinforced concrete beams. So it's just the outer façade that is red brick but structurally this was quite a sturdy edifice. This may explain why the building is at least still standing rather than having been reduced to rubble like so many other houses of Stalingrad. (This is something that this ruin has in common with the famous A-Bomb-Dome in Hiroshima, by the way, which is another super-iconic structure standing for the destruction of the city, even though it was one of only few buildings that at least partially remained standing.)
In front of the Old Mill is a single military truck on open-air display and right next to it is a recreation of yet another symbol of Stalingrad: the strange Barmaley Fountain with a group of children dancing around a crocodile in the centre. Like the one outside the train station (see under Volgograd) this is a recent copy of the original (which was destroyed), this one dating back only to 2013.
Walking around the Old Mill you come to its broken-off chimney stack. And on the ground outside several war relics like rusty old artillery gun barrels are scattered around. A whole row of quite intact artillery is on display on the Ulitsa Sovietskaya side of the elevated ring of walkways around the central square with the mill and panorama. Towards the northern corner some armoured vehicles and the iconic Katyusha missile launcher are also included. At the far corner is a giant Soviet star monument.
Towards the north-eastern corner stand a row of German military vehicles in front of the tallest element of the complex: the thin concrete needle monument piercing the sky. On the south-eastern corner just below the cylindrical panorama building is a fake fighter plane on a stick that looks like it's just taking off for a sortie over the Volga River.
Back outside the ring walkway, at street level, there's another small plane on open-air display, plus a lone tank in front of the museum entrance. Further north from here stand some really big tanks – all looking like they've just received a fresh coat of paint. And just north of that is a whole train, complete with a steam engine sporting a red Soviet star on the front. The train carriages are of different types, some transporting artillery, others fuel tanks, etc.
Also on the square outside the museum entrance is a wreck of a tank surrounded by some open-air war-photo panels. There's also a bit of commercialism here too, namely in the form of a tank game you can pay to play: remote-controlled scale-model tanks that can be steered around a small circuit with a mini bridge in the centre. Nobody was using this when I was there and I, too, wasn't in the slightest bit tempted.
So much for the freely accessible open-air parts, now for the museum and panorama.
After getting your tickets in the large foyer, you turn left and walk into the gloom of the first hall of the main permanent museum exhibition. It's really quite dark in here giving the whole place a kind of stiflingly sombre atmosphere.
The exhibition is subdivided both chronologically and thematically. The first hall is about the beginning of the assault on Stalingrad by the German Wehrmacht, the second hall celebrates the courage and heroism of the defenders, followed by a hall about the street-to-street and house-to-house fighting. The next hall glorifies the support of the soldiers by the ordinary population, before the following hall explains the Soviet counteroffensive. The second but last hall presents various generals and marshals of the Red Army while the last hall, predictably, celebrates the eventual victory.
The style of the displays is often very old-school, i.e. dominated by glass display cases with endless collections of uniforms, medals, handguns, helmets and so forth, plus photos, newspaper cuttings, documents and propaganda posters. Yet some display designs, e.g. of guns inside oddly shaped hollows set inside a diagonal concrete base, are quite modernistic, though often in a somewhat forced way (for the sake of looking modern, I'm tempted to say … where 'modern' obviously means 1980s Soviet modern).
All labels are in Russian only, but at the beginning of each hall is a short text in English giving an overview and summery of its contents and/or picking out particularly significant exhibits. The English is a bit shaky, to say the least, but it's better than nothing. If you want more explanation, you can buy a guidebook at the ticket counter or go on a guided tour. Audio guides can also be hired, but I declined the option, so can't comment on their quality.
In general there is just too much detail, even too many amassed artefacts such as medals, Nazi iron crosses, uniforms and guns, guns, guns. But hardly anything here seems to try to give visitors an insightful understanding of the broader context of the tragedy that was Stalingrad. Instead, pure glorification of the victorious outcome for the Red Army is in the foreground. Well, still very, very Soviet in style and as such not without its own strange 'back to the USSR' appeal. But compared to modern, state-of-the-art military museums elsewhere (e.g. the one in Dresden), this is really rather stuffy, old-fashioned and unenlightening.
The highlight, I found, was the large tilted relief model of Stalingrad in ruins (recreated in great detail!) onto which the changing front lines during different phases of the battle are projected in colour, as well as shadows of bombers on air raids and so on. It's the most “animated” display and thus in a way the most captivating.
The museum has some 3500 artefacts, far too many to comment on comprehensively in detail. I'll just pick out a few that for one reason or another stood out. This includes the coat of one Major General Glazkov that is perforated with countless bullet holes. Chilling. As a kind of counterpart to that, the original rifle used by the legendary sniper Vasily Zaytsev (see under Mamayev Kurgan!) is also on display.
A really touching exhibit is the copy of the famous “Madonna of Stalingrad”, made on Christmas Eve by a German army pastor and doctor in an infirmary bunker. It's a drawing in charcoal on the back of a map and shows a woman (Virgin Mary) sheltering her child and around it is written on the right “Licht, Leben, Liebe” ('light, life, love') and on the other side “1942 Weihnachten im Kessel, Festung Stalingrad” ('Christmas in the encircled fortress of Stalingrad'). The picture made it out of the city on the last German supply plane to leave – unlike the creator of the work, who was taken POW and died in a camp in 1944. Eventually the original painting was donated by the artist's family and put on public display in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin next to a copy of a Coventry Cathedral cross of nails. Both became powerful symbols of peace and reconciliation after WWII and during the Cold War. Copies of both were distributed to various significant sites. And so the Stalingrad museum also eventually got its copy of the “Stalingrad Madonna”. (And the catholic church in Volgograd has another copy.)
There are some larger exhibits too, and amongst all the predictable big guns, a big searchlight, and a one-man steel bunker is also one that looks comparatively harmless but had historical significance: the table at which General Paulus was first interrogated immediately after the capitulation of the German 6th army was signed on 31 January 1943 (see under Volgograd and Museum Pamyat!)
The most unexpected set of exhibits, I found, was that of various gifts to the museum – including an ornamental dagger presented to the museum by Venezuela's then president Hugo Chavez! At this point it even got a bit North-Korea-esque! (see the International Friendship Exhibition.)
Stalin is represented in this museum beyond just in name too. There are various portraits, photos as well as a marble bust and a large wall rug showing the Soviet generalissimo in a most confident pose.
In the victory hall at the end of the exhibition, the Western Allies are finally acknowledged too, especially in the form of a group of sculptures of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill sitting together – presumably discussing the post-war fate of Germany and Europe at one of their meetings in either Tehran or Yalta.
In the centre of the museum is a “hall of glory” which is mainly ceremonial and is full of Soviet symbols. It opens up at the top to the structure above, right underneath the panorama.
To get into the Big Panorama, you have to take one of the sets of stairs that spiral up to this holy of holies above the museum. The panorama really is enormous. In the usual fashion of this so very Soviet art form it blends large-scale paintings, i.e. the two-dimensional, with three-dimensional mock-ups with dummies and various objects, as well as trenches, shelters and even soldiers' makeshift graves. It's all a bit OTT but certainly well made.
Back at the bottom of the stairs from the panorama, the rotunda below (on the floor above the museum) also had a set of display cabinets when I was there in August 2017. Some of these contained rather unexpected but interesting artefacts, such as the one with stacks of coins from Hiroshima welded together by the immense heat of the atomic bomb's blast. But I can't say whether these were just temporary or permanent displays.
All in all: while I wasn't too convinced by large parts of the museum (too stuffy, too old-school, too glorifying and occasionally just plain weird in the style of presentation), seeing the panorama and in particular the Old Mill ruin outside (one of the largest authentic WWII relics anywhere!) were definitely highlights of my trip to Volgograd in 2017. And since the museum is inexpensive and has a few interesting items too, I'd say why not take it in as well when at the site. Of course, for real war history buffs it's a must in any case.
Location: in the north-eastern part of the centre of Volgograd, Russia, ca. 1.1 mile (1.8 km) from the Volga Steps. The official address is No. 47, Ulitsa Imeni Marshala V.I. Chuykova. But the open-air parts can also be accessed from Ulitsa Sovietskaya.
Google maps locator: [48.7152, 44.5335]
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to; inexpensive.
Details: To get to the museum you can either walk it all – the route from the top of the Volga Steps in the very heart of the city along the promenade above the banks of the River Volga is quite pleasant too (and takes you past a few noteworthy monuments – see under Volgograd). Or you can first take the 'metrotram' (line CT) to Lenin Square (Площадь Ленина) and walk down Ulitsa Naumova in the direction of the river.
The open-air parts of the museum complex are freely accessible at all times, except for the inner courtyard and the Old Mill ruin, which for obvious enough reasons is out of bounds for visitors.
The Panorama Museum has the following opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Thursdays when it is open until 9 p.m. (but in winter only from 1 p.m.) and Saturdays when it is open until 8 p.m.; last admission half an hour before closing. Closed Mondays.
Admission: 250 RUB (students: 150 RUB, schoolchildren under the age of 16: free)    
A permit for photography costs an extra 100 RUB.
Time required: Very much depends on how deep your interest in all things military is. Real dyed-in-the-wool military history buffs can probably spend several hours here. I didn't find the main exhibition quite so engaging, so I was out again after less than an hour.
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under Volgograd.
Just round the corner from the museum are a few monuments worth taking in, in particular the grand Lenin statue on nearby Lenin Square, the Pavlov House memorial right opposite the museum on Ulitsa Sovietskaya, and the monument for the victims of political repression just to the north of the museum.
Down the hillside right on the banks of the Volga River to the south of the museum is another open-air exhibit: the old navy river boat Bk-13” that was used in the Battle of Stalingrad (e.g. to take soldiers across the river). But it is now displayed on dry land.
By the way: another boat-on-dry-land memorial can also be found by the riverbanks about half a mile to the south-west of the main city centre River Boat Station.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Volgograd.
  • Panorama Museum 01 - signPanorama Museum 01 - sign
  • Panorama Museum 02 - ruin of the old Grudinin MillPanorama Museum 02 - ruin of the old Grudinin Mill
  • Panorama Museum 03 - dramatic damagePanorama Museum 03 - dramatic damage
  • Panorama Museum 04 - partly collapsed roofPanorama Museum 04 - partly collapsed roof
  • Panorama Museum 05 - in front of the Old MillPanorama Museum 05 - in front of the Old Mill
  • Panorama Museum 06 - reconstruction of the famous fountainPanorama Museum 06 - reconstruction of the famous fountain
  • Panorama Museum 07 - broken chimneyPanorama Museum 07 - broken chimney
  • Panorama Museum 08 - Big Soviet StarPanorama Museum 08 - Big Soviet Star
  • Panorama Museum 09 - big gunsPanorama Museum 09 - big guns
  • Panorama Museum 10 - armoured vehicle and Katyusha launcherPanorama Museum 10 - armoured vehicle and Katyusha launcher
  • Panorama Museum 11 - German gearPanorama Museum 11 - German gear
  • Panorama Museum 12 - tank wreckPanorama Museum 12 - tank wreck
  • Panorama Museum 13 - war games on offerPanorama Museum 13 - war games on offer
  • Panorama Museum 14 - Soviet steam trainPanorama Museum 14 - Soviet steam train
  • Panorama Museum 15 - supplies transportPanorama Museum 15 - supplies transport
  • Panorama Museum 16 - really big tanksPanorama Museum 16 - really big tanks
  • Panorama Museum 17 - small planePanorama Museum 17 - small plane
  • Panorama Museum 18 - yet another tankPanorama Museum 18 - yet another tank
  • Panorama Museum 19 - needle and entrance to the museumPanorama Museum 19 - needle and entrance to the museum
  • Panorama Museum 20 - insidePanorama Museum 20 - inside
  • Panorama Museum 21 - rather old-school display stylePanorama Museum 21 - rather old-school display style
  • Panorama Museum 22 - some odd display designsPanorama Museum 22 - some odd display designs
  • Panorama Museum 23 - Nazi jacketPanorama Museum 23 - Nazi jacket
  • Panorama Museum 24 - bullet holesPanorama Museum 24 - bullet holes
  • Panorama Museum 25 - various exhibitsPanorama Museum 25 - various exhibits
  • Panorama Museum 26 - model of war-torn StalingradPanorama Museum 26 - model of war-torn Stalingrad
  • Panorama Museum 27 - moving frontlines superimposedPanorama Museum 27 - moving frontlines superimposed
  • Panorama Museum 28 - historic deskPanorama Museum 28 - historic desk
  • Panorama Museum 29 - Nazi flagsPanorama Museum 29 - Nazi flags
  • Panorama Museum 30 - gifts to the museumPanorama Museum 30 - gifts to the museum
  • Panorama Museum 31 - highly decorated generalPanorama Museum 31 - highly decorated general
  • Panorama Museum 32 - victorious Stalin rugPanorama Museum 32 - victorious Stalin rug
  • Panorama Museum 33 - central hallPanorama Museum 33 - central hall
  • Panorama Museum 34 - central starPanorama Museum 34 - central star
  • Panorama Museum 35 - stairs up to the panorama hallPanorama Museum 35 - stairs up to the panorama hall
  • Panorama Museum 36 - the big panoramaPanorama Museum 36 - the big panorama
  • Panorama Museum 37 - the usual blending of 3D and 2DPanorama Museum 37 - the usual blending of 3D and 2D
  • Panorama Museum 38 - shelterPanorama Museum 38 - shelter
  • Panorama Museum 39 - Soviet plane about to crashPanorama Museum 39 - Soviet plane about to crash
  • Panorama Museum 40 - German gravesPanorama Museum 40 - German graves
  • Panorama Museum 41 - display cabinets ringing the panorama staircasePanorama Museum 41 - display cabinets ringing the panorama staircase
  • Panorama Museum 42 - molten coins from Hiroshima on display in one of themPanorama Museum 42 - molten coins from Hiroshima on display in one of them

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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