Twin towns in northern central Slovakia
which are worth a mention here for two reasons: a) the large ammunition factory, now largely abandoned, and b) the new town to the south which is a showcase of Stalinist
-era socialist city planning.
More background info: The small town of Dubnica (population ca. 26,000) would be just another unremarkable provincial backwater if it wasn't for its rise to industrial glory of the most dubious sort: in 1936 a huge arms factory was constructed: Závody Ťažkeho Strojárstva (ZŤS).
It was intended as a backup for the already well-established arms production sites in Pilzen (of Škoda fame – as well as that of Pilsner beer), now in the Czech Republic
. Ironically, at that time it was to help protect Czechoslovakia against the threat coming from the big bully neighbour to the west: Nazi
Germany. It's ironic that only a couple of years later the newly established independent state of Slovakia
would actually side with Nazi Germany
And so it came that the ZŤS plant in Dubnica was turned into an important supplier for the German war machine. The workforce rose to nearly 5000, who toiled away producing guns, ammunition as well as heavier equipment for the Wehrmacht. Amongst the young workers was one Alexander Dubček – who would later become famous as the leader of the Prague Spring
After WWII, the plant continued producing armaments, including tanks and artillery, now mainly for the Soviet Union
– but also for the international arms trade. All this dubious boom industry came to a halt when the Velvet Revolution
put an end to communism in the CSSR
The first post-communist
president of the CSSR, Vaclav Havel, visited the factory and announced that the new country didn't need such an ugly business and should be more “human” and peace-oriented. For Dubnica this meant more or less end of business.
The factory was largely closed down. A few companies have taken over parts of the huge complex for various smaller industries, but much of the old plant lies derelict – still awaiting some form of major investment to give it a new lease of life other than its old military one. The machinery could certainly be used for the production of different things – the question is just whether the ageing equipment could do so in an economically viable way.
The new town of Nova Dubnica just south of the industrial plant at Dubnica nad Váhom was conceived on the drawing board as a model socialist planned town providing housing for the ZŤS workers and their families, complete with all the necessary services for the privileged population lucky enough to get a place in this little peace of communist heaven. Or so was the idea.
Construction started in 1951 and the architectural style bears the typical hallmarks of that time in the Eastern Bloc
. The place could just as well be in the USSR
. Unlike many other planned towns from that era, though, Nova Dubnica has not declined and been left to crumble but has actually been spruced up to almost its former glory. Even the ubiquitous red stars on the facades have been repainted. It's a little treasure trove for those interested in socialist architectural history.
What there is to see: Most of the old ZŤS plant is off limits to the general public so you can only get a glimpse of it from the outside, e.g. from the old main gate to the plant.
But there is one intriguing exception to all that inaccessibility, namely a part that was fortified during WWII
(i.e. when the plant was producing weapons and ammunition for Nazi Germany
). It's basically a heavy-duty bunker. And you can sneak in – there are no fences, gates or guards.
Inside it is pitch-black dark so you need a torch to see anything. It's spooky and eerie, though it's really just the ambience that does it. There isn't anything in particular to be found here other than broken bits of lamps, empty ammunition cases, pipes and all manner of other debris. Tall people need to take care with the very low ceiling.
After that little exercise in “urban exploration” you can head for the contrast that is Nova Dubnica, the planned socialist residential town to the south. When I went there it was as part of a longer two-day tour of central Slovakia
) and my guide had arranged for us to be taken round the town by a local resident.
So we started at the wide open expanse of the main square, and from there did a round circuit passing socialist-realist murals, very Stalinist-era-style grand buildings as well as smaller ones, many adorned with various murals and abstract decorations, quite a few of which involved brightly painted red stars. Clearly a lot of recent renovation work has gone into preserving the old character of the place. That alone is quite remarkable.
Less polished was the look of the Kino Panorex, a kind of socialist-era precursor to IMAX cinemas. These days, I was told, there are only rarely any screenings of films on here.
The best bits were definitely the very socialist murals/reliefs on the larger outer walls of some of the buildings lining the central square. Look carefully and you can see the clichéd glorification of heavy industry, as well as a celebration of midwifery and parenthood (all for the greater goal of socialism, of course). On one of the murals a little girl is depicted waving a CSSR
flag, the one that the successor state of the Czech Republic
kept as their national symbol … so it is somewhat ironic to spot this here in modern-day Slovakia
On balance, the little detour and guided tour in the two Dubnicas was a fun well-off-the-beaten-track addition to my two-day guided tour (see below
) of central Slovakia
, though hardly an essential element in it.
in the middle of the Vah valley in northern central Slovakia
, some 75 miles (120 km) north-west of Bratislava
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: off the beaten track, but not too difficult to get to, best by guided tour. Not too expensive.
In theory you could also do this as an independent traveller, provided you have your own means of transport, but you'll get a whole lot more out of it on a guided tour. If you want to go there on your own, it's easy enough to find (use the locators
above), but walking around Nova Dubnica you may feel a bit like an intruder – it is, after all, a lived-in residential town, not a museum – so try to be discrete.
Both the bunker at the arms factory and Nova Dubnica are also regularly part of their “Slovakia Explorer: North Tour”, which also includes a hike in the mountains, visiting a rock monastery and the town of Trenčín, amongst other things, and takes 10-12 hours as a day return trip from Bratislava.
per person: from 55 EUR (for 4-7 participants) to 90 EUR (for 2). For a solo traveller it would be the cost for two minus ca. 10%. Just contact “Authentic Slovakia” – they are very flexible and may be able to suggest any kind of differently tailored itinerary (see also under combinations
In the highly unlikely event that you're going to Dubnica independently and actually want to stay overnight, there are a few options for accommodation. The most eccentric would have to be the curiously named Hotel Metal, right by the old ZŤS plant. On the outside facade it is advertised in large red letters that a night here costs merely 5 EUR – but whether that outrageously low price is also an indication of the level of quality to be expected here I don't know.
Time required: about half an hour for the bunker, and maybe another hour or so for Nova Dubnica.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
When I was there as part of my longer two-day guided tour of central Slovakia, we stopped in Dubnica on our way back to Bratislava coming down from Ružomberok (see Hlinka mausoleum
), with another short stop at the infamous high-security prison at Ilava.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The area of Dubnica with all its heavy industry and drab socialist housing estates is hardly touristy, quite on the contrary in fact. Yet it is not far from some very appealing scenery, in particular to the north and east – see also under Korytnica
and under Slovakia
- Dubnica 01 - abandoned weapons factory
- Dubnica 02 - reinforced for the war
- Dubnica 03 - access
- Dubnica 04 - way in
- Dubnica 05 - inside
- Dubnica 06 - the lamps no longer work
- Dubnica 07 - you need a torch
- Dubnica 08 - debris
- Dubnica 09 - spooky
- Dubnica 10 - light and shadow
- Dubnica 11 - old weapons case
- Dubnica 12 - shadow
- Dubnica 13 - symmetry
- Dubnica 14 - another derelict building
- Dubnica 15 - but the cheap Hotel Metal is still in use
- Dubnica 16 - drab
- Dubnica 17 - Nova Dubnica
- Dubnica 18 - a Stalinist planned model town
- Dubnica 19 - with cheerful socialist realist art
- Dubnica 20 - refurbished
- Dubnica 21 - even the red star
- Dubnica 22 - cinema
- Dubnica 23 - evening
- Dubnica 24 - girl still waving the CSSR flag