Nuclear Bunker (and Communism Tour), Prague
One of those relics from the Cold War era: a former bunker built in the 1950s for people to take shelter in in case of nuclear war. Today it's accessible for tourists as a quirky dark attraction off the beaten Prague tourist trail, but only on guided tours. Part of the bunker is a museum of sorts, stuffed full to the brim with all manner of communist-era memorabilia, gas masks and such like.
What there is to see:
Normally you will see this bunker as part of a longer "Communism
"-themed tour that starts in Prague
's Old Town. The first hour will be taken up by walking and stopping at various spots in the city centre that in one way or another pertain to the theme of the tour, e.g. the former secret service HQ, the small monument to the Velvet Revolution
or under the balcony of a house on Wenceslas Square from which Václav Havel addressed the protesters at the beginning of the fall of communism in the CSSR
. If you don't already know much about Czech history then all this may also be worthwhile in its own right, but if you're not a novice then this part of the tour may be less exciting and even a little boring. But you'd just have to get through it until it's time for the main attraction: the bunker.
First you board a tram and ride for a few stops (the tram fare is included in the tour fee), then you are led up towards Parukarka park opposite a particularly ugly set of communist-era prefab housing blocks. The entrance of the bunker is heavily grafittied (brand new when I was there – the paint had barely dried!). The guide unlocks and opens the heavy steel door, then you descend a massive spiral staircase down to ca. 4 storeys or 16 metres below ground.
The first part of the bunker has been turned into some kind of "underground" (literally!) bar or club venue, but appeared defunct at the time of my visit (their website didn't work either when I last looked). The smell is typically bunker: dank and somewhat musty.
Past the basic loos, illuminated by eerie green light, you are then led down more parts of the bunker tunnels and eventually enter the Nuclear Bunker Museum part. This is where it finally gets more interesting.
There are mock-ups of e.g. a hospital ward and a kind of communications centre complete with dummies in uniforms – always a rather tacky component of such sites (cf. also e.g. Kelvedon Hatch
) – and parts of the air purification machinery can be seen too.
The first museum room proper is more like a jumble room stuffed to the brim with all sorts of communist-era memorabilia: from old books to propaganda posters, from period newspapers to masses of medals. Photos and busts of the likes of Stalin
, Klement Gottwald (see under Prague
) and even the GDR
's Erich Honecker
can be seen too. Also on display is a large collection of gas masks, including whole-body variants for small children, complete with – you guessed it – kiddie mannequins in them.
Along further corridors you pass a mock-up of a decontamination room – where two white-rubber-suited dummies scrub down a naked dummy with brooms. More rubber-suited and gas-masked dummies line yet another corridor ... to get you further into the nuclear war mood. Then you come to a mock-up of a nuclear family scene where – again – everyone except the little daughter's doll wears gas masks too.
The gas mask theme continues. In the last room there's even a whole wall of gas masks – they call it Lenin Wall (in allusion to the Lennon Wall in town), next to which a red button is labelled "big red button – do not press". You get the picture. It's all a bit tongue-in-cheek and hovering between the morbid, black humoured and the tacky.
At the end of the tour you are even invited to try on a gas mask yourself – and you can pose in front of a Soviet flag holding a Kalashnikov (while wearing a gas mask, of course). Some visitors feel that this goes a little too far, but I didn't find it difficult to go with the flow and enjoy even the tackiest elements. It also helped that ours was a very small and congenial group. I've read more critical reviews of these tours that remarked that 25 people were clearly too many for the small bunker rooms/tunnels and that it was thus difficult to even hear the guide. Some also complained about the quality of the guiding as such (which obviously depends on who you get as your guide on the day). We had no such problems. We all found it quite fascinating and entertaining at the same time.
at the western end of Parukarka Park in the Žižkov district (Prague
3) a couple of miles (3 km) east from the Old Town Square.
Starting point of the guided tour is in the centre just round the corner from the Old Town Square at 11 Malé Naměstí, a few steps west of the famous Astronomical Clock Tower, inside a narrow passageway off the street connecting to Michalská street.
Access and costs: by guided tour or special arrangement only, not cheap.
Details: The only regular way of seeing this bunker is as part of a longer guided walking tour entitled "Communism and Nuclear Bunker Tour" offered by the company aptly named "Prague Special Tours" – as described above (see www.prague-communism-tour.com). The only alternative to this is to make your own special arrangements with the bunker directly (check www.prague-nuclear-bunker.com).
The regular guided communism & bunker tour isn't exactly cheap, but neither is it out of the ordinary for such a two-hour service in this touristy city (when I did it the WWII-tour cost exactly the same, for instance – see under Prague
). The tours take place daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. – you can either just turn up at their downtown office or pre-book (and pre-pay) online (see URL above).
Time required: the regular communism & nuclear bunker tours last ca. two hours, and about half of this is spent inside the bunker.
Combinations with other dark destinations: If at the end of the tour you don't get the tram all the way back to the old town centre but stay on in the Žižkov area, you can add a couple of other dark attraction within fairly easy walking distance. The TV Tower, for instance, is a mere 15 minutes' walk away to the south-west. Even closer is Olšansky cemetery, whose north-western corner entrance is just a few steps down Jičínská street from the corner of Olšanska street, just south of the bunker entrance. Also within reach is Vitkov Hill with its National Monument to the north-west.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Prague
- Prague communism tour - Velvet Revolution memorial
- Prague communism tour - former secret service HQ
- nuclear bunker 01 - entrance
- nuclear bunker 02 - heavy steel door
- nuclear bunker 03 - down to the underground
- nuclear bunker 04 - underground loos in green light
- nuclear bunker 05 - museum part
- nuclear bunker 06 - sickbay
- nuclear bunker 07 - commie memorabilia
- nuclear bunker 08 - old propaganda
- nuclear bunker 09 - medals galore
- nuclear bunker 10 - Gottwald in good company
- nuclear bunker 11 - Erich is here too
- nuclear bunker 12 - gas masks for everyone, even the little ones
- nuclear bunker 13 - the bunker air filters
- nuclear bunker 14 - tunnel vision
- nuclear bunker 15 - dummies with old communication gear
- nuclear bunker 16 - decontamination room
- nuclear bunker 17 - a good scrub
- nuclear bunker 18 - Xmas in hell
- nuclear bunker 19 - a nuclear family gathering
- nuclear bunker 20 - rubber suits
- nuclear bunker 21 - creepy
- nuclear bunker 22 - hatch
- nuclear bunker 23 - Lenin Wall and THE button
- nuclear bunker 24 - putting on a gas mask
- nuclear bunker 25 - Soviet posing
- nuclear bunker 26 - theme