Bratislava Iron Curtain relics and bunkers
Relics from the Iron Curtain
border fortifications near Bratislava
, as well as slightly older bunkers that were incorporated into that border during the Cold-War
era. While the actual Iron Curtain has disappeared, a few reconstructions of the old border have been set up at or near the original locations, and a few of the string of bunkers along that same border have been opened to the public as quirky small museums of sorts.
And in Bratislava, this border was just a stone's throw away from the city. Especially in Petržalka, in the part of the city south of the River Danube, people could look straight into the West from their apartments. The border was in some cases the equivalent of just one block away. You could almost literally have thrown a stone over it.
Of course nobody did, as the border was naturally a high-security area and heavily guarded. In fact there were two kinds of borders: a regular land border with barbed-wire fences, watchtowers, patrol tracks and so forth. And then there were the border rivers. The mighty Danube and the much smaller Morava River. The Danube couldn't so easily be crossed by swimming to the other side (the currents are so strong you'd drift downstream before reaching the short stretch where it forms the Slovak-Austrian border), but the Morava is a mere 30 yards or so wide at its confluence with the Danube at Devin
. The latter was therefore a particular hotspot of the Iron Curtain
. Some 400 people were killed trying to cross the border into the West during the communist era.
After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism and the Eastern Bloc the border fortifications mostly disappeared. Since Slovakia
joined the EU and the Schengen area within it, the border has become pretty much invisible. You only notice that you're crossing from one country to the other because the language of the adverts and signs changes.
However, the bunkers along the old border were mostly left standing. These were actually constructed shortly before WWII
between 1934 and 1938 as a first line bulwark against Nazi Germany
(even though Slovakia
then teamed up with the Nazis
at the onset of WWII).
Some fifteen fortification bunkers were built, forming a string from the banks of the Danube south around what today is Petržalka. A few were demolished during the construction of that new town, some are abandoned and derelict, but two have been restored and are now small-scale tourist attractions (see below
There were more fortifications north of the Danube too, along the Morava River, and a few relics of these can also still be found in that area to the west and north-west of Bratislava.
A different type of Cold-War-era defence fortification was the missile base atop Devinska Kobyla
, described in a separate chapter here
What there is to see:
Note that parts of the Iron Curtain relics described here are included in the post-socialist tour
run by “Authentic Slovakia”
(see their sponsored page here
!) while the Iron Curtain monument at Devin
and further relics north of there are part of another tour ("Hike and Drink") which also includes Devinska Kobyla
. Both are described here in their respective separate chapters. Yet another tour of theirs is by bicycle and includes the northernmost of the Petržalka string of bunkers, namely the one just south of the Danube riverbanks.
The sites of the former Iron Curtain
along the outskirts of Bratislava are a bit scattered, and some are harder to reach than others, so going to see them as part of a tour does make sense.
However if you have you own means of transport (or don't mind a lot of walking) you can also visit many of them on your own, independently.
The former patrol track along the border is now quite accessible, certainly on foot or by bike, but there is little to see. Here and there you can spot old border posts in the CSSR
colours. Some abandoned bunkers can also be spotted, some of them just sitting forlornly in the middle of cornfields.
have been restored and opened to the public: BS-4
. The latter was also visited on my post-socialist tour
, but we didn't get to go inside the bunker. Outside there are a few reconstructions of old Iron Curtain
border installations, such as barbed wire and electric fences, a watch post (more a hut than a watchtower), and such like.
Furthermore, there are some trench reconstructions too, dating back to the period 1938 to 1945, with some laminated black-and-white photos and some texts (in Slovak only).
In addition there are some larger information panels with photos and texts (again, Slovak only) about the Iron Curtain border. The photos include some rather drastic ones of victims of the border – i.e. people who tried to cross the border who were shot or electrocuted themselves on the fence. Behind the bunker and border reconstructions is a military cemetery from the First World War
, which adds a strange poignant contrast to all the WWII
and Cold War
Since the bunker itself was closed at the time we were there I cannot say anything about what the inside is like, but going by the descriptions I've seen it appears to be more a general militaria collection, where you can also try on gas masks or hold old guns or pose in uniforms. Apparently they also stage commemorative events as well as some kinds of re-enactment theatrical stuff.
The same seems to be true for the other bunker, BS-4
, which I didn't get to see at all yet (i.e. this one was not
part of the post-socialist tour
). But again, the website and the online comments sound/look very similar. So a combination of museum-like interiors of the bunker, reconstructed border installations outside and occasional dressing-up in military gear or period costume for some re-enactment events.
The other bunkers from the 1930s along this border that are still there are not commodified for tourism (even though some are partially refurbished and may open to the public in the future). A few of them are hidden in forests and thus difficult to find. Unless you are a real bunker aficionado, though, there is probably little point in trying to find them all.
To the north along the Morava
border river that flows into the Danube at Devin, more Iron-Curtain
style border fence reconstructions, old patrol tracks and yet more old bunkers can be found – e.g. at the new “Freedom Bridge
” ('Most Slobody' in Slovak, opened in 2012).
The latter is a cycle path-cum-pedestrian bridge and its naming has a funny story. Originally, so I was told, the public was to decide on a suitable name for the bridge, but the winning suggestion turned out to be “Chuck Norris Bridge” (due to that actor's popularity in Slovakia at the time, allegedly). But the authorities, who did not approve of such a wacky name, refused to stand by the public naming procedure and instead chose the more mundane official name the bridge now has. Locally, however, it is still known as “Chuck Norris Bridge” all the same.
By the border fence reconstruction near the bridge is also a another plaque commemorating the former Iron Curtain
For yet more border installations, bunkers and Iron Curtain monuments see under Devin
and Devinska Kobyla
On my guided tour (see post-socialist tour
) I only got an introductory glimpse of what there is to discover along this border strip. Next time I am in Bratislava
I'll try to explore further and will then report back in more detail here.
Along the western and southern edges of Bratislava
on what is still technically the border (with Austria
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: some locations are practically inaccessible, some a bit tricky to get to, some less so – easiest on a guided tour; mostly free (except guided tours, of course).
Details: if you are on a guided tour (see below) you don't need to worry about navigation, of course, but some of the locations can be reached independently just as well.
You could even walk from the city centre: after crossing Most SNP head west using the path atop the Danube flood dyke and then either carry on straight to get to the BS-1 bunker site, i.e. the northernmost of the string of bunkers around Petržalka. Or follow the bend of the dyke and head south until you can see bunker BS-4. The latter is roughly 2 ½ miles (4 km) from the northern end of Most SNP, so about 45 minutes walk.
Getting to bunker BS-8 from there is not so easy and would take another hour or so for the 3 miles (5 km) or so to walk along the former patrol path. This stretch is far less scenic though, and you have to cross the main '61' road into Petržalka from the west (where a former border checkpoint used to be).
The other bunkers further south and east you can basically forget. Too hard to find and not worth it. Note also that some locations of these bunkers are within nature reserves!
If you want to opt for a guided tour, the post-socialist tour
offered by "Authentic Slovakia"
(see sponsored page here
) includes stops along the old border and also at the BS-8 bunker, but none of the others.
Bunker BS-4 apparently offers its own tours, even using an old military vehicle. And some other Bratislava tour operators also latch on to this. However, some I managed to track down online no longer seemed to be in operation when I last looked (November 2015).
For unguided individual visits you should take note of the following regular opening times of the two commodified bunkers:
Bunker BS-4: on Saturdays only between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.; bunker BS-8: Wednesday to Friday 3 to 7 p.m. and from 2 p.m. on weekends; in winter closing time is an hour and a half to two hours earlier.
Time required: depends. As part of guided tours between just half an hour or so and more than two hours for the two commodified bunkers each. Plus time for exploring the non-commodified bunkers and the border strip as such. If you want to see all of the border you'd need significantly longer, probably more than a day.