Friday, January 14, 2011
The city of Samara was the next stop on our cruise. I remember that we started out the day at monument to some figure of the Russian Revolution, I sadly forget his name, but I know that a rather famous Soviet movie was made about him, and it ends with him being shot and killed as he attempts to swim across the Volga to escape the advancing White Army. The monument itself has a rather funny story. It was originally planned to face in one direction (East or West), but that made it look as though the soldiers were attacking the party headquarters across the street. Some party bureaucrat found that to be subversive and unacceptable, and as such, the orientation of the entire monument was changed, with the soldiers facing a different direction, with only their heads turned to look at the headquarters.
The next stop was the Stalin bunker. As the Wehrmacht swept through the Soviet Union in late 1941, the prospect of Moscow falling to the marauding Germans was a very real one. As such, Samara, a railway center and a major Volga river port, as well as a major producer of automobiles and military aircraft, became the war time of the USSR until 1943, when Soviet victory on the Eastern front had all but been guaranteed following the Battle of Kursk. During that time, a top secret bunker had been built in Samara to house Stalin and key political figures. The bunker is amazing. Dug under an apartment block in complete secrecy, the bunker was only revealed to the public after the fall of the Soviet Union. Even residents of neighboring blocks did not know of the bunkers existence. Apparently work was done completely by hand (most likely by prison slave labor) and done completely at night. Dirt was shipped out every morning in tracks and dumped outside of the city. Some rumors hold that all involved in the project were shot following its completion. What Samara is left with today is an eight story deep bunker, complete with all the trappings of the Kremlin. The bottom holds an impressive personal office for Stalin, replete with fake doors to appease the paranoid General Secretary (he never used the office, or even set foot in the bunker) and an impressive conference room for the entire Politburo. I enjoyed the bunker immensely, and it was definitely the highlight of Samara, at least for me. The rest of the day was spent poking around the city. Samara, following the War, was the center of the Soviet space program, and as such it is full of statues of Yuri Gagarin, and even a rocket pointed to the sky.