In an effort to find unique things to do when we travel, I am often reduced to googling, "unique things to do in _" or "offbeat things to experience in _". Not very original, I know. Sometimes, my searching is a bust, other times, it turns up hidden gems. This tour was one of them. Guys, we got to visit a NUCLEAR BUNKER in Prague! And yes, it was just as cool, both literally and figuratively, as it sounds.
The tour met not far from the Old Town Square in Prague. Our group was small - only 5, 5.5 if you count Evelyn - which made for a really nice tour. Our guide was a native Czech who remembers what it was like to be under Communist rule, and had some fascinating stories to share. We walked through a portion of the old town where we were told what it was like to live in Prague during the Cold War. Our guide pointed out historic places, significant to the rise, and fall, of Communism in Czech. He also shared personal stories with us. In Czechoslovakia (as it was known at the time), if one wanted to purchase a car, he would take himself down to the dealership, pay for it, and then receive a coin. On the coin was stamped a number. Each week, they would then listen to the radio to see if their number was called. If it was, they retrieved their car. If not, they continued to wait. Most people received their car in 2-3 years. Remember this is AFTER you have already paid for it. Our guide told us his grandfather ended up waiting SEVENTEEN YEARS to get his car. 17. Nearly two decades. That's absolutely nuts!
During the Communist regime, censorship was commonplace. One of the ways they tried to achieve this was to block TV signals coming from the non-Communist parts of Germany with a huge antenna. Unfortunately, it was never used since it was completed after the end of the regime. A few years ago, the antenna was declared as the ugliest building in the world by National Geographic. In an effort to "pretty" it up, the Prague city council hired, sometimes controversial, artist David Cerney. He installed statues of crawling babies with barcodes for faces on the tower. It didn't really have the intended effect......
We walked around the city for a bit before hopping on a tram and heading out to the highlight of the tour: an nuclear bunker. We learned that there are over 200 bunkers in Prague and that the subway system itself can also be used as a nuclear shelter. I could barely tell that we had arrived at the bunker. Outside, there is a small patio with a bar (it was closed when we were there), and in the wall, there is a heavy steel door. That's when our guide pulled out a huge ring of keys and started unlocking the door. It was probably 8 inches thick and heavy with multiple locks. Beyond that, was another door similar in thickness and appearance. Once both doors were open, a cool, damp breeze started wafting out. We headed into the darkness. There was a large, spiral staircase that led down into the earth. The first thing I noticed was the musty smell. We descended the stairs and the deeper we got, the quieter it got and the mustier the air became.
Once we reached the main level, our tour of the bunker began. Our guide showed us the air filtration system, decontamination room, displays of gas masks and propaganda from the Communist era, and led us through a portion of the bunker. He explained that this bunker was one of the largest, designed to hold 5000 people. People were to enter before a bomb exploded as it didn't have the facilities to decontaminate large numbers of people. It was equipped with enough supplies to house people for up to 5 weeks. Gas masks were common during this era - so common that children were measured in schools to ensure they received a mask that fit and they were even gifted as wedding presents (our guide's grandparents received a set as a wedding gift).
On display were also weapons and artillery from the time period.
Towards the end of the tour, we had the opportunity to try on a gas mask, or an old military jacket. I told Aaron he had to - he didn't have an option. And it resulted in a GREAT photo op :)
So if you're looking for something to do in Prague beyond the castle or other famous tourist sights, check out the Prague bunker tour!