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PopAnth — Hot Buttered Humanity
Popular anthropology for everyone.

Exploring the ruins of the Cold War

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A shelter hidden in the forest in Brzeźnica-Kolonia, Poland. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
A shelter hidden in the forest in Brzeźnica-Kolonia, Poland. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.

The Cold War was one of the most significant geopolitical conflicts of the twentieth century. It's no wonder that, decades on, cinema is still exploring the motif. Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Stranglelove (1959) and the James Bond series are just two well-known examples out of many.

The Cold War has not only fascinated film directors. It has recently become research focus for archaeologists as well.

Between military installations, nuclear bunkers, spy equipment, and a trail of documentation, the Cold War left behind a massive material legacy in many countries that is fascinating to study for its physical and human dimensions. (In fact, universities run courses on it.)

Archaeology is not only about material culture from the distant past, such as Pompeii or potsherds dating back to the Neolithic. It is also about material remains from times that have only just passed. Such archaeology is usually called the "archaeology of the recent past" or the "archaeology of the contemporary past." It explores what material items (including ruins) can tell us about material culture, memory, and decay in the recent past.

Even though it is called a 'ghost town,' the landscape is very alive.

The archaeology of the recent past has one distinct advantage over the archaeology of ancient world: many more different kinds of artifacts survive to tell the tale of their times. We are very much in favor of such archaeology.[1]

In this short photo essay, we present the results of one of our surveys that took place on 25-26 May 2013. We explored and documented Soviet ruins in Poland that are left over from the Cold War. We present below two places that we visited.

The first place was a secret base in Brzeźnica-Kolonia, where nuclear weapons were stored for three decades. It was the place from which the first nuclear missiles would have been launched if the Soviet Union had begun the Third World War.

The second place is very close to the first one. It is the remains of a secret town called Kłomino where Soviet soldiers lived. Today, both places are abandoned and decaying. They are a vanishing recent past that calls for archaeological studies before they completely disappear.

A T-7 shelter in Brzeźnica-Kolonia, Poland. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 1. A T-7 shelter hidden in the forest around Brzeźnica-Kolonia, where nuclear weapons were stored during the Cold War. This is a view from the inside of the shelter, showing the entrance. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
Abandoned Soviet infrastructure. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 2. This picture was taken in the early 1990s by the Polish Army. It shows infrastructure that was used by the Soviets to store nuclear weapons. When the Soviets abandoned Poland in the early 1990s, they took only the nuclear weapons with them. Later, the Polish Army disassembled the shelters. Today they are completely empty. All the material items we found during the survey were left by enthusiasts who visit modern ruins. (Photo taken of one of the information boards by Dawid Kobiałka)
Another view of the shelter. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 3. This picture shows how big the shelter is. It has many rooms, which had different functions. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
The ruins of the shelter, overgrown with plants. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 4. Inside one of the rooms in the shelter. It is as if we entered some prohibited zone. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
Another shelter to store nuclear weapons in Poland. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 5. We are still in the forest in Brzeźnica-Kolonia. These are the ruins of another shelter to store nuclear weapons. The photo shows a type of shelter called a "granit." Some theories claim that there were trucks with nuclear missiles hidden there, ready to attack the West at any moment. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
A Granit shelter hidden in the forest. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 6. Another view of the granit shelter. The shelter is well hidden in the forest. It was covered by soil and almost impossible to discover from a plane. According to some researchers, two trucks could be stored in the shelter at the same time. Of course, the place had doors, but they did not survive. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
Artifacts from a trench near a shelter. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 7. Although the shelters were well-hidden in the forest, some additional precautions were undertaken by the Soviets, including the construction of long kilometres of trenches. This photo depicts relicts from one of them. Corroded barbed wire is clearly visible. (Photo Dawid Kobiałka)
The secret Soviet town of Klomino in Poland. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 8. The Soviet soldiers had to live somewhere. It was too dangerous to live underground all the time. That is why a small town called Kłomino was built close to the shelters. Polish people were forbidden to enter this town. Indeed, the town has never officially existed! Today the town is almost completely abandoned. It is often called a "ghost town." (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
A ruined apartment block in Klomino, Poland. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 9. A view on one of the residential blocks in Kłomino. The place was once full of life. Today it is as though the end of world took place. Everything is in ruins. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
Street art in Klomino. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 10. Abandoned places such as Kłomino are perfect canvases for street artists. This picture documents one example of street art. Even though it is called a ghost town, the landscape is very alive. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)
A tree grows in an abandoned apartment block in Klomino. Photo by Dawid Kobialka.
Figure 11. The apartment blocks in Kłomino are completely empty inside. They have no material culture dating back to the Soviet occupation of the place. Nature has slowly started to take back what belongs to her. This picture documents a small tree that is growing in one of the rooms. (Photo by Dawid Kobiałka)

Authored with Kornelia Kajda, Maksymilian Frąckowiak (Adam Mickiewicz University)


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