A toadstool of reinforced concrete growing at the base of the Bezruč gardens city walls conceals the entrance to Olomouc's newest historic attraction.
The civil defence shelter was built from 1953 to 1956 to house the city's leaders in the event of a chemical or nuclear attack from Western Europe. Because it was meant for leaders, the shelter was a particularly elaborate and well equipped version of the bunkers that ordinary citizens remember from regular safety drills throughout their school and working lives.
Entry is possible only in the presence of a guide and the visiting times are 10.00, 13.00 and 16.00 on Saturdays and 14.00 on Thursdays from mid May to mid September. There's a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 20 participants on each tour and the admission charge is a symbolic 20Kč.
Tickets are available and the tour begins from the tourist information office on the main square. The walk down into the park behind St Michael's takes about 5 minutes and it may take another five minutes for the guide to open the heavy steel doors that were the first line of defence against nuclear, chemical or conventional attack.
Once inside the bunker, the guide talks about the design of the entrance in particular and the four skins of the bunker overall. The bunker is largely steel-reinforced concrete, but one of the four layers is of soft earth, which was intended to act as a cushion against the impact of any near-direct explosion.
The first rooms inside the entrance are the decontamination showers and from there the corridors lead past rooms containing all the practicalities necessary for 82 people to survive 72 hours. Pumps, a deep well, a watertank, compressors, a complicated arrangement of airfilters and ducts, and a diesel powered oxygen generator are maintained in working order in their rooms off to the left of the corridor.
Further on are the telephone and radio rooms and in the heart of the bunker is the situation room, which would been furnished with tables and chairs, maps and a full width chalkboard. Unfortunately most of the furnishings and equipment from these rooms was lost in the years immediately after the fall of communism when the neglected shelter was used by homeless people on cold winter nights.
After the situation room and the radiation testing room the tour loops back towards the entrance and ascends to the upper floor, which was the living quarters. Around the edge of the bunker are the toilets, showers, kitchen and dining rooms and in the centre above the situation room are the sleeping quarters. Again most of the original furniture is missing, but the first time I went the guide did allow one of the parents to help his kids try on the old fashioned gas masks.
The whole tour including the walk down from the main square lasts about 40 minutes and is only in Czech but the guide explained his colleague was working on an English text and that it would be ready 'soon'. But for anyone interested in the cold war history of Central Europe, it's a well spent 20Kč even without a translated text.
Kryt civilní obrany, Bezručovy sady, Olomouc. Tickets from Tourist Information, Horní náměstí, Tel: 585 513385