As the world looks set to enter a second Cold War, we thought it would be a suitable time to look back on the first one. The Cold War Museum Prague is hidden deep below Wenceslas Square, the busy heart of modern Prague, in a bunker below the Hotel Jalta, a sealed-off world designed to be a safe refuge in the event of a nuclear attack.
The Prague Cold War Museum isn’t all about the threat of nuclear war – it’s set out to give you a taste of life in Cold War Czechoslovakia. Our guide gives you a taste of what to expect at the Cold War Museum, and we tell you everything you need to know about visiting.
The Cold War – An Introduction
After World War II, relations between the victorious powers – the US, UK and France on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other – rapidly deteriorated
While democracy was restored to most of Germany and Western Europe, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe liberated by the USSR’s Red Army were gradually taken over by Soviet-backed (and, as it turned out, Soviet-imposed) Communist regimes
Tensions and mutual suspicions reached their nadir in the early 1960s, when the Berlin Wall was erected and the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world close to nuclear war
Interested in Prague history? Check out our guide to Prague World War 2 Sites.
Where Is The Cold War Museum Prague?
It is located in a purpose-built bunker – built to withstand nuclear attack – beneath the Hotel Jalta on Wenceslas Square, in the heart of New Town Prague.
The Hotel Jalta’s address is Václavské nám. 818/45, 110 00 Nové Město Prague.
What To See At The Cold War Museum Prague
The Cold War Museum in Prague only occupies part of the bunker complex below the Hotel Jalta. You’re taken around the complex by a guide wearing a 1960s Czech military officer’s jacket, but don’t expect Cold War standards of customer service.
A large part of it – the former hospital – isn’t included in the tour. The bunker is a deep netherworld of heavy doors, fluorescent lights, overhead pipes and portraits of grim-faced Communist Party leaders enjoying their Socialist utopia.
Each room in the Museum has a different theme. The first room on the tour is a medical room, kitted out with a bed and contemporary equipment.
You’re then taken into the ventilation room, without which the bunker couldn’t function. A series of pipes filtered out any toxins from chemical or nuclear attack, and if the power failed, you could operate everything with a hand-crank. The air in the bunker was a little musty, but better than I had expected.
Communism in Czechoslovakia, like everywhere else, required a certain level of enforcement, and another room is devoted to the STB, the country’s secret police. There’s a mannequin of an officer behind a desk as well as lots of secret police paraphernalia, including banks of communications equipment. Some of this was used for eavesdropping, and others were there for contacting the outside world in case of emergencies.
There are also reminders of the Czechoslovakian military, with more mannequins, a set of army uniforms and a well-stocked armoury. The soldiers played a major role in protecting the country from external threats and influences, which entailed keeping the population ‘safe’ behind the Iron Curtain. Risking escape would frequently lead to being shot, or at least shot at.
The Hotel Jalta became a high-class destination for foreign – including Western – visitors. Staff were well-educated, often fluent in several languages, and the level of service was, shall we say, particularly attentive.
One of the rooms is furnished with a large analogue switchboard connected to a map of the hotel’s floors. When room 102 picked up the telephone to make a call, a light would flash on the switchboard and the operator would listen in on and record the call. Several hotel guests realised this was going on, but many more didn’t.
Cold War Museum Prague – Our Verdict
This is one of the most fascinating museums in Prague, and having lived through the latter stages of the Cold War I’ve always wanted to visit somewhere like this.
This Museum is great for the experience of the nuclear bunker environment, and an insight into what life was like behind the Iron Curtain for Czechs and Slovaks during this period of heightened international tensions.