A Nuclear Valentines Day: day trip to Podborsko 3001 and Borne Sulinowo

Ok, try not to be jealous, but my husband took me to an abandoned, Soviet nuclear missile bunker on Valentine’s Day. Nothing says “romance” like crumbling Cold War Era relics. He gets me. It gets better. After we drove several kilometers off the main road on a snow-covered two track. Past a penitentiary. Me running ahead on foot to make sure our car carrying our precious children wouldn’t get stuck in the ice and snow out in the middle of Polish nowhere. The Cold War Museum Podborsko 3001– located inside of the bunker- turned out to be closed for the season. A quick Google would have told us this ahead of time, but no bother. We were out for a drive and an adventure and we got that, so, mission accomplished.

When we arrived, we all climbed out in the cold, and walked up, over and around the outside of the bunker. The massive steel door built into a small rise in the earth, was sealed tightly shut. We know this because we casually tried to pry it open. My “never have I ever” list gets shorter every day, I swear. One of three top secret hidden nuclear missile bunkers built by the Soviets in Poland in the 1960s, it has remained hidden and intact. At the time it was built only 12 people knew about its existence. According to the sign out front written in Polish, German, and English, the bunker could have held enough (160) nuclear warheads to destroy planet earth. It’s amazing that this was such a well-kept secret. But what’s even more amazing to me, is that more people knew about its existence than people who know why the Crooked Forest is crooked. If you ask me, that remains Poland’s best kept secret.

Plan your visit to Podborsko 3001:

There’s more info on their website here. Be sure to open it in Google Chrome, and enable translations in your settings. If you want to plan a visit, do so between the months of May to October, on the hour at 11, 12, and 1300 (that’s 11am, noon and 1pm). Guided groups of 40 at a time are allowed entry during these time slots. The bunker museum is located in Podborsko, near the seaside town of Kołobrzeg, where we spent a lovely weekend last July. I’m sure the 3km road through the forest to reach it is much easier to drive when it’s not covered in snow. Just pass the prison and take a left, you can’t miss it.

Matchy matchy with Podborsko bunker 3001

It didn’t bother me that the main event was closed. The experience of off-roading to find the place and getting a feel for the surroundings, learning about something I never, ever knew, and imagining the secrecy surrounding this bone chilling Cold War bunker of death and destruction was enough. After our brief stop to marvel, we made our way down the road about an hour (it might look close on a map, but Polish roads can take a while) to our second abandoned Soviet Era remnant of the day, the town of Borne Sulinowo.

As often happens when we go exploring, visiting Borne Sulinowo left me with more new questions than answers. I’ll do some research ahead of time, but often websites will be in a foreign language and things get jumbled or lost in translation. Sometimes I can’t get a real grasp of a place based on how the article is written. CNN wrote a decent article on this area recently but, having now been there it seems they left a few things out. Often times when you get to the actual place, sites will be unmarked, or signs won’t be translated into English. Something will be shrouded in layers of history that require a little more time and brain power to sort out than I have at the moment. I’ll frantically take notes and look things up on maps as we pass. Equipped with a whole new context and another set of questions to answer, I usually do more research after returning home, than I did before we left. Then write it out for you guys after it’s sorted.

Here’s what I learned about Borne Sulinowo, mostly afterwards. There were two towns near each other, Borne Sulinowo and Kłomino. They were erased from maps and maintained in secrecy for most of the 20th century. They were built by the German military**  in the 1930s, used as training grounds, barracks and a POW camp during WWII. Then they were overtaken by the Soviets who used them throughout the Cold War as one of, if not the, largest training grounds and barracks in Poland. After the Soviet Union fell, Poland obviously took these lands back and in 1993 began to reoccupy and rebuild the area.

Borne Sulinowo is now a mashup of a town. You can see in use today both the German and Soviet buildings. Each with their distinct styles. The German low, grander, buildings with sloping roofs, contrasting sharply next to Soviet bloc style apartment building four or five stories high. This actually isn’t a lot unlike much of the rest of Poland. Situated on a lake with a relaxed, outdoors-y feel, today Borne Sulinowo has about 5,000 residents.

abandoned Garrison Officer's House

While much of the town has been built up around, some buildings have been left totally untouched. We walked through the crumbling remains of the Garrison Officer’s House. You can tell it used to be a grand building. The rotunda roof has collapsed, its cross bar skeleton remains, and a perfectly circular patch of snow lay on the ground beneath the round of bright blue sky that shone above. The Germans used it as a lecture hall and casino. The Soviets had a theater, a restaurant, and a television broadcast inside the building. Now, graffiti covers the walls and broken glass and crumbling plaster carpet the floor. The front door was wide open, literally, the actual door was long gone. The total lack of “no trespassing” or “do not enter” signs continue to amaze me across Europe. We kept moving. We didn’t want the remaining roof to collapse while we stood there.

Out the back, we emerged on a walking path down to the frozen solid lake. We walked over the ice and back up and around a nature path. People were out ice fishing, Nordic walkers were walking, families were pulling children on sleds with runners that we might call “old fashion” but are the strollers of snowy wintertime here.

Whomever called this town “Polish Chernobyl” was being dramatic. There’s a sort-of new term in tourism called “urbex”. It stands for “urban exploration” and is basically the exploration of abandoned places. Like, for example, Chernobyl. Or places like Borne Sulinowo and its nearby sister town of Kłomino. I’ll steer clear of Chernobyl for another 20,000 years. But I might check out Kłomino if I were you. Because it is an actual town, with actual inhabitants and normal businesses, Borne Sulinowo is accessible on a snowy February day. The nearby (former) town of Kłomino is not.While Borne Sulinowo was resettled after the Soviets withdrew, Kłomino wasn’t and its road, like the buildings that remained, are in ruin. For a while Kłomino was on the market. The entire village was for sale for 2 million Euro, apparently. No one wanted it. Today it is the only official ghost town in Poland. Tourists go here to seek out a true urbex experience.

Inside the crumbling Garrison Officers House
Lakeside of Garrison Officer's House
Crumbling rotunda inside

Plan your visit to Borne Sulinowo and Klomino:

If I were you, I’d add this on to a tour of Northern Poland. You could fly in to Berlin, take the train or drive (it’s under two hours either way) to Szczecin, spend a weekend there. Then, head to Kolobrzeg (again, under two hours) and while you’re there swing down to Podborsko and Borne Sulinowo/Klomino for a day trip. From Kolobrzeg, head to Gdansk, which you can’t miss. You’ll get an amazing taste for the countryside, and get to know a ton of the history of the changing hands that governed Poland from the early 1900s, until now. You could train everywhere, but you will need a vehicle for the Podborsko-Borne Sulinowo/Klomino day trip. For more information regarding the town of Borne Sulinowo, enable the translation setting in your web browser and visit their tourist website by clicking here.

Let me know when you start planning! Tag any ExploreMoreCo inspired adventures @exploremore.co See ya out there!

** a note on research… you must absolutely learn to read between the Wikipedia lines and put what you’re reading into the context of the knowledge you already have. When Wikipedia diplomatically says “German military in 1936”, you can pretty confidently translate that to “Nazis”.

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