There’s a host of top Cold War museums and monuments to visit and among the very best are the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate. Other popular sites tend to include Le Memorial at Caen, Berlin Stasi Prison and the Titan Missile Museum.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Cold War places to visit, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Cold War Sites and Monuments, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Cold War Sites and Monuments?
Possibly the most famous of all Cold War sites, the Berlin Wall was an 87 mile long concrete barrier between East and West Berlin, a symbol of the Cold War and an embodiment of the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’.
The Berlin Wall was controversial throughout its existence, with world leaders continually calling for it to be torn down, including John F Kennedy’s famous declaration of “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech when he implored, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”. The fall of the Berlin Wall finally occurred on 9 November 1989 and the wall was almost completely dismantled in the days and weeks that followed.
Very few segments of the wall remain. The largest, 1.3 kilometer, section can be found at the open air East Side Gallery, although small sections are dotted throughout the city.
The Titan Missile Museum is a cold-war underground missile silo turned public museum which still contains an actual Titan II missile. Once a functioning Titan II base, the museum allows visitors to explore the realities of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch site. The complex is made up of an eight-level missile silo and a three-level launch centre.
Today visitors to the museum can choose from a number of tour options with activities including a visit to the control center, taking part in a simulated launch and exploring the missile silo itself. A number of additional tour options are available, usually on specific dates. The ‘Beyond the Blastdoor’ tour offers access to normally restricted areas while the ‘Moonlight Madness’ tour is a night time tour with special activities for children.
The Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker is an enormous Cold War-era subterranean shelter and former operations centre in Brentwood, Essex. The bunker was designed to house up to 600 civilian and military personal, including the prime minister and other high-ranking cabinet officials. In the event of a nuclear attack, the centre’s tasks would have consisted of supplying protection to nearby Ministry of Defence workers, coordinating the survival of the local population, and continuing the operations of the government.
In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the geostrategic realignment of Europe, Kelvedon Hatch was decommissioned. The local Parish family, whose land had been requisitioned by the state in the 1950s in order to construct the site, bought the fields back from the Government. It has now been converted into a fascinating, privately owned museum.
The Bay of Pigs Museum in Miami is dedicated to the 2506 Brigade, which undertook the failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. The invasion was undertaken by Cuban exiles supported by the CIA and US government under President John F Kennedy. In April 1961, approximately 1,400 exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba with the aim of removing Castro. The vast majority of the 2506 Brigade were taken captive, many others having been killed in the attack. The museum houses a small collection of items, photographs and documents relating to the Bay of Pigs and is one of many interesting Cold War sites in the US.
The Che Guevara Monument in Santa Clara in Cuba is dedicated to iconic political activist, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, more commonly known as Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The complex is actually comprised of several monuments to Che, including an 82-foot statue of the man himself and his mausoleum.
Santa Clara was chosen as the site for the Che Guevara Monument as it was the site of a major victory for the revolutionary, leading to it often being called the “City of Che”. The Che Guevara Monument also includes a museum about the life of Che.
Among the best-known Cold War remnants, Checkpoint Charlie was an important crossing point in the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Checkpoint ‘C’, nicknamed Checkpoint Charlie, was the only place where Allied forces were allowed to cross the border.
Checkpoint Charlie was the site of many stand offs between the Soviet and American forces, including the October 1961 dispute over the checking of the travel documents of US officials, which culminated in both sides amassing tanks at the checkpoint.
The original Checkpoint Charlie is housed at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf, but the site now displays a replica where the original once stood as well as information about the era. Nearby is a small private museum about the checkpoint.
One of Berlin’s newest sites, the DDR Museum examines what life was like within the former German Democratic Republic, and provides an incredibly vivid look into this 40-year period. The museum is a wholly interactive experience, wherein visitors enter a model of a GDR estate.
Life in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War was vastly different to the rest of Germany. The West in particular was heavily occupied by the US military, and the Soviet forces felt it necessary to counter this with a state-owned and run country of their own. Through impressive interactive exhibitions, the DDR Museum throws visitors into the years of the German Democratic Republic, which existed primarily between 1949 and 1990.
The museum actively encourages visitors to touch and experience the exhibitions, in a way that few others do. Visitors can stroll through a typical concrete-slabbed housing estate, into the buildings that are bursting with relics and real models from the lives of those who grew up and lived during this time.
Among the most infamous Cold War sites, the Berlin Stasi Prison was an East German prison run by the East German Ministry of State Security (the Stasi) during the Cold War. The prison became the remand detention centre of the Stasi, housing anyone considered to be hostile to the communist GDR. Prior to the building of the Berlin Wall, this even included West Berliners, such as the lawyer Walter Linse, who was kidnapped and taken there in 1952.
Once the Wall had been erected, many of the prisoners were attempted escapees. The prison was notoriously brutal, with inmates being kept in tiny cells and subjected to torture to extract confessions. Today, the Berlin Stasi Prison is a memorial to those who were detained there and is a stark reminder of the atrocities carried out during the Cold War. Tours are offered and visitors can see a film about the prison.
One of Berlin’s most famous Cold War sites, the Brandenburg Gate is a famous landmark in Berlin built between 1788 and 1791 which once served as a city gateway.
During the cold war, the Brandenburg Gate formed a focal point of many politically charged rallies and speeches, including visits by American Presidents John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Further symbolic attachment was formed in 1990, when, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, many viewed the Brandenburg Gate as emblematic of German reunification.
Today, visitors from around the world come to see the Brandenburg Gate and its ornate carvings, including its dramatic depiction of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, driving a horse drawn chariot.
The Atomic Testing Museum tells the story of the atomic age and of the more local National Testing Site. From 1951 to 1992, the NTS in downtown Las Vegas was the US’s main nuclear testing area. From technical items such as Geiger counters and atomic age paraphernalia to timelines, films and even an interactive exhibit that lets you experience what it’s like to watch a nuclear test, the Atomic Testing Museum has it all.