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Cold War National Park
Zeltini, Latvia

“At the height of the Cold War,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur tells us, “strategic missile bases such as Zeltini were among the most heavily-armed sites in the USSR. Surrounded by barbed wire, electric fences and minefields, they were so closely guarded that they terrified even their own personnel.”

Then history happened, and “now the bases built to defend a quarter of a billion Soviet citizens stand derelict in a country of just 2.3 million. Airfields, missile silos, bunkers and hangars are slowly vanishing under encroaching vegetation - a silent, damp, concrete no-man's land.” And may have completely folded back into the wilderness if it were not for some insistent Americans:

“One day an American observer asked me if we'd found the nuclear warhead store yet. I replied, 'What store?' So he took me for a drive into the woods, reading off a GPS navigator,” [former Soviet military engineer] Upmalis said.

“We found the hidden entry to a nuclear weapons dump behind a ruined building. The Americans knew about it from satellites, but nobody in Latvia knew anything about it,” he added.

But if this hotel is any evidence of Latvia's entrepreneurial spirit, these “ghost bases” may just become the country's most popular tourist destination.

Zeltini, Latvia

Zeltini, Latvia

So to repeat: Mildewed missile silos. Subterranean bunkers. Minefields and pestilential swamps. Silent airfields and cavernous airplane hangers. Barbed wires. Electric fences. Arcadian birch-covered hills. GPS navigators. World War III launch pads. Munition dumps.

It's a landscape architect's paradise.


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