4 Incredible Abandoned Structures From The Cold War

They once stood proudly as icons of the Eastern Bloc, but what became of these four engineering marvels?

The Torvill And Dean Olympic Venue

The Torvill And Dean Olympic Venue

In 1984, the Winter Olympics were hosted for the first time in a socialist state: Yugoslavia. The games would go down in history thanks to the British figure skaters Torvill and Dean, whose "Bolero" performance is still regarded as the finest ice dance of all time. But what about the venue where they made the magic happen? This was the Zetra Olympic Hall, also known as Juan Antonio Samaranch Olympic Hall, which had been built specifically for these landmark Cold War Olympics.

A dark fate lay in store for the cavernous space that had sparkled on millions of televisions in 1984. The breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Bosnian War of the 1990s led to widespread devastation in the region, with the Olympic Hall being ravaged by shelling in 1992. The once-proud venue was left a shattered wreck, its basements serving as morgues for the war dead, and the wooden seats in the auditorium pulled out and used to make coffins. NATO forces took over the complex at the end of the war, dubbing it "Ice Station Zetra". One witness at the time described it as resembling the "backdrop for a Mad Max film".

Yet, while the stadium was abandoned for a time, it was eventually brought back from oblivion and restored to its former status, now hosting sports events and concerts again.

The Underwater Prison

Just outside the town of Rummu in Estonia lies one of the most eerie and surreal sites left over from the Cold War. Once upon a time, the local limestone quarry had been worked by generations of Soviet prisoners, who worked gruelling hours in brutal conditions until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

When the Soviets departed, they left behind a kind of prison ghost town. Without anyone to man the pumps, the quarry itself became submerged in water, resulting in a lake which conceals whole buildings and mining machines. Some of the buildings are visible, emblazoned with graffiti and sticking out of the placid water. But the real spectacle lies deep in the lake, attracting droves of scuba divers who ignore safety warnings to swim amid underwater clusters of barbed wire to touch the remains of the former labour camp.

The area's ominous beauty also attracts picnickers and ramblers, as well as filmmakers who've shot short movies and music videos in what was once a gulag-like hell-hole.

The Abandoned Tower

During the final decade of the Cold War, the Russian city of Yekaterinburg found itself saddled with a looming and purposeless landmark: a TV tower which pierced the sky at 220 metres. Construction commenced on the tower in 1983, yet work slowed and eventually halted. It never attained its intended height of 360 metres, and was left utterly abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet, despite being something of a pointless eyesore, the TV tower was taken to many local people's hearts, and came to be regarded as a symbol of the city, exemplifying the Brutalist aesthetic of the old Soviet Union. It also became popular with BASE jumpers, with a number of fatal accidents reported.

The tower was eventually destroyed as part of a "beautification" process prior to the 2018 World Cup - an act that was controversial among Yekaterinburg residents. Many were sad to see it go, having been brought up with it as a part of the city skyline. The head of the committee opposing its destruction even described the demolition as a "symbol of the people's humiliation at the hands of the authorities because the decision was made behind-the-scenes."

The Forbidden City Of The Red Army

A short drive from Berlin, there lies a remarkable relic of the Soviet Union. The word "relic" doesn't really do justice to the sheer scale of the place, because Wunsdorf was once an entire community housing tens of thousands of Red Army troops and their families. During the darkest days of the Cold War, when Germany was split in two, Wunsdorf was dubbed the "Forbidden City" - a fortified stronghold where Germans could not go.

Today, it's a ghost town where majestic buildings are shrouded in dust, and where photos and artworks from the Soviet Union still hang in shadowy rooms. Interestingly, Wunsdorf had originally been a Nazi base before it was commandeered by the Soviets after the war - they recognised the usefulness of its thick walls and on-site leisure facilities (including a now-empty swimming pool).

While there has been talk of the site being repurposed for modern use, a lack of investors and bureaucratic disregard has left it in limbo - though some do visit to soak up the atmosphere of a long-closed chapter in world history.