The Deteriorating Ruins of Soviet Might: Hara Submarine Base, Estonia

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Resting against the deep azure waters of the Gulf of Finland, the Hara Submarine Base slowly crumbles, as the gentle waters lap against its concrete foundations, eroding away a little bit of cement with each passing wave. Today, these monolithic structures jut out of the cold waters of this gulf as a reminder of Soviet aggression and occupation that once swept this part of the world. The Baltic nations lived under this iron fisted rule of communism for almost half a century, and here, on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, we watch its once superior might, decay into the glistening sapphire waters, a faint reminder of the oppression Estonia once lived under.

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On a peninsula that is part of the northern shore of Estonia, rests the Hara Submarine Base, resplendent in its decay and isolation. Deep within Lahemaa National Park—a densely wooded area of beautiful pine forests—hides in plain sight a nondescript and unannounced, overgrown road, leading to ruins of the Cold War. Although the overgrowth of this road is today still cut down, weeds and trees begin their vie for life as they reach for the warmth of the sun overhead, fighting through cracks ruptured in the cement slabs. Dotting each side of this road, hidden amongst the growth, deteriorating buildings collapsed in on themselves lean and list to one side or the other, structures which once housed the military complex of the Red Army, now just shells of their former might. These buildings, resting in their dilapidation, are not the main attraction, and only whet the appetite for the explorer.

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Walking down this road, tall yellow flowers blooming along the edge, a crisp breeze blowing through the trees off the cool ocean, butterflies flew over our heads, swirling all around us, greeting us with the gentlest touch, as they kissed our skin with their dainty feet. Multicolored wings fluttered with the hint of a breeze, as they languidly floated from person to person on that road, like sentries inspecting strangers at the gate. These gliding sentinels allowed us passage down the road, and as we rounded a corner, we were met with an incredible sight.

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The forest opened up to the lapping waters of the gulf, and the rocky shore reminded me of Maine— in fact it reminded us all of Maine. Large boulders dotted the waterline, and this rock gave way to ocean, which gave way to islands of the deepest green pine forests. Off in the distance, past the large hulking mass of cement which once serviced submarines, an erratic coastline jagged with tall evergreens, cut the sky like teeth on a saw blade, trying to slice the sky in two, to spill its blood upon the earth. Juxtaposed against the beauty of nature, this facility of cement and stone reached its concrete fingers into the sea, grabbing for Finland, Sweden, and Norway, but fortunately, its grasp fell short.

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It was surreal. Standing upon a decommissioned submarine base, its substructure moldering under our feet, as only twenty years had passed since it was last occupied, it looked as if a century had passed. Rebar reached out for us like gnarled rusted fingernails, clawing and scratching at us, promising tetanus and infected wounds. Like a long jetty, this structure seemed to stretch into the water the length of a football field, with a second long cement pier paralleling us the whole length, creating a cement alley for a submarine–the other one inaccessible, no longer reaching to shore. As we explored this cement platform, the distinct sound of water sloshing under our feet made us realize there were hollow spots underneath. We eventually came to hatches for large open chambers, which, filled with water, gave us an eery and unsettled feeling, imagining  what would happen if one fell the twenty feet down into the water, with no visible escape or exit to be found.

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Multiple cement buildings rested upon the platform, and these were in disrepair. They were not vacant though, being home to some large swallows, who do not appreciate visitors. Ducking and dodging these aggressively parental brown birds, who flew from their mud nests, we prodded the rubble of these buildings, like so many explorers most likely had before us, and we marveled at the graffiti that adorned the flaking walls of these buildings. Making our way through, and jumping out a window onto the platform again, we made our way around the building. At the end of the base, we climbed up higher upon its wall, and stood with a commanding view of the gulf, a beautiful sight indeed. The spring day was perfect, and the afternoon crisp and warming with a cool breeze.

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While various birds have turned this military base into their homes, the graffiti which adorns the various walls are a reminder that human life still thrives in this location. Like a dystopian post apocalyptic scene, the base and surrounding environment were eerily silent, as if all human habitation had ceased to exist in this region of the world. The water sloshing around in the echoing chambers below our feet created a hollow sound, a repetitive rhythmic noise, which matched the waves cadence rolling off the gulf. Each artist left their mark in this desolate location of beautiful ruin, and their free speech in the form of spray paint seemed ironic in this location which once harbored oppression and subjugation.

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This Cold War relic is a beautiful sight in its state of disrepair. Although this place once wrought nuclear fear and aggression into the world, now it is the perfect place for quiet introspection.The Hara Submarine Base was completed in 1958 and dominated this landscape with its attached base for almost forty years. It now sits in ruin and decay as nature attacks its cement foundations, to reveal the skeletal mass of steel rebar snaking beneath, undulating, frozen in a concrete mix, the aggregate its prison. Eventually the sea will claim this as well, and nothing will be left but mere telltales of a once domineering, monolithic structure.

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As we walked back to the car, the sun beating down through the canyon the road created through the forest, we wondered aloud how long it would last. If we came back in fifty years, would it still be there? The butterflies, basking in the warm sun on the pavement, flew into the air and inspected us one last time, allowing us safe passage to our car. They floated behind us on the air with a languor that seemed ineffectual to flying, and alighted on the cement, to once again bath in the sun.

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David Jester

About David Jester

David Jester lives in the Midcoast region of Maine. He received a masters degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Maine. David is a full-time firefighter/paramedic and writer, who maintains another blog www.firefighterwithapen.com. He travels the world, but chooses locales that many would never consider for vacation. The world is full of many different and unique places, why not see them all?