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Purged heads of the Eastern Bloc, their territory reduced to a shelf in the Wende Museum.
Purged heads of the Eastern Bloc, their territory reduced to a shelf in the Wende Museum.

Cold War: The Wende Museum

Field review by the editors.

Culver City, California

Mention the Cold War (1947-1989) and most people think of the Berlin Wall or nuclear armageddon.

Hero comrades fly skyward on a Socialist Achievement banner.
Hero comrades fly skyward on a Socialist Achievement banner.

Not hippies and telephones.

"We have a unique collection of materials from Soviet hippies. They were quite widespread," said Joes Segal, chief curator of the Wende Museum of the Cold War. Despite its name, the museum isn't really about warfare, but about the rapidly disappearing ephemera of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Wende is a germanic word for turn or change.

The museum began with Los Angeles-born historian Justinian Jampol, who in 2002 started collecting everything from Hungarian porcelain to East German light bulbs. He opened a makeshift museum in an office park, and its location in sunny southern California became an unexpected asset; former residents of the Eastern Bloc were happy to give him their rubbish as long as it stayed as far away from Moscow as possible.

The East is red. And black. And green.
The East is red. And black. And green.

"A lot of the materials we receive are from people who just want to get rid of their socialist past," said Segal. And they wanted it in a place without Soviet apologists or bad memories.

Segal views the purged mementoes with professional detachment. "Even things that are ugly or hateful can be historically interesting," he said. "We don't have any objects where I think, 'Oh, please go away!'"

Outgrowing its modest original home, the museum reopened in Culver City's former National Guard Armory on November 19, 2017. The building, dedicated in 1949, is itself a Cold War relic, complete with radioactive air filters and what Segal called "wishful thinking" bomb shelters. "They would have been of no help whatsoever," he said, but the shelters are useful for storing part of the museum's 100,000+ artifacts.

The rest of the relics are displayed either in the building's galleries or along its walls in extensive open racks, grouped into themes such as consumer products, sculptures, and a category named "Socialist Luxury." The idea was to make as much of the collection as visible as possible, said Segal, in a deliberate counterpunch to the Cold War's Iron Curtain of secrecy.

Lenin was carved from wood in the 1950s by a sculptor from Transylvania.
Lenin was carved from wood in the 1950s by a sculptor from Transylvania.

"These countries can't say anything about what we can or cannot display," Segal said. "Many of them don't exist any more."

The communist cast-offs on exhibit range from sci-fi paperbacks and restaurant menus to an oversized head of first-man-in-space Yuri Gagarin to a 1980s painting of a Soviet Union insane asylum. An entire display is devoted to the hand-crafted facial recognition system developed by East German border guards at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie, to keep certain people out and others in.

"We also have a huge collection of spy equipment," said Segal, noting that the museum has been visited twice by representatives of the not-open-to-the-public CIA Museum in Washington, DC.

"They were very eager to see our materials," said Segal. "We have things that they don't."

Also see: Titan Missile Museum | Nuclear B Reactor

Cold War: The Wende Museum

Wende Museum of the Cold War

10808 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA
Wende Museum of the Cold War. I-405 exit 51. Drive north on Culver Blvd for a half-mile. You'll see the museum and its parking lot on the right, just before the intersection of Coombs Ave.
F 10-9, Sa-Su 10-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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In the region:
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