Varna’s Retro Museum – A Trip Down Memory Lane

Volga - Retro Museum Varna

I’ve always been a fan of old cars and even more so of the process of restoring them to their former glory. So when I heard that a well-known Bulgarian businessman and entrepreneur was restoring soviet era cars, I knew that he had planned something spectacular.

The man in question is Tsvetan Atanasov and he seems to love his childhood spent in the glorious era of socialist Bulgaria. He’s also a car enthusiast and it really makes sense for a guy like that, given the opportunity, to pursue the dream to create his own personal collection of classic cars.

But Mr. Atanasov is no ordinary businessman – one who keeps his supercar or whatever prized transportation machinery he cherishes most, in his living room. He wanted to share his dream with his fellow citizens and hatch something which everyone can enjoy. The result of this idea was something unique and unseen before – the Retro Museum.

The Idea

A large classic car collection in essence, the museum recreates the atmosphere of the socialist era – a time not so long ago which many Bulgarians are reminiscent of and remember with great emotion and sentimentality. Those were the good old times, when life was simple and social equality was guaranteed for everyone. Work was provided by the state and free market competition was simply non-existent.

Recreating those memories and preserving them is the foundational principle of Retro Museum. Touching people’s emotional side is always a win for business, but let’s stay away from that side of the story. Foremost the museum is a wonderful place where you can enjoy memories from the past, or if you are from Western Europe or another part of the world – learn more about Bulgaria’s recent history.

Retro Museum Varna - Entrance

What is it like

When I heard that it was located in one of Varna’s shopping malls, to be honest I didn’t expect much and was sort of perplexed by the idea that a museum can be located in such a venue. However, this is certainly no ordinary museum and boy were my expectations wrong.

From the moment you enter the museum you are emerged in an ambiance which can only be described as fairy tale-like. There is a sense of calmness and carelessness which is inherent to the socialist times in Bulgaria. The atmosphere is complemented by Bulgarian music from the 60s, 70s and 80s – songs which are emblematic for this era, as there was little influence of foreign music culture.

Retro Museum Varna

Stepping into the museum the first impression was the color red which was used throughout the premises. This is no design whim – the red flag and consequently the color red is one of the oldest symbols of socialism.

The museum spans an impressive 4000 sq. This space is beautifully carpeted and easy to navigate. What makes an impression is how well all the exhibit pieces are lit. There are probably over 300 projector lights and even more spot lights and other types of lighting. This all constitutes an impressive environment where no little detail remains hidden.

With such an impressive showroom and so little which you can hide under those projectors, the actual exhibit pieces and artifacts have to be impressive as well. And they truly are – everything from the cars, to the figures and the everyday items is all authentic and restored to its absolute best.

Cars

SkodaThe cars are what makes this museum unique. There is no other museum in the world which boasts such a full collection of the most popular vehicles in the Soviet Union and socialist Bulgaria in particular. These now classic cars are restored to an immaculate state – some would say even better than new.

The paintwork on all the cars is stunning – even under the projector lights you can’t see a single scratch. This is because all cars have been repainted professionally and not only the panels for that matter, but the whole body including the under-body and structural elements. The colors correspond to the most popular ones used by the manufacturers at the time.

All cars are in full working order and drivable. I can’t even begin to imagine how all these cars were disassembled to their constituents and reassembled afterwards. Every nut and bolt is professionally restored and there isn’t a single spec of rust or dirt on any of them. Chrome parts are gleaming as well. There is a large mirror placed beneath each vehicle, so that you can get a view of its mechanics.

Interior restoration must have been one of the hardest endeavors in restoring those cars to their stock look and feel. The guys who have participated in this project have done a cracking job. Everything looks authentic and brand new. Leathers, textiles and even plastics and rubbers have been restored to match the original state of all the classics on display.

Some of the brands and models on display: VAZ, Moskvich, Wartburg, Trabant, Skoda, Volga, ZAZ, Chaika, UAZ.

Figures

A slew of incredibly lifelike wax figures of famous people is also on display in the museum to complement the atmosphere created by the cars. These sculptures are of important politicians and Bulgarian celebrities who starred in beloved socialist movies or sang the songs which many Bulgarians still carry in their hearts.

Among the many figures, you will find those of Leonid Brezhnev, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, Todor Zhivkov – all leaders and influencers of the socialist movement. Beside them, visitors have the chance to see Bulgarian stars of the time – actors, singers, poets. The likes of Todor Kolev, Emil Dimitrov, Nevena Kokinova and Velko Kanev are all present to help bring back the times when Bulgarians were happier with what they had and how they lived.

Artifacts

If the cars and famous people wax figures are not enough to imagine living in those times (or remembering), then the everyday items will surely immerse you in that world. Everything from TVs to kitchen accessories, toys and even unopened packs of every brand of cigarettes that was offered in socialist Bulgaria is up for display.

The museum holds a staggering collection of items, which you could not even begin to imagine that anyone would keep for so long. You can find brand new and unopened soap bars, perfumes, matches, clothing items with their labels and even toilet paper – yes, toilet paper! And it’s not anything like today’s…

One of my favorite things were the signs with socialist slogans. Unfortunately for foreign visitors, these are in Bulgarian, but I’m sure that anyone from the staff or even some of the visitors will be more than happy to translate some of them to you. You’ll be missing out on a lot if you just skip the slogans. Some of them are just plain stating the obvious signs, which should not exist, and others are so ridiculously humorous that they should have never existed.

Should I visit?

You better! As a person born in Varna and someone who has lived in Bulgaria for most of his life, I strongly recommend visiting the museum. It is the newest gem in our coastal city and one which deserves every penny of its entrance fee and at least a few hours of your time.

Visiting the museum is made easy with convenient transportation from the center of Varna and even from St. Constantine & Helena and Golden Sands as well. Hop onto bus number 409 and ask for Grand Mall. For those of you who plan on visiting, but are not staying in Varna or the surrounding resorts, there is the option of travelling by bus which is inexpensive and the bus station where you arrive is right next to the mall. Alternatively you could rent a car for a day trip and visit Varna.

Check out some of the photos we took during our fascinating visit to the museum and please share your thoughts and experiences below.

Stanislav Georgiev

Stanislav is a bachelor of Economics with interest in many different industry verticals. An entrepreneur at heart, he is currently a digital marketing specialist and manages a multitude of business websites. Stanislav is also a car nut with extensive experience in car rental, fleet management and automotive maintenance.

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