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  • The bunkers of Berlin: Ruins, empty giants, archives and art galleries


The bunkers of Berlin: Ruins, empty giants, archives and art galleries

Most of Berlin's bunkers are left over from World War II, but their uses today are as unique and varied as the city itself.

Photo: Imago/Martin Bäuml photo design

Berlin’s bunkers are mostly relics from the war. The bombing raids are over, but many bunkers remain. Some are empty, eerie shells while others house rich art collections, serve as climbing walls or have even been the site of legendary parties. No matter what, these buildings always remind us of Berlin’s dark past. So what are the bunkers in Berlin used for today?

Bunker of the military pioneer school: an empty giant in Karlshorst

Bunker of the military pioneer school on Zwieseler Strasse in Karlshorst. 
Photo: Imago/Jürgen Ritter

Karlshorst is a quaint little oasis. Quiet and green and not far from the city centre, here chic villas line up against luxurious new buildings. In the middle of the neighbourhood, though, stands an ominous and colossal sight: the bunker of the military pioneer school. It was built in 1940, and originally sheltered up to 500 people during the raids.

After World War II it was used by the Soviet armed forces. Due to its historical value, it is now a listed building and is empty. Ideas for use have been circulating for years. Proposals include using it as an exhibition building, youth facility, or club, but the district hasn’t come to a decision.

  • Bunker of the former Pioneer School I Zwieseler Straße, Karlshorst

The Bunker: Once a techno club, now Christian Boros’s private museum

This former bunker is now an exhibition space for contemporary art from the collector Christian Boros. 
Photo: Imago/Müller-Stauffenberg

In 1943 the Nazis had this monstrous, high-rise bunker built in the middle of the city. According to records by the architect Karl Bonatz, thousands of forced laborers toiled on the square building, which was intended to provide protection for train passengers in an emergency. After the war, the Soviets used the bunker as a detention center. Later, it served as a textile warehouse and storage area for tropical fruit, which is why East Berliners liked to call it the “banana bunker”.

“The Bunker” was one of the most important Berlin clubs of the 1990s

After reunification, a short-lived and wild time for the bunker began. This was the heyday of Berlin’s techno scene. The labyrinthine, pitch-black concrete structure with meter-thick walls was taken over by young ravers. In addition to E-Werk and Tresor, “The Bunker” was one of the most important Berlin clubs of the 1990s – until it closed in 1996.

In 2003, the art collector Christian Boros bought the box, built a private museum and a penthouse in it and has since resided exclusively at the historic address – which seems like something a rich person might do. The museum, aka the Boros Collection, can be viewed by appointment.

  • Collection Boris Reinhardtstraße 20, Mitte, tickets and dates for guided tours here

Place of remembrance: bunker at the Pallasseum

The Pallasseum, also called the “social palace”, with the bunker. 
Photo: Imago/Jürgen Ritter

In 1943 the Nazis used forced labour to construct this four storey bunker, which at the time was near the (now long-demolished) Sportsplast. However, by the end of the war, the building shell had not been completed. After the war, the shell – which today borders directly on the infamous Pallasseum apartment block – was to be blown up. That didn’t work, so it served as a civil defence facility during the Cold War.

In 2002, a “Place of Remembrance” was inaugurated here to draw attention to the fate of forced labourers. Since 2011, the complex has been under monument protection.

  • Bunker Pallasstrasse Pallasstrasse 28, Schöneberg

The “Luna Bunker” in the Schönholzer Heide

Bunker in the forest, Schönholzer Heide. 
Photo: Imago/Rolf Zöllner

If you get off at the Schönholz S-Bahn station and take a walk to Schönholzer Heide, you can hike through a good bit of Berlin history. The wall trail runs here, the Soviet War Memorial isn’t far away, and a few years ago the Pankow amateur researcher Christian Bormann found a piece of the original Berlin Wall in the undergrowth on the railway embankment.

In a small grove on the Hermann-Hesse-Straße side lies an above-ground bunker, known as the “Luna Bunker” (the amusement park “Luna” was once nearby). Originally intended to protect residents from bombing raids, it was eventually deemed too small and converted into a communications bunker. It has lain empty since the end of the war but, since its existence in the Schönholzer Heide doesn’t bother anyone, no demolition is planned.

  • Luna Bunker Schönholzer Heide, Pankow

The “bunker of the hopeless” in Kreuzberg

Fichte bunker in Fichtestrasse, Kreuzberg. 
Photo: Imago/Rolf Kremming

This striking, Coliseum-like building was originally constructed around 1880 and served as a gasometer until the Nazi era. As the city’s main fuel storage site, this building was largely responsible for keeping the city lit through the nineteenth century. In 1940, the Nazis converted the gasometer into a bunker as part of the “Bunker Construction Program for the Reich Capital” plan.

Up to 30,000 people from Kreuzberg found shelter in it during the nights of the bombing. In the 1950s, the Berlin Senate set up a shelter for the elderly and homeless in the windowless building, which Berliners called the “bunker of the hopeless” – cheerful stuff. After a murder took place here, the facility was closed and was used to store food reserves until reunification.

30,000 people found shelter in it during the nights of the bombing

Today, the upper area has been converted into lofts, while the lower area is available for guided tours on the history of the building. The guided tours focuses on the time of the bombing war and the fate of war refugees and the homeless.

  • Fichte Bunker Fichtestrasse 6, Kreuzberg

Hitler’s project: flak tower in Humboldthain

Bunkers in Humboldthain Park. 
Photo: Imago/Schöning

The massive anti-aircraft towers in Volkspark Humboldthain were built on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. The concrete installations were equipped with heavy artillery, and were intended to defend the city from Allied air raids. The bunkers below – massive, reinforced concrete structures – also offered shelter for thousands of people.

After the war, the Americans blew up large parts of the flak towers, although some areas are still accessible and can be explored as part of guided tours. The outer walls that still stand are used by climbing enthusiasts.

  • Flakturm Volkspark Humboldthain, Wedding

The climbing cone at the RAW site

Bunker and climbing wall. 
Photo: Imago/CommonLens

This concrete cone is part of the Friedrichshain RAW site – Berlin’s last open industrial area, which is now a tourist attraction and symbol of Berlin’s subcultures. Amongst the complex towers a massive concrete structure, which is now used by lanky rock climbers. This structure, built by the Nazis as an air raid shelter, lies between the Cassiopeia and the bathhouse, and is now a listed historical building. The cylindrical concrete tower has a conical roof made of reinforced concrete, which gives the bunker its current name: climbing cone.

  • The Kegel Revaler Straße, Friedrichshain, more information here

Mysterious archive bunker under Tempelhof Airport

Gloomy archive bunker with wall scribblings in the basement of the airport building in Tempelhof.
Photo: Imago/Martin Bäuml photo design

Tempelhof Airport is an outstanding example of Nazi architecture in Berlin. The building is also one of the largest in the world in terms of area, and significant parts of the structure are underground. Thus, we have this former archive bunker.

During the Nazi era, this space contained maps and celluloid film, which was all destroyed in a violent fire started by the Soviets in 1945. The flames are said to have raged for three days, and the burn marks are still visible today, giving this gloomy bunker its eerie, haunted appearance. Nobody knows exactly what might have been on those documents, which only adds to the intrigue of the place. Today, you can take a guided tour of the underground spaces of Tempelhof – but we suggest not going alone.

  • Tempelhof Airport Platz der Luftbrücke, Tempelhof, guided tours here

Heckeshorn bunker

Bunker on the Heckeshorn. 
Photo: Holger Happel/Berliner Unterwelten eV

In the 1930s, the architect Eduard Jobst Siedler built the Reich Air Raid Protection School in a nice area on Wannsee. After the outbreak of war, an additional high-rise bunker was constructed to accommodate more people. The six-storey building is massive – a sight to behold. Because of its size, it is one of the most stable bunkers in Berlin today.

The Luftwaffe headquarters, safe from Allied bombs, coordinated the war activities from this bunker. After the war, the state post office used it as a transmission point for wireless communication. At the end of the 1980s, the Berlin Senate set up an emergency hospital in the building. Beginning in 2001, large parts of the hospital facility were dismantled and removed. What remains in the Heckeshorn bunker are a few bedrooms, four operating theatres, the rooms for the X-ray department and two emergency power generators.

  • Bunker Heckeshorn Am Grossen Wannsee 72, Zehlendorf

The Führerbunker

Entrance to the exhibition of the Führerbunker documentation in the Berlin Story Bunker at the Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin. Photo: Imago/IPON

Berlin’s most notorious bunker was located on Wilhelmstrasse, not far from the Anhalter Bahnhof. Hitler had an air raid shelter set up in the garden of the demolished Old Reich Chancellery, and the bunker served as his headquarters at the end of the war.

It was there that Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide on April 30, 1945. After 1945, there were several attempts to blast and demolish the structure – an attempt to destroy an evil stain on Berlin’s history. But it wasn’t until 1989 that it was finally destroyed, although massive concrete elements of the structure are still in the ground.

For several years now, the Berlin Story Museum has been showing the “Documentation Führerbunker” exhibition in the nearby Anhalter Bunker on Schöneberger Strasse. It’s not *the* bunker, but it is close as you’re going to get: the centrepiece is the full-size replica of Adolf Hitler’s study.

  • Berlin Story Museum Schöneberger Strasse 23A, Kreuzberg, online

Art in bunkers: The Feuerle Collection

Exhibition rooms of the Feuerle Collection. 
Photo: Gilbert McCarragher

The art collector Désiré Feuerle found an impressive location for the Feuerle Collection: a WWII-era bunker on Hallesches Ufer. You enter the collection through the dark “Sound Room”, in which minimalist sounds composed by John Cage indicate where the journey is going. A highlight of the space is the splendorous “Lake Room”, in which an underground lake and its reflections create fascinating and ephemeral images.

In the gallery space, renovated by the British architect John Pawson, contemporary artworks from artists like James Lee Byars or Anish Kapoor are juxtaposed in dialogue with artifacts dating back to 200 BC, including Khmer sculptures and Chinese scholarly furniture from the Hang and Qing dynasties.

  • Feuerle Collection Hallesches Ufer 70, Kreuzberg, online