Located 25 miles north of Berlin a secret underground complex built during the cold war has been put on temporary display. The 170 room bunker complex built for East German leader Erich Honecker and 400 of his staff will soon be sealed forever.
The bunker was surrounded by a village occupied almost entirely by members of the feared East German spy agency, the Stasi.
Falko Schewe, who worked on the building, described the project – codenamed 17/5001 – as “not that top secret”
Commissioned in the early 1970s, building work began in secret in 1978, lasting for five years. Villagers in nearby Prenden were kept in the dark however, believing that the construction was a new missile silo.
In fact, the East German regime was hollowing out a local hillside, and installing a command and control bunker they hoped would be able to withstand all but a direct nuclear strike.
The East German leader visited bunker 17/5001 only once, for 15 minutes, after its completion in 1983.
On its website, the BBN suggests that “he was troubled by the thought of the situation which would have necessitated his being there”. My guess he knew the history of German leaders who hid in bunkers.
In the event of war however, he only would have been able to stay 14 days, while the bunker’s resources, of water, air and food lasted. After that he would have been rushed to the surface and driven in an armoured vehicle to a nearby airstrip, for evacuation to the USSR.
Using 85,000 tonnes of concrete, the three storey bunker, measuring about 65 by 45 metres, was buried underneath a four metre thick ‘blast cap’ designed to protect East German leaders from explosions above, while complex filters shielded them from radioactive or biological agents.
But uniquely, crucial quarters of the bunker were housed in 500 tonne steel-clad concrete cubes each and are up to 25 x 25 x 8 m in size. Each section is suspended within the hill by giant cables could swing up to 40 cm in any direction. The system allowed the structure to swing like a pendulum in case of a nearby nuclear strike, better absorbing the massive impact.
Groups will be given short tours through the ill-lit complex – where they will see offices and control rooms once intended for the elites, now covered in green slime and reeking of mould.
The bunker near Berlin, file image
It was said to be the most advanced bunker in the Warsaw Pact countries
They will be led along submarine-like tunnels divided by heavy metal doors, leading on to 170 rooms.
The three storeys reach a depth of 70m (230ft) below ground.
Berlin Bunker Network, a volunteer group, will be leading tours at the bunker from today, with a price of 15 GBP per person for a two hour expedition, and 80 GBP for hardier souls willing to scrabble for longer through the bunkers tighter passages. Tours will also be available in English.
The bunker, north of Berlin, will be open for three months.
The Berlin city authorities say they will seal it with concrete in October of 2008.
The group has long worked with Berlin forestry authorities, which have looked after the site since the German military moved out in 1993.
Even we see that the sealing of the bunker is a necessary evil. Obviously, it would be much better if the bunker could be kept open as a museum. However, such an undertaking is not financially feasible. According to various experts, the long-term costs for security and getting the bunker “operational” would run to seven figures! The bunker would not be self-supporting even as a tourist attraction, as experience from other, smaller, bunkers in a better state of repair has shown. The operators of such bunkers have constant problems, trying to cover their costs and to keep their bunker up to scratch.
For these reasons, sealing the Honecker bunker provides the best opportunity for preserving the bunker long-term, with the BBN documentation providing an ideal alternative to visit the site. Even if the real feel of the bunker is missing, this is at least compensated for by the virtual bunker being open at all times, lit throughout and with access to everything and everywhere. You’ll therefore be able to get to places where, in real life, you almost certainly wouldn’t want to walk or crawl to.