Some of the greatest legends of our time are intertwined with the so-called Fuehrer’s Bunker. At the same time, this bunker was just one of many in the government quarter around Wilhelmstraße and did not even have the capacity of a typical public air raid shelter. In hindsight its size has quite often been mis- or overrepresented.
The point of this article is to dispel the myths, and thereby take some of the power away from the object.
During the rebuilding of a diplomats reception hall in the Old Chancellery in 1936/37 the firm Hochtief AG built the first “air raid cellar” (ceiling thickness: 1.60 m, wall thickness: 1.2 m) for a cost of 250,000 Reichsmark. Hitler used this shelter during the first British bombing raids on Berlin that started in August of 1940.
After the final loss of German control over their airspace Hitler gave the architect Albert Speer (initial planning began in 1942) the assignment that, “since the air raid shelter under the Reichs Chancellery only has a ceiling thickness of 1.60 m, a new bunker is to be built in the garden with new dimensions (3.5m Ceiling, 3.5 – 4.0 m Wall thickness) but with the same interior size as the existing bunker. [Architect Karl] Piepenburg should be in charge of construction.” Construction workers from the Hochtief AG began the foundation trench about 10 m deep in the Reichs Chancellery’s garden in front of the reception hall.
The completion of the bunker was registered with the Central Exchequer of the Reich. “Construction project B 207”, as the bunker was coded, was supposed to be able to withstand the strongest known allied bombs with its thick reinforced concrete ceiling, and gobbled up 1.35 million Reichsmark on construction costs. The interior dimensions for both the “Fore-Bunker” (old)
and the “Fuehrer’s Bunker” were about 15 m by 20m wide and a bit over 3m high.
About a metre thick layer of so-called “smash-cover” was added to reinforce the ceiling, however the construction was not completed before the end of the war, and as a result the ventilation tower next to the garden entrance was never fully finished. A second coneshaped tower served as the exhaust, however this tower was misinterpreted in many post war publications as an observation and defensive tower, together with a machine gun stand.
In the garden of the Reichs Chancellery about 50 “men” assembled, a mixed bag of Hitler Youth and members of the SS division “Frundsberg”, who in their desperation had attacked approaching Soviet tanks. In the presence of cameramen and photographers from the Wochenschau News, who documented the “Fuehrer’s” last public appearance, Hitler awarded these men with the Iron Cross for their heroic deeds in the service of the defence of Berlin. Afterwards, Hitler descended the steps into the bunker. Incorrectly, this event was dated for a long time as April 20th, 1945.
During afternoon, Hitler and his wife Eva (born Braun), who had married not long before in the bunker, committed suicide. Their bodies were then burned in the garden in front of the bunker entrance. The Goebbels’ children died at the hand of their mother shortly afterwards. As the next day began, Joseph Goebbels (the Propaganda Minister, recently named Chancellor) and his wife also killed themselves. With that, WW2 in Europe, with its over 55 million dead, basically came to its end.
Soviet pioneers blew up the “Fuehrer’s Bunker”. Both of the ventilation towers and the entrance structure collapsed, the interior walls were destroyed, and the ceiling was moved 40 cm by the force of the blast.
Further detonations followed, then the premises was levelled, the entrances were filled in, the reinforced concrete was covered under a mound and the area was turned into parkland.
With the building of the Berlin Wall the area became part of the border area. After the discovery of a forgotten street tunnel on the west side of the Brandenburg Gate in 1967, the East German State Security (Stasi) began an inspection of the site around the former New Reichs Chancellery. During this the “Upper-Bunker” and “Fuehrer’s Bunker” were opened, surveyed and photographed and then resealed.
Along the former Otto-Grotewohl-Strasse, the government of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) erected apartment complexes, for which the excavation of rubble up to 7m deep was necessary. The roof of the “Fuehrer’s” Bunker was removed, however the floor and outer walls remained because of the high cost of their removal. After the difficult work of removing the ceiling, the remaining space was filled in with gravel, sand and debris. Above a parking lot and green space
was laid out, which remains today more or less unchanged.
“The Downfall” (Der Untergang), a film from Munich’s Constantin Films (Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel), arrived in the theatres and created a buzz around the subject of the last days of the war and especially the happenings in the bunker. A number of members of the Berlin Underworlds’ Association (Berliner Unterwelten e.V.) acted as consultants. According to their information and recreated plans, Hitler’s Bunker was reconstructed in the Bavaria Studios at a scale of 1:1.
After years of research, the Berlin Underworlds Association, in agreement with the Berlin Senate’s department for city planning, has been able to create an information panel about Hitler’s bunker. It was put in place on the 8th of June on the historical site on Gertrud-Kolmar-Strasse (opposite the street: in den Ministergaerten, near Potsdamer Platz). The panel is there to provide information to those from all over the world who are interested in the site and the dark historical period that surrounds it. We hope that by making the site and its history plainly visible – glorification, nostalgia and the building of myths can be avoided.
In use: upper bunker 1936–45, Fuehrer bunker 1943–45 Measurements: length ca. 27 m, width ca. 22 m, height ca. 7.60 m (interior and ceiling), baseplate thickness ca. 2 m
Purpose: underground air-raid shelter
Condition: blown up, ceiling removed, filled in
In December of 1947, the “Fuehrer’s Bunker” was detonated. A fierce bang ripped through the air, a violent mushroom of smoke hung over the detonation site and covered the streets in a cloud of dust and smoke. Barely two weeks prior, there appeared an article in the “Telegraf”, which provided the last impressions of this eerie structure:
“Forty steps lead down into the bunker that lays 8m below the surface, with its 4,2m thick reinforced concrete ceiling. Even as a layman, one recognizes that even bombs of the heaviest calibre would have been ineffective here. Jetblack, oily, sludgy water still stands 20 cm high. Two dull flashlights just barely light the rooms. High rubber boots protect against the water. We stumble and slip forwards, feeling our way against the slick walls. The way ahead isn’t secure. Dirt, wires and junk lie in heaps under the water. Suddenly one of the Swiss is lying underwater, he ripped his rubber boots. Also here there are names scratched into the walls, mostly in Russian writing.
At the end of the 30 x 30m bunker, the Swiss go to have a look at the Exhaust system that will cause problems for the firemen, when they finally pump out the water. The bunker’s rooms, in which, contrary to all expectations, there is still very good air, have been emptied of almost everything. Not even the toilet bowls and light switches are to be found. A few gasmask filters float around. Heavy doors hide treacherous lock handles under the opaque water. The rooms, that adjoin the main hallway on the left and right, are not especially large and lack doors. One can recognise the room in which Hitler spent his last days by the broken-off sliding door that he could use to divide his room in half. A smashed sink lies in the corner. At the switchboard a few steel shelves are lying around. A coat rack looks lonely in the corner. Two hot water storage tanks that are covered in rust and mildew block the door […] that leads up and out. Directly next to the entrance there is a vertical shaft with an iron ladder that leads up to an observation tower in the shape of a sugarloaf which is next to the main entrance.
I climb back up the steps. Under the words: ‘the Fuehrer lives’ someone has scratched in: ‘completely hysterically’. How right he is!”
From: “Vierzig Stufen unter der Stahlbetondecke – das blieb übrig: Zertrümmertes Waschbecken im bombensicheren ‘Fuehrerbunker’ ”. In: “Telegraf”, 25 th of November 1947. It deals with a completely authentic description of the “Fuehrer’s bunker” after the war. All the given details can be checked, therefore the document is provided in its full length.