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Culture

Berlin's Bunkers in Party Alarm

Berlin has 22 bunkers, which have all undergone thorough inspection after the New York attacks. There are numerous shelters which are not used for emergencies...but for parties.

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Not the most cosy place to party

They are like pock-marks of a bygone era, but it is only now that their value is being rediscovered: Bunkers. There are 22 of these underground shelters in the German capital, all of which have undergone thorough inspection since the New York attacks.

These bunkers have room for around 30.000 people in case of an emergency alarm – under one per cent of Berlin's population.

There are more bunkers under Berlin's surface, but these buildings do not fulfil their original purpose. Here, parties are held and artists use the bare walls for large-scale installations.

The days are over when apartment blocks, warehouses and underground shelters stood empty, due to uncleared ownership claims after unification and the result of confiscation by both the Nazis and the communists. In the years shortly after the fall of the wall, young people used these buildings for secret gatherings.

Only a few years ago, these party locations were primarily popular with Berlin's young party scene. Since Berlin's role as new German capital, these locations are becoming increasingly popular – with the city's new high society. With more and more fashionable, renowned companies moving to Berlin, upmarket events and glamorous parties have been increasing in number too. In order to stand out, event organisors are on the look out for exceptional and original locations – such as bunkers.

Hardenberg Concept, one of the city's oldest event agencies organised its most exceptional event yet underground. Guests filed down flights of steps to an unused underground station for the Literature awards of the German newspaper "Die Welt". The techno disco "Bunker" in Albrecht Strasse was until recently famous for its original party ambience. And underground shelters were just the place for film premiere parties this year.

A disturbing underground history

Berlin has a long Bunker history. And not a happy one either. In 1942, Albert Speer declared "237 Bunker with 59.989 beds are ready, 53 bunker with 21.000 beds are under construction and 1000 bunker with 94.000 beds are in planning". The government area near Potsdamer Platz was once riddled with underground shelters built during the "bunker building programme for the Reich's capital" including Propaganda Minister Goebbel's huge underground shelter, only a stone's throw from Hitler's "Füherbunker". This is where Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in 1945.

During World War II, shelters in various shapes and sizes were built across the city, from large ones designated for 3.000 people, to smaller ones meant for mothers and small children. By the end of the war, the percentage of Berliners guaranteed shelter from the enemy's bombs doubled from three to six per cent.

During the last ten years, a large number of these examples of Nazi ideology have been destroyed due to extensive building. Criticism arose on their destruction: The Berlin Underground Association, which has been fighting for the survival of these underground shelters since 1997, regards the bunkers in Berlin has authentic examples of Germany's terrifying past. Examples which should therefore be left, as a reminder and a warning.

The debate on the conservation of the Nazis' underground legacies was particularly intense in the early 90s, after the discovery of a shelter discovered at Potsdamer Platz – showing murals of blonde-haired women and children, "Third Reich" symbols and SS officers. According to the Underground Association "there is no place where the way the Nazi culprits thought at the time can be seen more clearly".