Most tourists go to Berlin to see sights like the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag building. But there’s another side to the German capital that most visitors miss, even though it’s literally under their feet.
Underneath the German capital lies another city waiting for visitors to explore.
There's an unremarkable green door in the central Berlin subway station. Hundreds of people pass by it every day. Few of them suspect that behind it lies an extensive network of underground rooms that literally breathe history.
Behind the green door lies the passage to a World War II era bunker.
The Berlin Underground Association regularly puts on tours of this structure and others like it. The group is dedicated to uncovering the secret treasures hidden under Berlin’s city streets.
Going back to the time of war
Once the people on the guided tour have gone through the green door, they go down a number of dark stairs and descend into a murky world that seems largely unchanged since the war days.
Old lettering on the walls prohibits smoking, or communicates the room’s maximum occupancy. Some rooms have bunk beds, others just long narrow benches on the walls. And it’s not hard to imagine frightened Berliners huddling here as allied bombs rained down on the city above.
"Everything you see is original," explains Michael Foedrowitz, and points to the furniture and the technical equipment. "Everything here was built during World War II"
Michael Foedrowitz is a member of the Berlin Underground Association and a specialist on bunkers. "We collected all these things not only from this bunker but from other bunkers in Berlin and from bunkers in West Germany. And then we started to put together an exhibition."
Life during the bombing raids
Visiting the bunker, tourists now get to see the underground clinic, complete with old medical supplies, and the bunker's command center with air raid guidelines.
There are cracked dishes and cutlery, steel helmets, a child’s doll, and a hand-cranked ventilation system that still works. It pulled in fresh air to the four thousand people who during air raids were packed liked sardines into this bunker designed for only a third of that number.
As the war raged in Berlin, the Nazis constructed gigantic subterranean airplane factories. They also built the first foundations of a new Berlin, the future Nazi world capital of "Germania."
All that’s left now are two underground tunnels behind the Brandenburg Gate.
A city under ground
But there’s much more than just bunkers lying buried in Berlin’s sandy soil - there’s a whole catalogue of subterranean structures and systems. And many of them were constructed long before the 20th century.
Labyrinthine sewers and underground vaults were built in the 19th century along with a pneumatic tube system that reflected Berlin’s growing industrial might.
"It was used to transport letters and postcards and secret mails," explains Michael Foedrowitz. "All the ministries were connected with this kind of communication system. It was the most modern of its time."
That same pneumatic tube system was used all the way up until the 1970’s.
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