of a subway train)
Hundreds of people pass by this unremarkable green door, on this
ordinary Berlin subway platform, everyday. Few of them suspect
that behind it lies a maze of narrow underground rooms -- that
are about to send me on a trip back in time.
(sound of footsteps going down stairs)
the door, down this steep, dimly lit stairway is a World War II
enter a murky world of concrete, stillness and stale air.
(sound of a slamming door)
heavy steel doors that once protected Germans from air attacks
seem also to have kept out the passage of time. Signs painted
on the walls forbid smoking, or point the way to the men's and
women's toilets. Long narrow benches line the walls. I can almost
see frightened Berliners huddling here in the dark, as Allied
bombs crash down on the city above.
Foedrowitz: Everything you see is original -- all this on
the walls and the furniture, and the tech. Equipment. Everything
was original built during WWII.
Michael Foedrowitz is a member of the Berlin Underground Association.
It's a group dedicated to uncovering the historical treasures
under Berlin's city streets. He's their bunker specialist.
And 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 make an exhibition.
So you can take a tour and walk through a recreation of the bunker's
clinic, complete with old medical supplies stored in old-fashioned
white enamel cabinets. A hand-cranked ventilation system that
kept Berliners from suffocating down here still works. On a desk
in the command center, there are air raid guidelines -- lying
next to a 1943 edition of the Nazi party newspaper. It's all so
real -- and disturbing. I keep glancing up at the sound of every
footstep, half expecting to see a stormtrooper.
Foedrowitz tells me there are more than just bunkers and Nazi
relics under Berlin's sandy soil -- there's a whole catalogue
of subterranean structures and systems. Buried mirrors of Berlin's
turbulent above-ground history.
began in the 19th century, when Berlin was the capital of an empire.
The Kaisers built a massive sewer system and huge underground
vaults -- along with a pneumatic tube dispatch system unlike anything
at the time.
It was used to transport letters and postcards, and secret mails
and so on -- and all the ministries were connected with this kind
of communication system. It was the most modern in that time.
Then, in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler expanded Berlin's underground
. He built entire airplane factories and power plants below the
surface. When that war ended, and a new war the Cold War -- began,
bunkers got new life as warehouses. They stored food for a West
Berlin population cut off by the Soviets. The subway system was
walled off at the border, like an underground shadow of the more
famous Wall above. And desperate Berliners continued to look underground
for deliverance. Some burrowed their way to freedom in the West.
(sound of a slamming door)
feeling distinctly uneasy now, standing here in the pitch dark.
Our tour guide has closed the reinforced steel door in this modernized
Cold-War-era bunker -- that's the last stop on our tour. It has
been designed to withstand, in theory, a nuclear attack. The top
of my head is brushing the ceiling and no one's talking anymore.
Finally we're led back up to the world of daylight and street
(sound of street traffic)
cool breeze on my face feels good after the stifling weight of
the past I felt down there, below. It was fascinating, yes, but
also terrible -- much like 20th century German history.
some of the nation's officials share my feelings. The research
of the Berlin Underground Association makes many of them uneasy.
It's not in keeping with an image of modern, democratic, peace-loving
Germany. Michael Foedrowitz says association members have even
been accused of having neo-Nazi sympathies. Since who else, some
ask, would want to dig up this past that's better kept dead and
buried? When the organization located the personal bunkers of
Goebbels and Göring, and asked permission to open them up for
tours, the authorities weren't that enthusiastic.
They are very keen to eliminate those buildings from WWII or the
Nazi time. It's a pity because it means it's a destruction of
a part of our history. It's not a good one, but anyway it's a
part of history.
A history that's preserved below the surface here, as in no other
city. That's according to Dietmar Arnold, an architect by day,
urban spelunker by night, who co-founded the association. He says
a full 40 percent of all the built structures in central Berlin
are located underground. That means there still a lot to be explored,
and he hopes, saved.
I think we've got plenty to do for the next 5 years, surely, if
not longer. We'll undertake underground expeditions and research
more structures down there. We'll document them, and then make
our findings available to the government, if it even wants them.
Well, people are certainly interested. The tour I went on was
filled to capacity. Maybe everyday Germans have less of a problem
with the country's ghosts than government officials do. Or, at
least an interest in coming to terms with them.
the weekly bunker tours, there are special excursions through
underground vaults, former breweries, power plants, and even the
sewers for the especially brave. English-language tours can be
set up for groups that call ahead. Dietmar Arnold finds he's spending
more and more time underground as the association and interest
in Berlin's subterranean world keep growing.
But I hope I don't look so pale that people think I actually live
underground. It's not that bad yet.
Well, he does look like he could use a little sun.
Berlin, I'm Kyle James for the Savvy Traveler.