Something a little different today. Native Berliner Matti Geyer has written a piece about the capital's huge and imposing air raid bunkers (nothing of the scale built in Germany existed in wartime Britain). I've been fortunate to have visited Berlin a few times and have seen a few of these up close – they are truly amazing buildings. If you are visiting the city and looking for a private tour guide to Berlin and the second world war, Matti runs various excursions across Berlin and Potsdam.
The Reichsluftschutzbund and Berlin's WWII Air Raid Precautions: Unveiling the Bunkers of the Capital
The Reichsluftschutzbund, established in 1933, was tasked with organizing and overseeing air raid precautions in Germany. Its responsibilities included the construction of air raid shelters, training civilians in emergency response, and managing the overall defence against aerial attacks. As Berlin faced increasing Allied air raids, the RLB played a pivotal role in fortifying the city against the devastating impact of bombing raids. Some of these bunkers remain today and can be explored both on the inside and outside. Many are looked after by "Berliner Unterwelten“, translated as "Berlin Underworlds", a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and showcasing the hidden subterranean history of Berlin, particularly during the tumultuous periods of World War II and the Cold War.
The Boros Bunker
The Boros Bunker, officially known as Reichsbahnbunker Friedrichstraße, is a remarkable piece of history located in the centre of Berlin. Constructed in 1943 under the plans of architect Karl Bonatz, this listed air-raid shelter was initially designed to accommodate up to 3,000 Reichsbahn train passengers. The bunker stands as a square building, covering an area of 1,000 square meters, with a height of 18 meters and walls reaching up to 3 meters in thickness. Its substantial size and sturdy construction were indicative of its primary function as a shelter during air raids.
Following World War II, the Red Army repurposed the bunker into a prisoner-of-war camp, and subsequently, it served various functions over the years. From 1949, it functioned as a storage facility for textiles and, starting in 1957, became a storage space for dry and tropical fruits, earning the moniker "Banana Bunker" among East Berliners.
The Hochbunker Pallasstraße, also known as the Sportpalast-Bunker, stands as a significant historical structure in the Berlin district of Schöneberg.
The construction took place from 1943 to 1945. Built by forced laborers primarily sourced from the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, the bunker, initially intended for use as a telecommunication bunker with telephone and telegraph services for the nearby Fernamt Berlin of the Reichspost, was left incomplete.
In the post-war years of 1945 and 1946, the bunker underwent several attempted demolitions by U.S. Army soldiers, though these efforts resulted in minimal damage, as larger demolitions would have adversely affected the surrounding urban development. The exterior walls, especially those facing Potsdamer Straße, have been adorned with graffiti and murals since the 1970s.
The bunker was expanded and modernized from 1986 to 1989, coinciding with the residency of the West Allies in the nearby building of the Allied Control Council. With a capacity of 4,809 shelter spaces, it became the largest civil defence facility in Berlin and served as a civil defence facility until 2010. During this period, it functioned as a storage space for emergency supplies. In 2010, the bunker was officially decommissioned as a civil defence facility, and in 2011, it received the status of a protected monument.
This bunker is associated with the Anhalter Bahnhof, once one of Berlin's major train stations, which was heavily damaged during the war.
Completed in 1942, the structure, equipped with around 100 rooms, included facilities for Reichsbahn officials, press rooms, and accommodations for key personnel. Spanning three above ground and two underground levels, the bunker covered an area of 3,600 square meters. Originally designed for around 3,500 occupants, it eventually housed 12,000 people, making it a vital refuge during air raids. Access points included both surface entrances and an underground link to a train tunnel.
As the SS ordered the evacuation of the Hochbunker in the face of impending danger, thousands fled through the tunnel, leading to Friedrichstraße and Nordbahnhof. The SS subsequently detonated the S-Bahntunnel under the Landwehrkanal on May 2, 1945, flooding the bunker and sealing its fate. Attempts to evacuate were halted, leaving the occupants submerged in water.
After the war, the Hochbunker remained submerged until water levels receded. Despite plans to demolish it in June 1947, concerns over potential damage to the S-Bahn tunnel led to a halt. Today, the Anhalter Hochbunker houses the Berlin Story Bunker museum and the Führerbunker documentation.
Flak Tower Humboldthain
The Flak Tower in Humboldthain was part of a network of defensive structures, specifically designed to house anti-aircraft artillery, providing protection against Allied bombing raids. The tower served a dual purpose: to defend against air attacks and to function as a multi-purpose facility. Built between 1941 and 1942, the Humboldthain Flak Tower was one of several erected across Berlin, forming a defensive ring around the city.
The Humboldthain Flak Tower consisted of several levels, including platforms for anti-aircraft guns and radar equipment. The tower's construction was characterized by its thick concrete walls, providing both structural stability and protection against aerial bombardment. The imposing structure played a crucial role in the city's defence, especially during the intense air raids that Berlin endured in the later years of the war.
After the war, the Flak Tower Humboldthain underwent partial demolition, but a significant portion of the structure remains to this day. Today, the tower is a prominent landmark in Humboldthain Park, attracting both history enthusiasts and visitors interested in Berlin's wartime legacy. The site offers panoramic views of the city, providing a unique perspective on its historical and contemporary landscapes.
The Kegelbunker, situated on the RAW-Tempel grounds in Friedrichshain is another overground bunker, which was originally part of the Imperial Railway Repair Facility. Designed as an air raid shelter of the Winkel type, it stands as the sole surviving bunker of this type in Berlin. The cylindrical exposed-concrete tower, topped with a pointed, bomb-resistant cone roof, boasts four forward-facing entrances, each with angled canopies emerging sharply from the rounded body. Above the apex of these canopies are two or three small grated square air openings, vertically incised into the tower shaft. Behind the steel entrance doors, gas locks were initially situated, followed by a spiralling ramp leading to the tower's five usable levels. The tower features a dual, spiralling, and counter-rotating staircase design with four entrances, designed to accommodate as many shelter seekers as possible in the shortest time within a confined space. At the centre of the tower were sanitary facilities, and remnants of a periscope, used for enemy observation and fire detection, were found at the tower's peak.
This bunker now serves as a climbing wall.
Hochbunker der ehem. Pionierschule I Zwieseler Straße & Viechtacher Straße
The Hochbunker der ehem. Pionierschule I on Zwieseler Straße & Viechtacher Straße in Lichtenberg stands as a compelling testament to Berlin's wartime history. Constructed in 1940 as a Mannschaftsbunker (crew bunker) in conjunction with the establishment of the Pionier-Offiziers-Schule (Military Pioneer Officer School), this three-story concrete structure is of the M500 type, denoting its capacity to shelter up to 500 people during air raids. The bunker's architectural features are emblematic of traditionalist fortress design prevalent during the Nazi era, characterized by a Walmdach (hipped roof), schießschartenartige Fensteröffnungen (loophole-like window openings), and a Konsolentraufgesims (corbel cornice). Noteworthy is the building's tapered upward structure, evoking a defensive slope.
Post-World War II, from 1945 to 1994, the site of the former Military Pioneer Officer School was utilized by Soviet institutions, with the bunker serving various purposes such as a storage and cooling facility. Despite its historical significance, the bunker presently stands empty, and discussions persist regarding its potential use. Suggestions range from transforming it into an exhibition space, a youth facility, or a club. However, a definitive decision from the district regarding its future remains pending, leaving this colossal structure poised as a silent witness to the turbulent history that unfolded within its concrete walls.
Constructed as a gas reservoir in late 19th-century Berlin, this building underwent a substantial transformation into an overground bunker in 1940 and 1941. The conversion involved reinforcing the original gasometer with 1.8-meter-thick walls and a three-meter-thick concrete ceiling. The resulting bunker comprised approximately 750 small shelters across six floors, connected by ring-shaped and radial corridors. Initially conceived as a "mother-and-child-bunker," the facility featured advanced ventilation systems.
During World War II, the Fichtestraße Bunker accommodated up to 30,000 people and housed cells for nearby police detainees during air raids. Although lightly damaged in February 1945, the bunker stood resilient, even as the surrounding gas reservoirs suffered extensive destruction.
Following the war, the bunker's role shifted to accommodate the changing needs of Berlin's residents. It served as a refugee shelter, a storage space for Care Packages, an old-age home, a youth detention center, and subsequently, a homeless asylum that provided chambers for a nightly fee. After its closure in 1963, the city repurposed the bunker for storage until 1988. Between 2007 and 2009, the dome atop the bunker became the canvas for 13 luxurious duplex apartments.
Hochbunker am Heckeshorn
The imposing Hochbunker Heckeshorn, situated on the grounds of the former Reichsluftschutzschule in Heckeshorn, was constructed in 1943. The six-story bunker boasts exterior walls and ceilings made of robust four-meter-thick reinforced concrete. Originally designated as the command bunker for the "Luftwaffenbefehlshaber Mitte," it played a crucial role in coordinating air defense efforts within a 250-kilometer radius of Berlin during World War II. Not only did it serve as a nerve center for the deployment of fighter planes and anti-aircraft artillery, but it also broadcasted air raid warnings through its wire radio station to the populace. As the battle for Berlin reached its climax, the bunker accommodated the evacuation of the entire Wehrmacht leadership from Wünsdorf. Post-war, it transitioned into a communication hub, hosting the wire radio station that later evolved into the precursor of RIAS (Radio in the American Sector). From 1948, the bunker facilitated telephone connections to West Germany, eventually transforming into a pathology and mortuary for the lung clinic Heckeshorn in 1967. In 1985, the resilient structure underwent another metamorphosis, evolving into an operating bunker and "emergency hospital" capable of serving 400 patients. Presently, the bunker houses four operating rooms, an X-ray department, patient rooms, two emergency power generators, a large protective air system, well water supply, an elevator, and a sizable kitchen.
Gesundbrunnen's Underground Bunkers
The underground station of Gesundbrunnen witnessed the evolution of four distinct Luftschutzanlagen (air raid shelters) strategically positioned from south to north. These installations capitalized on the expansive subterranean voids created during the construction of the U-Bahn, ensuring the safety of citizens in the event of air raids
In the present day, several of these bunkers have been leased by the Berliner Unterwelten association from the Berlin local transport company. Through this collaboration, the bunkers have been transformed into educational spaces, hosting permanent exhibitions curated by the Berliner Unterwelten.
Berlin's wartime experience is etched into the concrete walls of its bunkers, each structure bearing witness to the resilience and fortitude of its inhabitants. The Reichsluftschutzbund's efforts created a network of bunkers that continue to stand as solemn reminders of a tumultuous era. Exploring these bunkers provides a tangible connection to Berlin's past, allowing us to appreciate the city's journey from wartime devastation to post-war renewal.
Matti Geyer - https://www.toursofberlin.com
Please support this website's running costs and keep it advert free