After learning about the Cold War at Checkpoint Charlie, I was itching for more history. On my last day in Berlin, I did a Berliner Unterwelton Tour, which follows the traces of the Cold War in the underground. After the building of the Berlin Wall, the West German government invested millions in civil defense shelters in preparation for possible nuclear war.
First we visited the civil defense shelter “Blochplatz,” which was initially built during WWII as an air raid shelter. It was renovated in the early 1980s to house 1,318 people for up to 48 hours in an emergency. The bunker consisted of a maze of smaller “rooms,” or concrete boxes, dimly lit using power from the city. If the power went out, there was a large machine that required two people to crank.
Here’s the kicker: the ceilings were not reinforced concrete and had a bomb landed near the shelter, the ceilings most likely wouldn’t make it through the blast. Not exactly comforting, which is why this fact was strategically left out of public communication.
We wove our way through the concrete boxes and I tried to imagine staying in one for longer than two hours. Feeling a bit claustrophobic, I was relieved when a secret door opened to the train station.
After a short ride on the U-Bahn, we arrived to Pankstrasse station. In addition to being a stop for commuters, Pankstrasse actually doubled as a bunker. This “bunker” was much more modern compared to Blochplatz and could shelter 3,339 people for up to two weeks. This bunker featured a kitchen, toilets and bunkbeds! And you didn’t even have to crank a big machine for power! Nuclear war living at it’s finest.
Sounds like a great place to be in case of nuclear attack, eh? Well not until you have to emerge two weeks later and face what’s left of the radiation from the nuclear attack.
As we neared the end of the tour, neither bunker was looking like a good option. Our tour guide joked that if he had the option, he would rather buy a bottle of Champagne and sit in the center to wait for the attack. Considering the West Berlin bunkers would only shelter about 2% of the population anyways, it’s better to make it quick and painless than die slowly at the hands of radiation.
I think I would join him with a big tub of gelato.
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