What great weather we enjoyed for this one of a kind Bunker Exploration “Patrol” in and around Berlin. The sun was shining every day with temperatures in the upper 70’s, blue skies and fair winds. It was great.
DAY 1 – Sunday
Our travelers arrived on their own and in the late afternoon, we walked about half a mile along the Autobahn …the old Berlin to München Autobahn where Eva Braun drove her red Mercedes roadster, where Hitler reviewed the marching troops, where so much took place in the 1930’s and 1940’s. No traffic on this historic road anymore – the East German (remember them?) Government built another Autobahn to cut this one off and the new German Government does nothing to preserve it. We visit the bridge over the Teltow Kanal, scene of bitter fighting in the closing days of the war with the Red Army on one side and the Volksturm (young kids and old men) on the other. It didn’t take long and the Red Army swarmed over the Kanal. Taggers put their graffiti messages along these historic walls now – and nobody cares…
After a nice dinner, we were all in bed early. We needed to kill off the ‘jet lag‘.
DAY 2 – Monday
Our Berliner friends met us early this morning and off we went to visit the former mansion of – well, we are not at liberty to put his name up on the website. Let’s just say that he was a funny looking little man with a club foot and was in charge of the film industry – and the Propaganda Ministry. If you can’t figure out who that was, you’re on the wrong website.
|Waiting to enter||The center window is going down|
This was a really beautiful house, but it has been sitting abandoned since the evaporation of the Soviet Empire and the subsequent collapse of East Germany and sadly, time is beginning to take its toll. We saw much more this time than we did previously including the blocked entrance to the tunnel system, the huge windows that dropped down (photo above right and below left) into the cellar, we saw the attic and several outbuildings.
|Center Window is completely down||In the main salon|
|Now the windows are closed||In the salon|
|Yep, this is the actual bathtub used by Dr. Josef …well, you know.||Into the escape bunker system|
When the Soviets were here, they built grandiose dormitories for the ‘Young Communist‘ movement as well as glamorous buildings for teaching their philosophy to the impressionable youth. These buildings are still standing and we were in parts that we had never seen before including the hall where West and East German leaders met and we went high up into the booths where the translators sat. Further above that are the projection rooms with the two huge Zeiss movie projectors still there, perhaps waiting for another roll of Communist propaganda film.
Some of our guys outside the training building …and now inside. Grandiose? You bet!
In the late morning, we headed for Koralle (code name Coral), the secret headquarters of Großadmiral Karl Dönitz and the Kriegsmarine toward the end of the war. We had our lunch again in the former mess hall of the HQ, then with our friends, we went to the bunker system. If you had been with us last year, you would have had the chance to go down deep into the bunker system, but no more. It isn’t a case of “Eingang Verboten!” but rather, nature is winning this war too. Water had begun to flood the bunker chambers below ground and safety is the predominant issue now. We did naturally, spend quite a bit of time in and around the above ground bunker system and then we went to the home of our friend Dr. Richter where we each had a chance to actually operate a real Enigma machine. His wife was so nice – she put out pitcher after pitcher of apple juice and cakes for us. Naturally, we all bought copies of the book Dr. Richter wrote on this bunker system.
High atop one of the bunkers at the complex of Großadmiral Dönitz. No, the cinder blocks were not from that time. They were put there by the DDR so their police could practice urban warfare. Against whom? One must wonder…
Standing in front of one of the bunkers, we get an idea of their massive size.
On the march – headed for one of the false lakes. And here we are.
The actual home of Großadmiral Karl Dönitz!
A great added treat – we went INSIDE the actual home of Großadmiral Dönitz. The house was originally just one story but later, the DDR added the second floor then converted the house into a home for recovering alcoholics. Apparently they had a lot of them during the communist days. The house, like so many other historic buildings of the war years, stands empty and deserted. All the buildings we have visited so far this day are in the same condition – empty and for sale by the German Government.
DAY 3 – Tuesday
Potsdam – the home of the Crown Prince of the Kaiser’s Empire. This was the site of the “Big Three” conference of Truman, Churchill and Stalin where they ‘cut up the German carcass‘ as it has been described by historians of the time. It is also said that this site was chosen to further humiliate an already defeated and broken Germany. Who knows …We toured this magnificent palace, then on to Sans Soucci.
Sans Soucci means ‘without sorrow‘ and it was the palace of Friederich the Great. When the communists had this area, the body of Friederich was removed for safe keeping away from the communists. His many greyhound dogs were allowed to remain in their tombs in front of the palace and only after the fall of communism was the body of the king returned to his palace.
|In front of Sans Souci||At the Brandenburg Gate|
|Layout of the Führerbunker||This is where the Berlin Wall stood|
Getting our passports ‘stamped’ at the former “Checkpoint Charlie”
We enjoyed our lunch at WAST. We’d tell you what that stood for, but most wouldn’t understand it anyhow. This is an organization that attempts to learn the identity of every German soldier who fell in battle as well as the circumstances such as how he died, where, under what circumstances. Naturally, during this research, some remains of Soviet soldiers are also found and they work just as hard to learn about him and turn that information over to the Russian Government. They have millions upon millions of card files in their massive archives. We applaud their hard work under difficult circumstances.
We toured ‘Karlshorst‘, the mansion built in the late 1930’s as the Officer’s Club of the Pioneer School #1. At the end of April 1945 and the ‘Battle for Berlin‘, the Fifth Soviet Assault Army under General Bersarin, set up their Headquarters here. On the night of 8/9 May 1945 here in Karlshorst, Field Marshal Keitel, Admiral von Friedeburg and General Stumpff signed the unconditional surrender and in effect, signed their own death warrant. Soviet Field Marshal Zhukov accepted the surrender in company with England’s Air Marshal Tedder, USAF General Carl Spaatz and French General de Lattre de Tassigny. This building was then the Headquarters of the Soviet Military Administration until 10 October 1949 when it was turned over by Soviet General Chuikov to the first government of the German Democratic Republic. From 1967 until 1994 the building was a museum devoted to the Soviet Armed Forces, the Battle for Berlin and the surrender. When the Soviet Union evaporated, the museum continues today with a decidedly Soviet theme including a uniform of Field Marshal Zhukov.
From there, we went to the kaserne (photos below) of the former Pioneer (Engineering) Division, now standing empty and deserted. It’s all there – the barracks buildings, mess hall, HQ buildings etc. but there is a wall surrounding the area and these buildings also, are showing their neglect. The wall, locked gates and fence would not have slowed us down at all, but it was getting dark so we decided there wasn’t enough time to do a proper bunker ‘invasion‘ so we went to a nice Chinese restaurant near our hotel.
DAY 4 – Wednesday
We enjoyed a really nice tour of the Reichstag where the German Government meets – under the “Fat Chicken” as it is called. Once the symbol of a proud Germany was the sleek and fierce looking black eagle. Today it is a rather porcine white bird with a wistful smile, thus called the “Fat Chicken“. The graffiti that the Soviet soldiers scribbled on the walls of this building are not only still there – they are protected by German law that this must remain! Why? Who knows?
|In the Reichstag gallery||In the Senators’ Lounge|
|Beneath the “Fat Chicken“||“Too short train station“|
We saw the brand new, ultra modern Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and we only mention it because of a weird decision. Overhead there are beautiful glass arches, sort of half a tube, to protect riders from rain as they get off the train. However, someone decided not to spend the money to extend the overheads as far as they had been designed, and so when the trains pull into the station, some of the cars stick out and those passengers have to walk in the rain into the station. Problem here – the cars that stick out are the First Class cars, and so the people who pay the most for their tickets are the ones who must walk in the rain because the folks in charge of building the station decided not to complete the job. And so their resolution to this problem? If it is raining, all the First Class passengers are handed an umbrella – which they must turn in once they are inside the station! And the craziest part of this whole situation – all the material has already been bought, paid for and delivered! All they have to do is hire a contractor to put it all up – but it is easier to let the First Class passengers walk in the rain …with the ‘free‘ umbrellas – that they must give back once inside the station. Oh well…
We enjoyed our lunch (photo below right) at …well, we are not at liberty to say where but it was really nice. Sorry.
We toured the museum dedicated to Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and his attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in the Wolfschänze. The plaque and wreath are at the spot where the count was executed.
Our host brought us to a wonderful bookshop that was loaded with World War II military books, toy soldiers of all eras, DVDs, CDs, videotapes and so much more. His cash register was singing a merry song while we were there. The photos below are only a few we shot inside an air raid bunker known but to a few. But then, we Sharkhunters go where others cannot go!
We saw a remaining section of the Berlinermauer (Berlin Wall) and visited a museum dedicated to that era.
Then we spent some very interesting time under the streets of Berlin in what was more or less an underground city. As the subway trains rumbled overhead, the sound and vibrations must have been like those felt during a bombing raid – it was eerie. In the left photo below, a watch officer sits in a room for 9 people to sleep during an air raid. Center photo are paintings from a freshly discovered UNTOUCHED bunker in Berlin. Photo below right is another sleeping room for nine people in case of an air raid.
After the underground bunker tour, we walked to the restored flakturm where we put on our protective helmets and went inside. Our guide gave us a great idea of the life and times of Berliners during the time of the underground bunker hotel and high atop the flak tower during the ‘Battle for Berlin‘.
|Getting our hardhats||Down, down||Deep inside the flakturm|
DAY 5 – Thursday
So many bunkers and “Eingang Verboten!” places, including…
* The ‘Stamlager‘ of the Kaiser (both below). It was originally the cavalry school of the Kaiser’s Army, then Headquarters of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wermacht) or Armed Forces High Command in World War II and finally the Headquarters of the Soviet Union in Europe – nicknamed “Little Moscow” for the Russian style houses built by the Soviets during their time here.
* From 1935, the Headquarters of the 5th Tank Regiment which later saw combat under Rommel in Africa.
* We passed the train station (above) that ran daily from this area direct into Moscow. It is now deserted, abandoned and falling into ruin.
This entire area is “Eingang Verboten!” with many buildings such as the many garages where tanks once parked, stables of the Kaiser’s cavalry, the infantry school of the Kaiser. There is also the massive sports school and training complex where the German athletes trained for the 1936 Olympics. It is all abandoned now, and going to eventually collapse …doggone shame!
The many buildings which appear to be large farmhouses from the air are actually hardened bunkers.
* Maybach Building I – This was the codename for the OKW Command Center;
* Maybach Building II – Details of the Allied landing on the French coast on D-Day received here – and ignored!
* Maybach Building III – General Galen was here and later, he formed the BND (Bunds Nachrits Dienst and spied on the Soviets in this area. General, later Field Marshal, von Paulus was here and it was in this bunker that the plans for Operation ‘Barbarossa‘ were finalized.
* Maybach Building IV – This was Headquarters of the Quartermaster Corps under command of General Wagner, one of the conspirators of the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the Wolf’s Lair. Two days after the failed attempt he committed suicide with his own pistol right here in this bunker.
* Maybach Building VI – This was HQ of the overall Wehrmacht. Guderian was here in command at one time.
After the Soviet occupation, this entire complex was used by the Soviets. In one of the long underground tunnels, one Soviet soldier wrote: “I knew it would be bad here, but I didn’t know it would be so bad so quick!”
Through the guard gate …and into the bunker!
The Allies knew about Zossen all through the war, but considered it too far & too difficult to damage but after the Soviets were closing in on the complex and all the various German commands were scattered, the American 8th Air Force bombed the area mercilessly in an effort to deny it to the Soviets. Didn’t work! We saw:
|Through the blast door||Five stories down||and into a command room|
We then went to another massive bunker complex in the former East Germany. We cannot reveal the name of this complex, but it was once the hardened NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) bunker that housed the East German Army Command. Hundreds of troops were stationed here for months at a time and they were allowed;
* NO booze;
* NO cigarettes …and
* NO women! What a “chicken” outfit!
The entire bunker complex is on springs – the rooms are on springs and the bunks, TV monitors, computers, radio equipment, food freezer were also mounted on springs inside rooms which themselves were mounted on springs. This entire place bounced like an “E” ticket ride at Disneyland! Everything is there! It is as if the East German Army just walked out yesterday. All the computers are there as is the complete switchboard, the intelligence room, bunks in the sleeping compartments, toilets – everything. It is amazing that the western world was afraid of the Soviet Union once we got a look at their technology of the time. Oh well….
|Bunk room||Command Center||Message tubes|
|Situation Room||Computer Center|
|Radio and Comms Center||Dispatch Center|
Right there in the bunker complex we enjoyed our supper – Eintopf. This is the thick soup made of beans, peas and ham that was the mainstay of the German military for centuries. General Scharnhorst loved it as did the German generals right up to and including those of World War II. We loved it, and they added two sausages to each bowl of this thick and tasty soup. We had a great time and made many new friends there at this bunker.
DAY 6 – Friday
First stop was the museum at Seelow Heights (photo below left), site of a massive armor and artillery battle in the closing days of World War II. Along with a company of young British soldiers, we watched a 30 minute film on the battle and how it was fought. The British soldiers were there on a training exercise.
We visited Fort Gorgast (photo above right), one of the ring of forts set up to protect the city of Küstrin, a strategic place on the banks of the Oder River. This fort has been painstakingly restored and maintained. We had a great time in this fort, although with a guided program.
Lunchtime, and we stopped at a little restaurant in the Polish woods (photos below). Imagine this poor lady, working alone and seeing this bus roll up filled with tourists in a place that never sees tourists. She was scrambling to keep up with the orders, and to make things flow more smoothly, Bill Olsen was waiting tables. This was a friendly place and many of the Polish truck drivers that ate here communicated with our Members as best anyone could, given the language barriers. We were having such a nice time that Sharkhunters President Harry Cooper got weak and paid the entire tab for everyone – out of his own pocket. Wow! What a nice surprise.
We added a short unscheduled stop at Fort Sarbinowski (photos below), another of the ring of forts surrounding Küstrin but this one is absolutely abandoned and is falling into ruin. With a stern warning by Cooper that this is a dangerous place and anyone who is injured is on his own, the group dashed for the old fort. The group split into several smaller groups and each explored their own little corner of the fort. It was a walk back more than 100 years!
If these walls could talk…
We then visited Küstrin, a city on the Oder River that has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt so many times they don’t remember. It was destroyed once again in the heavy artillery and armor battle that raged here in late April 1945 and apparently will never again be rebuilt. All that remains are empty roads overgrown with weeds, basements of houses and shops that will never rise again, one wall of the church and a bastion of the palace.
It was in this palace here that Friederich the Great, when still a young prince, was to be executed along with his friend for deserting the Army. They planned to play the flute and write poetry. They were caught but before the execution the then sitting king, Friederich’s father, got so much pressure from the German nobility to spare the life of the future king that he relented and pardoned his son. One might think the family ties had something to do with this as well. But, the king decreed that Friederich had to watch his friend lose his head to the axe man. Not a good thing! However, deserting the military, no matter if your daddy is king, has bitter consequences.
In the catacombs beneath the ancient fortress
DAY 7 – Saturday
Our day at leisure …for shopping! Some walked the few blocks to Alexander Platz and shopped in stores like the Galleria where we found such names as Timberlake, Fabiain, Maxx, Kosmos, Marco Polo, Passionata and many others. There were snack bars as well as gourmet restaurants in this area. Others went four blocks in the other direction where dozens of nice sidewalk cafes were found. Still others took the short ride to the a boulevard nicknamed the Kudam (Kurfurstendamm) and it was here that spies met and passed secrets during the war – and it is here where you’ll find some of the most upscale shopping in all of Europe. HINT – upscale means REALLY EXPENSIVE, but very chic.
DAY 8 – Sunday
Again, the saddest day of all …we said our goodbyes and departed for our homes in other parts of the world but we made new friends, took great photos and had the adventure of a lifetime!