In Berlin They're Dusting Off Nazi Relics People Were Afraid to Show

Roundup: Talking About History

Philip Blenkinsop, in the Australian Advertiser (July 31, 2004):

LONG considered an ugly Nazi relic, a half-destroyed concrete fortress in Berlin has become an unlikely addition to the German capital's tourist map. Since April, regular guided tours have taken curious visitors into the vast World War II structure to see the turret interiors and the effect of two failed attempts to blow it up after the war.

It is a part of a growing trend in Germany to show a broader view of the war and include German suffering after years of sole attention on the evils of the Nazis. Tours pass thick walls that resisted bombs and Russian artillery, bare halls and staircases where civilians sheltered and deep shafts which carried anti-aircraft shells from the basement to the rooftop guns seven floors above. Visitors can also marvel at technology well advanced for its time. The gun steering, for example, was fully automated. A radar tower 300m away tracked enemy aircraft and fed signals along cables still clinging to the walls.

The fortress is one of six Adolf Hitler ordered to be built in the German capital to defend it from air attack. His command in September, 1940, came just days after Berlin came under a three-hour barrage from Allied planes.

Hitler sketched the form the 70sq m defences should take, with 40m-high turrets and guns at each corner.

Financial constraints eventually limited the number to three fortresses, completed by April, 1942, although two further structures were built in Hamburg and Vienna.

Each complex could hold around 15,000 civilians and their 2.6m walls were deemed impenetrable. The post-war Allied occupiers in Berlin decided to destroy most military structures. The British and Russians managed to bring down two of the complexes after several failed attempts. However, the French were unable to destroy the fortress in their northern Berlin sector, leaving two towers and 1.6 million cubic metres of debris. The latter was partly landscaped, but the remaining structure has been largely untouched for 50 years....

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