The Bunkers that Came in From the Cold

Historians in the News
tags: Cold War, Bunkers

BERLIN – JOERG DIESTER may well be one of the only guides in Germany who isn't happy when his tours are booked full. He regularly leads curious visitors through the remains of Germany's nuclear fallout shelters and says that, although visitor numbers are breaking records, he worries about some of his guests' motivations.

Diester is a senior researcher with the association that manages what was once the former West Germany's most expensive construction project: A 17.3-kilometer (11-mile) long underground nuclear shelter – known as the "Regierungsbunker," or government bunker – that has served as a museum since 2008. The facility cost around $2.8 billion in today's dollars and was meant to ensure that thousands of West German government officials could survive at least 30 days after an atomic conflict and be able to launch a counterattack. 

Sitting 100 meters underground, the bunker is about a half-hour drive from the former West German capital of Bonn, and was last used for NATO exercises in early 1989. Today it receives around 12,000 visitors a month, and the millionth visitor is expected to come sometime next year.

"We don't conduct visitor polls," Diester says. "But our impression is that people are asking different questions than they did a few years ago." On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Nov. 9, 1989, destruction of the Berlin Wall and the end of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, many people are not necessarily there to celebrate, he says. Instead, they're worried of an approaching new Cold War.

"Visitors are concerned about the destabilization of the security architecture, the new strength of Russia and China, and where Germany stands in these unpredictable times," Diester says. "They know that in 10 years' time maybe we won't even have NATO anymore. And these are the topics that concern the German people. On almost every single tour, people want to know: How is Berlin preparing for danger? How do we defend ourselves?"

Read entire article at US News

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