International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, August 28, 2001, No. 199
Nachrichten - April 2001

Cathedrals of the Cold War

Noah's Ark and the Dismantling of History: The West German Government's Secret Bunker

By Andreas Rossmann

A cool breeze wafts through this historical site. Just a few moments ago the sun was shining brightly, outside what was once the West German government's emergency bunker. The dead-end street marked with the sign "Residents Only" that leads out of the Ahr Valley between Bonn and Koblenz near the small town of Marienthal leads directly up into the vineyards and along a path called the Red Wine Route. The street suddenly curves around a large, ugly concrete guard post, fenced in by barbed wire and crowned by a reflective-glass lookout tower that is armed with spotlights, loudspeakers and a surveillance camera.

Located deep inside the western part of Germany, this street is highly reminiscent of the former border to East Germany. The entrances at the sides are inconspicuous, and above the porter's lodge beyond them is a West German government poster: "Beware, even beyond the border. People love treason, but not the traitor." It's a saber-rattling phrase from an ideology that faded away long ago. It helps one identify that cool breeze. It is the breath of the Cold War, creeping from the depths of the bunker's hillside.

The secret service code name for it was Rosengarten (Rose Garden), inspired by the Song of the Nibelungs, Its cover name Dienststelle Marienthal (Marienthal Office) also sounds reasonably idyllic. Yet even its official name, "Escape Headquarters of the Constitutional Authorities of the Federal Republic in the Event of Crisis or Defense to Preserve their Efficient Functionality," or in German AdVB for short, is a mere bureaucratic euphemism for the function this atomic bombproof shelter had.
In the event of World War III, the German chancellor, president, high-ranking constitutional representatives, VIPs and senior managers - some 3,000 people in all - were to survive here for 30 days. After that, they would have had to continue their work outside the bunker, where following a nuclear war there would have been nothing left to rule anyway. But delaying certain death by four or five weeks would have been their privilege. Although no one willingly admitted it, this governmental Noah's Ark was an absurdity from the very beginning.

The bunker was a presupposition to the Bomb; each was mutually dependent on the other. What was kept to secret here at Trotzenberg Mountain, just 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Germany’ s former capital, was part of the systematic insanity of the arms race. In 1955, rearmament and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization seemed to make the bunker a necessity. Work on its defensive architecture began in 1960; it took twelve years to complete, required a workforce of up 2,000 and devoured at least DM 3 billion ($1.4 billion). In order to keep three shifts in operation, some 180 people had to be hired, all of them civil servants who - security checked and sworn to silence - were not even allowed to tell their spouses about it.

Perhaps the most expensive “public” building of the Bonn Republic, the bunker was never open to the public but instead remained West Germany’s best-kept secret. It was only in 1984 that Cologne journalist Michael Preute managed to unveil part of it. After month of research, he pieced together a comprehensive floor plan of the structure, without ever having seen it from the inside.
Access to the bunker was, however, granted every two years to a few hundred politicians, Bundestag members, civil servants and high-ranking military officers who attend NATO’S Wintex exercises, practice for “the real thing.” Here, undersecretaries were allowed to rule-play their bosses. At least performance of this kind in 1987, Waldemar Schreckenberger, the first man in the Chancellery, and Lothar Ruhe, his counterpart at the Defense Ministry, headed an emergency parliament in their roles as “practice defense minister.” This was state theater in the truest sense of the word, with an endgame recalling a stage setting by Samuel Beckett. The rest is secret.

The ground around Trotzenberg is militarily "tainted." Work began on a railroad tunnel to run through it in 1913, but after World War I the Treaty of Versailles banned any further work because, strategically, it would have opened up a transport route to the Western Front. During World War II the arms industry took over to have its VI and V2 rockets assembled here. Not far away, on the outskirts of Dernau, was a branch of the Buchenwald concentration camp - known by the cover name Rebstock (vine), where the SS forced prisoners into weapons production. Its function changed only shortly before the end of the war when the civilian population sought shelter here from air raids.

The unused tunnels in the soft, loosely-packed. slate and the site's proximity to Bonn were crucial factors for selection of the bunker's location. What was built here was an engineering achievement of the first order. The bunker contains 83,000 square meters (893,405 square feet) of usable floor space, 19 kilometers of underground corridors - four of them in the main tunnels, which had 879 offices on the ground floor and 936 sleeping cubicles above them - as well as-25,000 doors weighing up to 25 metric tons (28 short tons). There are storerooms, conference rooms, workshops, stockrooms for spare parts, a television studio, a hairdressing salon, bicycle-garages, filter installations and a strategic center with maps on it walls that up to the very end showed Kalinigrad as Königsberg, Prussia in an area marked as being “under foreign occupation.” There is also a chapel, but no library.

The invisible, windowless structure is subdivided into five self-sufficient sections named "West-West," "West-Center," "West-East," "East-West," and "East-East," each with access to a control center, a security headquarters and its own support system with a well, a large kitchen and an emergency generator. Spartanly furnished, the place is a cross between a prison and a youth hostel: The chancellor was given a narrow camping bed, a writing desk, a telephone and a shower of his own; otherwise, there were four beds to a room and community washrooms. The German president would have been the only person to receive a bathroom plus a three-piece suite upholstered in very bright red.

"The installation is dispensable," said Interior Minister Manfred Kanther in 1997, after having reminded people only two years previously of the investment value of DM5 billion and having earmarked DM176.9 million for "maintaining and preserving functionality" of the bunker for another 10 years. With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and German reunification in 1990, it became obvious that time had passed the bunker by, and on Dec. 8,1997, the German government decided to abandon its "escape headquarters."

Werner Czewatzki, technical manager of the bunker, was optimistic: "We could use it for scientific purposes or for technology production. A Major computer center would also be a possibility.” The federal asset management authority was ordered to market the unwieldy piece of real estate and put the governmental bunker up for sale.

There were 81 inquiries, 16 offers and many suggested uses, such as a store, a laboratory, a coin depot, a mushroom-cultivation center, a techno disco and a hotel. But none complied with the strict catalog of criteria.

The last person to show interest and who also came closest to giving it civilian use was Dutch investor Henny van der Most, who converted the fast breeder reactor in Kalkar into the adventure park known as Kernwasser-Wunderland (Nuclear Water Wonderland). Yet his plans for a Bunker Wonderland aimed at accommodating 1,000 guests failed due to fire protection regulations and their related costs.

In 1998, a brief report in a newspaper about the governmental bunker caught the eye of Aachen -photographer Andreas Magdanz. He placed a request at the Interior Ministry to be able to work in the bunker and was given a permit for three days. That turned into six weeks, however, and ultimately seven months. Magdanz was the first person authorized to photograph the bunker. Inspired by Paul Virilio's work Bunker-Archäologie (Bunker Archaeology), Magdanz took more than 1,000 photographs with a large-format camera and included 100 of them, 20 in color and 80 in black and white, in his self-published volume Dienststelle Marienthal - Eine Gebäudemonographie (The Marienthal Office - Monography of a Building). The folio bears, an orange-colored dust jacket, showing an old B-52 bomber in flight. This anachronism reflects an aesthetic paradox, as Magdanz believe that not a single image can sum up the governmental bunker.

Magdanz reduces to its component parts: infinitely long corridors, offices, conference rooms, dormitories, ventilation and elevator shafts, vaulted tunnels and emergency exits, sluices and pipe systems, apparatus and switching cabinets, signposts and warning signs, all the way to a gas mask testing appliance and an ashtray. Attentive to details and avoiding all sensationalism, he subjects it to his objective gaze; by recording an era, he simultaneously captures its very essence. The way he photographs these rooms unlocks their sealed-up secrets, their unreal realities and their pasts that have yet to pass; the governmental bunker becomes a cultural and historical monument.
It is a very German place, unfathomable, neat and tidy, full of angst, labyrinthine, thoroughly organized, providing, insights into German secondary virtues, and German engineering, German mentalities and German continuity. As a work of architecture, the governmental bunker is as expressive of .the Bonn Republic as the Langer Eugen nigh-rise in Bonn, the International Congress Center in Berlin or the Olympic Stadium in Munich that was completed in the same year. That no one wants to identify with it today is one thing, but totally dismantling it now that its closure has been decided upon is quite another.

Instead of facing up to history, the government is declaring the bunker dispensable and having it removed. How ever, just because it no longer has a function does not make it insignificant the bunker was never able to fulfill its designated purpose, yet it is denied a "purposeless" existence under different and more favorable conditions -even though it could be preserved at least in part as a museum or as a monument to the Cold War. The bunker might not be able to give future generations an idea of something as abstract as the arms race, but it can certainly show the monstrosities it engendered.

The broad and conjoint readiness to suppress the existence of the bunker mirrors the government's policy: o strict secrecy and the "worst-case scenario" taboo that surrounded it. Politicians such as former Defense Minister Rupert Scholz and former Chancellor: Helmut Schmidt deny ever having visited the bunker although photograph: and witnesses have proven the contrary. The authority for the preservation of historic monuments has also disclaimed responsibility because of a lack of similar structures, even though the very opposite argument would surely; hold more water. The chancellor'' former advisor on cultural matters, Michael Naumann, a historian by profession, was against subsidizing Magdanz' s project because it was "of no political importance to the country."
The dismantling operation is due to begin soon. The cost of it has been estimated at DM60 million, and the work is expected to take four years to complete. In the end, nothing will be left o the government's bunker, of the unique cathedral of the Cold War ii Germany - except for Magdanz's photographs