The Berlin Story

We spent half of Sunday on The Age, blog administration, background reading, and resting Al’s tender foot. Our Aussie neighbour called in to say hullo. Sheila is from Apollo Bay in Victoria and is currently a teacher at a Berlin International Primary School. Walked to the nearby ‘Story of Berlin’ museum and visited their 1973 Nuclear Bomb Shelter.

The museum is located in a formerly very popular shopping complex, now mostly offices, just 20 minutes walking from our place. It contains a hallway of displays and a time line for the 800 years from Berlin’s origins as a trading centre to the fall of the Wall in 1989. Off the hallway are 20 separate displays covering areas as diverse as religion, the military, sport, the industrial revolution, residential development, the arts, etc. Our main objective was to gain a better understanding of the shift from the earlier Prussian empire, through the kingdoms of the late 19th C, the democratic revolution of 1918, the Weimar Republic, Hitler and the Third Reich, and to the divided Germany (and Berlin) post-WWII. Masses of material, as one would suspect, but we felt our two hours was well spent. Clearly Berlin was the centre of German industrial development and innovation throughout the 19th C.

Included with our self-guided museum entrance was a guided tour to the Nuclear Bomb shelter constructed in 1973 in the basement of this (then) very popular shopping centre.

Bomb Shelter Entrance
Bomb Shelter Entrance

One of 16 in West Germany and 6 in East Germany, this shelter was designed to accommodate 3,692 (exactly) civilians on a first come, first served basis, but it was never used. The beds were made of canvas, layered four high on metal frames.

It is now clear that all German shelters together (both East and West) could only house about 2% of the total German population. Their purpose was highly political, being a necessary part of the propaganda of the Government to re-assure the people that all that was needed had been done to protect them from a Russian Nuclear attack. Not only was their capacity so hopelessly limited, but their air supply was designed to last only two weeks, by which time everyone would be able to return to the surface because the nuclear debris would have settled out of the air they would breathe. Water could be pumped from underground bores, and a storage tank was installed to cover failures, but it had a capacity of 2 litres per day for all those in the shelter. Kitchens simply contained canned food – one per person per day. No cooking was possible. There were two ablution rooms for women and two for men, but there was nowhere near enough capacity for the 3,692 sheltered. There were 16 supervisors for the whole shelter, but their job was technical maintenance and they had no responsibility for any kind of care for the civilians in the shelter.

Our guide was very clear about the propaganda purpose of these shelters, but couldn’t really answer my question as to how long the German population maintained the illusion of protection.


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