Living Underground in West Berlin

Living Underground in West Berlin

Berlin is a city that has always fascinated me in a way few other cities have: I’ve always thought that history can teach us so much about the way we humans have adapted to our world at different stages of our evolution, and during the 20th century Berlin held centre stage.

My posts on Berlin so far have covered places connected with its historical core, World War II and East Berlin, but very little about the former West Berlin – and so I thought it was about time to rectify that, and so I’m starting off at a museum in Kurfurstendamm, West Berlin’s most famous street.

The Story of Berlin is a privately run attraction which promotes itself as an interactive museum, with 23 rooms describing the history of Berlin. The emphasis is on multimedia technology, and although there were parts of it that I quite enjoyed, I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed – so why am I bothering to write about it you might wonder.

Berlin under the Nazis Exhibit

The main reason for me – in fact the only reason – was that the museum operates a ‘Bunker Tour’, which is included in the entry price to the museum.

Anyone who has lived through the Cold War years will remember the threat that the nuclear bomb brought. Here in Berlin, the local population was right in the front line and several nuclear fallout shelters were built underground to try and keep some of the population alive, should the unthinkable happen.

The Bunker Tour involves a visit to one of these shelters and was led by a guide who took us out of the museum and along the Kurfurstendamm, where after only a few minutes’ walk, we were ushered into a building that took us under the street and down into the bunker. Although I had no idea what to expect, I still wasn’t expecting it to look like this somehow, and that’s because it hadn’t been abandoned and could still be operational at very short notice.

The bunker was capable of holding around 3,600 people, but for how long they could be fed and watered I’m not sure.  It’s been bad enough being under lockdown in my own home during Covid 19, but living down here like this for too long is a totally different ball game.

As you can imagine, the conditions were sparse to say the least, with beds lined up in a way that reminded me of a modern-day concentration camp. I don’t know whether it was for a specific reason or for the effect, but the blue lighting didn’t cheer me up much either.

The tour took about an hour, and I was glad it didn’t last any longer if I’m honest. I found it quite a chilling experience and asked myself whether I would want to live underground in conditions like this, or let the nuclear fallout do its worst.

West Berliners were extremely vulnerable during the Cold War as they were well inside the Iron Curtain, but people everywhere, especially in Europe, were vulnerable if a nuclear war broke out. Fortunately, even though there were occasions when the world held its breath, nuclear war never materialized – but that doesn’t mean to say that it never will. In fact, I worry that there’s every possibility.

During the Cold War, the two main adversaries – the United States and the USSR, realised what the consequences would be if they couldn’t agree to disagree; but these days the nuclear deterrent is in the hands of nine different countries, and others are trying to join them. It seems only a matter of time before the nuclear capability falls into the wrong hands – and if it does, we’ll all have to consider living underground – but the question has to be asked: Would we want to?

Currently, the museum is closed for renovation and the opening of a new exhibition, which is due to re-open in Autumn 2021. http://www.story-of-berlin.de/

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39 thoughts on “Living Underground in West Berlin

  1. Toonsarah

    We didn’t bother with that museum on our last visit to Berlin (it wouldn’t have been there on the first!) – I can’t have heard about the bunker tour or I might have given it a go. That said, it looks pretty chilling and I reckon seeing your photos is maybe enough for me. Sobering thoughts too Malcolm.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      As you know only too well Sarah. There’s more to travel than just seeing things. I always like to learn from what I’ve seen if that makes sense.

      Reply
  2. Alli Templeton

    Goodness Malc, I can see why you found the bunker chilling. I felt the same just looking at the pictures. It all looks rather bleak, and I had the same image cropping up in my mind of a concentration camp. Funnily enough, we’ve had exactly the same conversation about the dubious benefits of living under those conditions, because it wouldn’t be ‘living’, would it? Just existing. Besides, at the end of the day, what kind of world would you re-emerge to after the worst had happened anyway? Not sure I’d want to bother. A fascinating look into a world I hope we never have to face.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      I sometimes write about things that we don’t really want to think about Alli in the hope that the world can start to get its act together before it’s too late. I won’t hold my breath though. To be honest, I think I would rather build castles in the sky 🙂 Thanks, as always, for continuing to support my ramblings 🙂

      Reply
      1. Alli Templeton

        You say and cover things that need to be said and covered, Malc, so these places you write about need to be out there for just the reasons you state. I do feel the human race has taken a very wrong turn somewhere though, and I agree with you entirely with the castles in the sky preference. Shortly before he died, Stephen Hawking said the human race most likely has another 100 years or so to run on Earth, and I think he’s right. The truth is that our beautiful planet will go on and flourish without us, which I find quite comforting. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Easymalc Post author

          Do you know what Alli? I reckon that you’re so right about that. The planet can certainly survive without the human race, but the human race can’t survive without the natural world. The best we can do is to learn to live with nature instead of trying to tame it. Indigenous peoples from way back understood this far better than we do today.

          Reply
          1. Alli Templeton

            Absolutely they did, and you too are right. The only way forward now is to learn to live in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate it and bend it to our will. The planet will always win the battle of wits with humanity. We’ve got far too big for our boots and in the process I think we’ve lost our way. This last year has made me focus even more on sustainable and simple living, and although I was going that way anyway the pandemic has sharpened all my eco senses. 🙂

            Reply
            1. Easymalc Post author

              Good for you. More and more people are beginning to realise that working with nature isn’t really an option but a necessity. The big problem is that more and more people are populating the planet, with all what that entails. I’m doing my bit by having my quota of hops and grapes.

              Reply
              1. Alli Templeton

                LOL! Hops and grapes certainly help – I’m quite good at that too… 😀
                Right again, of course, there’s too many of us now, and we’re acting like parasites on the planet. Personally, I think something needs to be done about curbing that growth for all our sakes. It’s good to know, however, that awareness of the need to work with nature is finally growing. The more the better, I say. 🙂

                Reply
                1. Easymalc Post author

                  You’ll be amazed how many of the world’s problems I’ve sorted out in the pub – and I never used to worry about my sombrero on either 🙂

                  Reply
                  1. Alli Templeton

                    Love it… 😀 I’m sure the world would be a better place if it was run from the pub! 😀

                    Reply
                    1. Easymalc Post author

                      The trouble is I may have been able to sort the world’s problems out, but I created a few for myself as well 🙂

                    2. Easymalc Post author

                      At least I can’t remember a lot of the occasions 🙂 It’s been great putting the world to rights again Alli, even if it hasn’t been down the pub 🙂

                    3. Easymalc Post author

                      Much better than Facebook 🙂 Enjoy your holiday , and don’t forget the battlefields as well as the castles up there. Take care!

                    4. Alli Templeton

                      Indeed it is. Thanks, Malc, I’m really looking forward to getting back up there at last, battlefields and all. 🙂

  3. equipsblog

    I’ve read where radiation sickness is horrible and this sounds equally bad. No good choices excerpts be a quick hopefully painless death while asleep
    Depressing.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Sometimes I write about stuff that is a bit depressing Pat, but I would like people to stop and think a bit more about what they wish for. All I need to do now is get people to read it 🙂

      Reply
  4. bitaboutbritain

    Absolutely captivating, Malc. Chilling stuff. I visited Berlin just before the Wall came down and took a tour from West to East – another world. Like you, I wonder whether the Bomb will get us one day – it certainly hasn’t gone away.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      There seems to be so many divisions in society today that it would be too easy to slip into a situation that the world would regret.
      Thanks for your comments Mike. They’re always greatly appreciated as you know.

      Reply
  5. Karen

    I’d love to revisit Berlin and also this museum with bunker! I had no idea it existed. Perhaps, 20 years ago it didn’t. Intriguing read!

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      The museum probably wasn’t there Karen, but the bunker obviously was. Thanks for your continued support 🙂

      Reply
  6. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    Another grand addition to your magnificent blog. Berlin is a very interesting city and I imagine that living there during the Cold War must have been a bit scary at times. Lovely photographs Malc of that underground area… Could not imagine living like that. Cheers and all the best,
    FBC.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Cheers Francesc. Yes, Berlin has always captured my imagination and life must have been tough there for a long time. There’s a whole lot I could say about it all as you can imagine. Just watching the Spain v Italy game 🙂

      Reply
            1. Easymalc Post author

              Thanks Francesc, but my gut feeling is that whoever won the match last night will win the tournament. The dreaded penalty shoot-out always means heartbreak for the losers, especially as Spain played so well.

              Reply
  7. Nemorino

    I’ve walked past the “Story of Berlin” a few times, but never went inside because it reminded me of the “Paris Story” — which was the topic of the one and only “Tourist Trap” tip I ever wrote on VirtualTourist.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      I felt that the museum was a bit high-tech just for the sake of it Don. Perhaps the new exhibits will change that

      Reply

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