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.
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?