The Berlin underworlds museum
Underground history of the city of Berlin
Berlin is over 750 years old and time has left its mark on the city.
Famous buildings such as the Brandenburg Gate, the television tower and the remains of the Berlin Wall attract thousands of visitors every year.
But the history of Berlin is not only above ground. History also lies underneath the streets of Berlin. Especially the 20th century left behind two wars and the fear of a third deep pit in the Berlin underworld.
The Berliner Unterwelten e.V. has set itself the task of exploring the depths of Berlin. In mostly voluntary work, the association opens up the world beneath the city at its own expense in order to make this part of history accessible and to protect it for posterity.
In addition, the association deals with the difficult issue of war structures and monument protection. Besides always new projects, the association offers various exhibitions and guided Berlin underworld tours through the already rediscovered parts. In twelve different voyages of discovery, Berlin's city history is shown from a completely new perspective.
From the first use of the Berlin underground, two wars and their effects on the city in the dark to the underground escape attempts from the GDR, the Berlin Underground Museum brings the feelings of a bygone era back to light in sometimes oppressive ways.
Guided tours of the Berliner Unterwelten e.V.
In the following we present a selection of guided tours of Berlin's underworlds: In the middle of the 19th century, the first advances in the moorland of Berlin dared the breweries in the area.
In districts with low groundwater levels, up to 20-metre-deep cellar vaults were thus created for the production and storage of bottom-fermented beers. Only a few of the mostly in Prenzlauer Berg, Neukölln and
Kreuzberg are still preserved today and can be visited (Berlin Underworlds Tour K).
Berlin's water supply also has its origins underground. In one of the pumping machine houses of the Old Waterworks Friedrichshagen you can admire the original engines that were used for water treatment from Lake Müggelsee and take a look into the underground machine hall (Tour W).
In the course of the Second World War, Berlin's underworld quickly took on a completely new meaning.
The ground was no longer interesting as an economic or infrastructure location, but as a place for bunkers and air-raid shelters. Underground bunkers were built all over Berlin to protect people in the event of an air raid.
Two mother-child bunkers and a temporary air-raid shelter were located directly at Gesundbrunnen underground station. The mother-child bunkers were destroyed and bricked up by several blasting operations in 1947/48. However, the temporary air-raid shelter has been spared bombs and destruction and can be visited today.
Behind an inconspicuous door in the underground station Gesundbrunnen one enters another world, in which the constant feeling of anxiety and fear lay in the air - no wonder, since the provisional air raid shelter would not have withstood in case of a bomb hit. Here, visitors can still find out what it means to be enclosed underground by siren noise (Berlin Undergrounds Tour 1). But not only the air protection labyrinth in the Gesundbrunnen was made accessible to visitors by the Berliner Unterwelten e.V..
The spruce bunker also provides special insights into the history of Berlin, which are not always suitable for weak minds.
The building, which was used as a gasometer until the Nazi era, became a mother-child building during the Second World War
and was supposed to provide protection for 6,500 people.
At the heydays of war, when there were hail of bombs in Berlin, up to 30,000 people crowded into the "Bunker of the Hopeless" - almost five times more than planned. After the war the bunker was occupied by the Red Army and in the following years it experienced an eventful history as a camp for refugees and bombed-out people, as a retirement home, prison, homeless shelter and as a food camp (Tour F).
In addition to the bunkers for the civilian population, there were also operating bunkers below many hospitals. Emergency operations were also carried out here during bomb attacks. The original conditions for doctors and patients, as well as the equipment can still be seen today thanks to the initiative of the Berliner Unterwelten e.V. in the Humboldt-Krankenhaus (Berliner Unterwelten Tour O). Apart from these, no operational bunker in Berlin has survived today due to conversion and destruction.
The war history of the capital is a subject that is particularly difficult for children to understand and sometimes difficult for adults to convey.
Therefore, the Berliner Unterwelten e.V. has set itself the task of bringing children closer to the history and significance of the Berlin bunkers without trivialising or frightening them. In tours through the spruce bunker for children between the ages of five and ten, the participants learn everything about the everyday life of their peers 70 years ago (Tour F/K).
Building mania in war
In addition to the underground shelters, the Third Reich also always built above ground. Berlin was to become the new imperial capital "Germania" and therefore receive corresponding magnificent buildings in the strict and military style of the Nazi era.
The problem facing the architects in Berlin was the underground. All of Berlin stands on the very sandy and yielding subsoil of a moor.
The task of realizing the enormous projects of the Reich leadership on this basis led to the construction of the heavy-duty bodies on a 1:1 scale.
This should test the stability of the soil. The structure can still be seen today on Dudenstrasse and is listed as a symbol of National Socialist urban planning.
The heavy-duty construction gives a rough idea of what Berlin would have been like before the new Nazi city planning. In the Tour S, the inhuman project of redesign planning, which would have been based on slave labour and displacement of the population, is made clear in greater depth. But the expansion of "Germania" had to be postponed from 1939 as "not important for the war".
Priority was given to the construction of bunkers and defence towers, including the flak towers on the Humboldthain, which were designed to shoot down enemy bombers and also housed bunkers. In the post-war period the flak towers were blown up by the Allies. All that remained was the north side of the tower, which was too close to the important railway tracks to be blown up. In the Berlin Underworlds Museum Tour 2 the interior of the Flakturmruine can be visited - a tour for adventurers without fear of heights.
During the Second World War, large parts of Berlin's city centre were transformed into rubble and rubble. After the end of the war, these were piled up into huge mountains of rubble.
Two of these heaps of rubble pile up at the flak tower ruins at Humboldthain. Where there is nothing left of the rubble above ground due to lush park vegetation, labyrinthine caverns of rubble and bunker remains extend under the skin of Berlin (Tour HS).
In Tour E, the Berliner Unterwelten e.V. also leads sporty history friends into the destroyed interior of the flak towers. Here, visitors can expect unique insights that frighten and touch them.
Post-war period under the ground
Even after the end of the Second World War, the people of Berlin continued to live in fear. Another war seemed to be on the horizon with the Cold War and promised to be even worse than the previous one.
The fear and shocking experiences from the Second World War with inadequate air-raid shelters, which only provided space for just under 25% of Berlin's population and resulted in many deaths, led to the construction of more secure bunkers, which were intended to protect and in some cases also provide the population with supplies lasting weeks.
However, a tour of these new bunkers quickly shows that the absence of a third war has saved many people from terrible times underground (Tour 3). Today, the prophylactic bunkers are used as garages, underground stations and storage rooms.
With the end of the war, the difficult time for the East Berliners was not yet over.
The situation came to a head in 1961 with the construction of the wall, which separated families and friends and led to many escape attempts and deaths in the following years.
This development is also reflected in the underground. Particularly ambitious escape plans led through the underground under the wall.
In the 41 years of GDR history there were over 70 escape tunnels, 19 of which were successful and helped 300 refugees to the West. The tunnel projects were a constant game of hide-and-seek with the secret police of the GDR and marked by the fear of treason.
The underground escape plans and the most spectacular and successful tunnels can be explored today with the Berliner Unterwelten e.V. in Tour M.