The Bunker

The Führerbunker was an air-raid shelter located near the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) in Berlin, Germany. It was part of a subterranean bunker complex constructed in two phases which were completed in 1936 and 1944. It was the last of the Führer Headquarters (Führerhauptquartiere) used by Adolf Hitler, during the Second World War.

Hitler took up residence in the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945 and it became the centre of the Nazi regime until the last week of World War II in Europe.
Hitler married Eva Braun here during the last week of April 1945, shortly before they committed suicide.

After the war both the old and new Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets. Despite some attempts at demolition, the underground complex remained largely undisturbed until 1988–89.
During reconstruction of that area of Berlin, the sections of the old bunker complex that were excavated were for the most part destroyed. The site remained unmarked until 2006, when a small plaque with a schematic diagram was installed. Some corridors of the bunker still exist, but are sealed off from the public.


Construction of the Führerbunker & Vorbunker

Construction of the Reichskanzlei

The Reich Chancellery bunker was initially constructed as a temporary air-raid shelter for Hitler (who actually spent very little time in the capital during most of the war). Increased bombing of Berlin led to expansion of the complex as an improvised permanent shelter. The elaborate complex consisted of two separate shelters, the Vorbunker ( “forward bunker”; the upper bunker), completed in 1936, and the Führerbunker, located 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) lower than the Vorbunker and to the west-southwest, completed in 1944.
They were connected by a stairway set at right angles and could be closed off from each other by a bulkhead and steel door.

The Vorbunker was located 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) beneath the cellar of a large reception hall behind the old Reich Chancellery at Wilhelmstrasse 77.
The Führerbunker was located about 8.5 metres (28 ft) beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery, 120 metres (390 ft) north of the new Reich Chancellery building at Voßstraße 6.
Besides being deeper under ground, the Führerbunker had significantly more reinforcement. Its roof was made of concrete almost 3 metres (9.8 ft) thick. About 30 small rooms were protected by approximately 4 metres (13 ft) of concrete; exits led into the main buildings, as well as an emergency exit up to the garden.
The Führerbunker development was built by the Hochtief company as part of an extensive program of subterranean construction in Berlin begun in 1940.

The Führerbunker in 1988 (Robert Conrad/Lumabytes)

Hitler’s accommodations were in this newer, lower section, and by February 1945 it had been decorated with high-quality furniture taken from the Chancellery, along with several framed oil paintings. After descending the stairs into the lower section and passing through the steel door, there was a long corridor with a series of rooms on each side. On the right side were a series of rooms which included generator/ventilation rooms and the telephone switchboard. On left side was Eva Braun’s bedroom/sitting room (also known as Hitler’s private guest room), an ante-chamber (also known as Hitler’s sitting room), which led into Hitler’s study/office. On the wall hung a large portrait of Frederick the Great, one of Hitler’s heroes. A door led into Hitler’s modestly furnished bedroom.
Next to it was the conference/map room (also known as the briefing/situation room) which had a door that led out into the waiting room/ante-room.

As the Führerbunker was below the water table, conditions were unpleasantly damp, with pumps running continuously to remove groundwater. A diesel generator provided electricity, and well water was pumped in as the water supply. Communications systems included a telex, a telephone switchboard, and an army radio set with an outdoor antenna.
As conditions deteriorated at the end of the war, Hitler received much of his war news from BBC radio broadcasts and via courier.


Führer Headquarters 1945 (Führerhauptquartiere)

Diagram of the Bunkers

Hitler moved into the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945. He was joined by his senior staff, including Martin Bormann. In April 1945 Eva Braun, Joseph Goebbels, his wife Magda, and their six children took residence in the upper Vorbunker. Two or three dozen support, medical, and administrative staff were also sheltered there.
These included Hitler’s secretaries (including Traudl Junge), a nurse named Erna Flegel, and telephone switchboard operator Sergeant Rochus Misch.
Early on, Hitler continued to utilize the undamaged wing of the Reich Chancellery, where he held afternoon military conferences in his large study.
Afterwards, he would have tea with his secretaries before going back down into the bunker complex for the night. After several weeks of this routine, Hitler seldom left the bunker except for short strolls in the chancellery garden with his dog Blondi.
The bunker was crowded and the atmosphere was oppressive; air raids occurred daily.
Hitler mostly stayed on the lower level, where it was quieter and he could sleep. Conferences took place for much of the night, often until 05:00.

On 16 April the Red Army started the Battle of Berlin and by 19 April they started to encircle the city. On 20 April, his 56th birthday, Hitler made his last trip to the surface. In the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery, he awarded the Iron Cross to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth. That afternoon, Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time.

In denial about the dire situation, Hitler placed his hopes on the units commanded by Waffen-SS General Felix Steiner, the Armeeabteilung Steiner (“Army Detachment Steiner”). On 21 April, Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the encircling Soviet salient and ordered the German Ninth Army, south-east of Berlin, to attack northward in a pincer attack.
By that evening, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of Berlin. At his afternoon situation conference on 22 April, Hitler was told Steiner’s forces had not moved. Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that the attack was not going to be carried out. He openly declared for the first time the war was lost—and blamed his generals. He announced he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself.

On 23 April, Hitler appointed General of the Artillery Helmuth Weidling, commander of the LVI Panzer Corps, as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, replacing Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) Ernst Kaether.
Despite the commands being issued from the Führerbunker, by 25 April the Soviets had consolidated their investment of Berlin, and there was no prospect that the German defence could do anything but delay the city’s capture.
Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Hermann Göring. Along with his mistress and crack test pilot, Hanna Reitsch, he arrived on 26 April.

On 28 April Hitler learned that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who had left Berlin on 20 April, was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Western Allies through Count Folke Bernadotte.
Hitler considered this treason. Enraged, he ordered Himmler’s arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler’s SS representative at Hitler’s HQ in Berlin) shot.
On the same day, General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) in Fürstenberg. Krebs told him that if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of the Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse, commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: “Reich Chancellery a heap of rubble.”
He said that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and “that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer”.

Adolf Hitler outside the Bunker

That evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Field Marshal von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz (only a block from the Führerbunker).
During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front and it was no longer possible for his army to relieve Berlin. Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off the attempt.

After midnight on the night of 28–29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony within the Führerbunker. Hitler then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament. At approximately 04:00, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Goebbels, and Bormann witnessed and signed the documents. Hitler then retired to bed.

Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted Jodl by radio: “Request immediate report.
Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck’s spearheads.
Secondly of time intended to attack.
Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army.
Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through.
Fifthly, the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste’s spearhead.”
In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: “Firstly, Wenck’s spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste’s Corps on the defensive.”

During the morning of 30 April, SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, commander of the centre (government) district of Berlin, informed Hitler he would be able to hold for less than two days.
Later that morning Weidling informed Hitler that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked him for permission to break out.
At about 13:00 Weidling finally received permission. In the Führerbunker that afternoon, Hitler shot himself and Eva Braun took cyanide. In accordance with Hitler’s instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery.
In accordance with Hitler’s last will and testament, Goebbels became the new Head of Government and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). At 03:15, Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Dönitz informing him of Hitler’s death. In accordance with Hitler’s last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new President of Germany (Reichspräsident).

At about 04:00 on 1 May, Krebs talked to General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army. Chuikov demanded unconditional surrender of the remaining German forces.
Krebs did not have the authority to surrender, so he returned to the bunker. In the late afternoon, Goebbels had his children poisoned.

Joseph Goebbels

At around 23:00, Goebbels and his wife left the bunker. There are several different accounts on what followed. According to one account, Goebbels shot his wife and then himself. Another account was that they each bit on a cyanide ampule and were given a coup de grâce immediately afterwards.
Goebbels’ SS adjutant Günther Schwägermann testified in 1948 that the couple walked ahead of him up the stairs and out into the Chancellery garden. He waited in the stairwell and heard the “shots” sound. Schwägermann then walked up the remaining stairs and once outside he saw the lifeless bodies of the couple. Following Joseph Goebbels’ prior order, Schwägermann had an SS soldier fire several shots into Goebbels’ body, which did not move. The bodies were then doused with petrol, but the remains were only partially burned and not buried.

Weidling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the north-west; the plan got underway at around 23:00. The first group from the Reich Chancellery, led by Mohnke, tried though could not break through the Soviet rings and was captured the next day. Like others from the Führerbunker who were captured, he was interrogated by SMERSH.
On the third break-out attempt from the Reich Chancellery, made around 01:00 (2 May), Bormann managed to cross the Spree. Arthur Axmann, who followed the same route, reported seeing Bormann’s body a short distance from the Weidendammer bridge.

The last defenders in the area of the bunker complex were the French SS volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French), who remained until the early morning of 2 May to prevent the Soviets from capturing the bunker on May Day.

At 01:00 the Soviets picked up a radio message from the LVI Panzer Corps requesting a cease-fire. Early in the morning of 2 May, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery.
General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00.
Down in the Führerbunker, General Krebs and General Burgdorf committed suicide by gunshot to the head. Johannes Hentschel, the master electro-mechanic for the bunker complex, stayed after everyone else had either committed suicide or left, as the field hospital in the Reich Chancellery above needed power and water.
He surrendered to the Red Army as they entered the bunker complex on 2 May at 09:00. The bodies of Goebbels’ six children were discovered on 3 May. They were found in their beds in the Vorbunker, with the clear mark of cyanide shown on their faces.


Post 1945

Bunker Entrance in 2007

The ruins of both Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets between 1945 and 1949 as part of an effort to destroy the landmarks of Nazi Germany.
The bunker largely survived, although some areas were partially flooded. In December 1947, the Soviets tried to blow up the bunker, but only the separation walls were damaged.
In 1959, the East German government began a series of demolitions of the Chancellery, including the bunker.

Because it was near the Berlin Wall, the site was undeveloped and neglected until 1988–89.
During extensive construction of residential housing and other buildings on the site, work crews uncovered several underground sections of the old bunker complex; for the most part these were destroyed. Other parts of the Chancellery underground complex were uncovered, though these were ignored, filled in, or resealed.

In the late 1980s, with the building of the housing blocks by the East Germans, the Führerbunker was reopened, filled with sand and rubble, then sealed again, and buried under the current parking lot.
The location remained without any indication of what lay underneath until 8 June 2006, when a modest plaque was erected, not by the German government but by the non-profit Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworlds) with the agreement of the city of Berlin.

There  is little to see above ground of the Führerbunker, the German authorities are afraid the site could become some kind of shrine for right-wing activists.
If that was the case, then why has the site not already become a pilgrimage site for modern Nazis?
For now, the Führerbunker remains sealed, hidden away from the public, this seems only to generate more interest than ever in the site, and the mystery that surrounds it.
At some point the bunker is almost certain to be opened up again, though when,  remains a question for Germany and the people of Berlin.


Stasi Photos from 1972

In 1972 the East German government sent in a Stasi team in to the Führerbunker to check for any tunnels that might lead to West Berlin, there were none.
They did of course take some photographs that were discovered in the Stasi archives after unification.


Photos by Robert Conrad

In 1986, the East German government made plans to erect a large apartment complex on the corner of Vossstrasse and Otto Grotewohl Strasse, now known as Wilhelmstrasse. In order for those Socialist blocks to go up, concrete from a darker past had to be demolished first.

The ground under the construction site turned out to contain not only Adolf Hitler’s former bunker, but also the remains of an air raid shelter used by the Neue Reichskanzlei, or New Reich Chancellery, and the foreign ministry. Starting in 1987, Robert Conrad risked his freedom to secretly photograph this historic site before it was lost for ever.

Website: www.lumabytes.com