Monday, March 30, 2009

Evasion seat

Last weekend I visited the recently opened museum of the former atom bunker of the German government near Marienthal / Bad Neuenahr. The bunker (built between 1960 and 1972) is located about 20 km near the former capital Bonn in a strategical location constructed to enable quick evacuation of the German government in case of a full-scale nuclear attack. The bunker, titled "Ausweichsitz", literally "evasion seat (of the government)", was constructed to house 3000 people for 30 days, in order to keep the German government in a functioning state even when under nuclear attack. For this purpose around 900 offices and 950 dormitories were available in the bunker, plus support systems including 5 canteens, power plant, factory, spare parts storages etc. The bunker tunnels spanned a total of 17km underground and covered 85,000sqm of usable space. Today only a small portion of the bunker is still preserved in the museum, 99% were deconstructed in the phase after the decommissioning of the bunker in 1997.

A visit to the bunker is a veritable Fallout experience, however it's pretty astounding how naive and rudimentary these facilities were planned (all in good German bureaucracy and orderliness, of course). Take the "decontamination chamber" for instance, pictures below, which is located right after the heavy entrance gates. Decontamination consists of two shower rooms, one with regular showers and then another one with "acid" showers. Through a small window with a manually operated wiper, nuclear doctors are watching if everybody has showered well makes you wonder if this is all there is to dealing with a nuclear catastrophe on a major scale? Same goes for the sick bay, complete with exactly one operating table and one cupboard.

There were more problems with the bunker. For once, it didn't even satisfy the NATO standards for construction which called for at least 200m of rock cover. The Marienthal bunker reached a maximum of 115m, which wouldn't have withstood a direct hit of a hydrogen bomb and the resulting shifts in the bedrock. Also, the whole business of an atom bomb emitting an EMP strike and thus rendering useless most circuits was apparently forgotten, too. I'm not getting into the problem of why bother..? if the whole of Europe is a nuclear wasteland anyway. The whole project cost a large amount of millions in construction, maintenance and ultimately dismantling, and can be termed a conceptional disaster, showpiece to the madness of the Cold War.

Still, the museum is worth a visit and holds a couple of interesting exhibits, such as a "explosion-proof portable phone", vintage posters, and a great Command Center complete with old-school situation map. So a visit is highly recommended if you can find the place. I'm definitely going again soon to catch some more pictures. Unfortunately my camera broke, so I'm using pictures from the (much recommended) web site of the museum for now (see link below). While there, be sure to download the original Bunker Gate siren ringtone!

Ausweichsitz der Verfassungsorgane der Bundesrepublik Deutschland - Historie