During World War II Hamburg held shipyards, oil refineries factories and submarine pens as well as the docks themselves, so becoming a key target for Allied bombardment. 394 U-boats were built in Hamburg as well as much larger ships including the Bismarck. In response to this, Germany built air-raid shelters that would accommodate around 47% of the population. Records show that many shelters were overcrowded so it is likely that a much higher percentage of the population could take refuge.
Most of the shelters were underground but some around 80 were hochbunkers (literally high bunker), and built above ground. This four-storey bunker was built in 1941 to provide air-raid protection for the surrounding housing district. The area of town where it is located is too close to the water table to accommodate cellars and hence the need for an overground structure. Many of the hochbunkers have been demolished; of those that remain some were converted to civilian use and others were remodelled for use in the Cold War. This hochbunker was used post-war by a publisher but despite this has remained in exceptional condition.
On arrival we were met by our guide Jens and his team but also by a TV crew from RTL who were filming us for a news item. Sadly despite it having listed building status, the bunker is under threat of demolition to provide space for a children’s playground.
Family accommodation Entering the bunker we found a design very unlike other WWII structures in that it was built as a ‘bunker house’ with individual rooms off a central spine corridor for each family. It bore some similarity to the ‘Mother and Child’ bunkers that we have visited on Sub Brit visits to Berlin. Originally bunks for 625 occupants and seating for a further 132 were provided. We were told that in the lead-up to World War II the propaganda likened the threat of air raids to that of a heavy rainstorm and so the concept of taking shelter was built into the everyday mindset of the population.
One of the shelter’s most interesting survivals are the original wall paintings on the first and second floors. These depict street scenes, landscapes and various tradesmen and are in superb condition. Also in working order is the original ventilation system which appears far more sophisticated than that in later bunkers.
Hamburger Unterwelten have been guiding groups round the site for a number of years and the top floor of the bunker includes a small exhibition area. Some of the WWII photos show scenes of almost unimaginable destruction and desolation. Post-war, the building was used as emergency accommodation for returning residents and as a warehouse for blankets and other essentials.
Sadly our visit was one of the last and the bunker was demolished in December 2015. This despite it having protected building status. Some of the exceptional wall paintings were at least saved and in storage but a scarce relic of World War II can no longer be explored.