Karl Kaufmann was born in 1900 and from 1933 to 1945 was the Nazi Gauleiter (party leader) and Reichsstatthalter (Regional Governor) of Hamburg, with power over 1.8 million people. In 1937 Kaufmann commandeered the Budge Palace to act as his residence and headquarters. The building, dating from 1884 was luxurious, with fine rooms and even with had its own theatre and bowling alley.
To offer protection during air raids, a headquarters’ bunker was constructed below the grounds of the palace. Finished in 1940 it consists of two structures with vaulted ceilings; there is also a remarkable surface structure (in German zerschellschicht, or ‘shattering layer’), intended to deflect and minimise the impact of bombs. In concept this is very similar to the modern-day slat or cage armour that surrounds modern armoured vehicles. The Budge Palace is now a music academy but the bunker (now listed) remains a rare example of a headquarters bunker.
The bunker footprint is approximately 22 metres by 14 metres with a height of 5.2 metres. When built, the walls of the bunker were 2.5 metres thick though this was increased to a remarkable 4 metres in 1943. We entered the bunker via gas-tight doors into a lobby which would have been occupied by despatch riders and messengers. Inside the bunker proper are just nine rooms including a large command room, support staff accommodation, telephone exchange, generator room, and toilet. Junior staff would have been summoned to collect messages via an indicator light system but would otherwise have not been allowed access to the discussions taking place. The atrocities planned and perpetrated by discussions within the bunker do not bear thinking about.
Central heating was provided by radiators fed from the adjacent palace. Water was obtained from a 50 metre deep artesian well. The Junkers diesel generator is still in place and in an excellent state of preservation; its single cylinder operation was reported to have been so jerky that unless properly secured the engine was likely to ‘pogo’ around the room. The best protected small room was not for weapons but for the telephone exchange – the importance of secure communications being well-recognised. There is some evidence of coloured wall paintings although these are believed to date from the immediate post-war period when the Bunker was used as an Officers’ Club by the occupying forces.
Although smaller and sub-surface rather than deep underground, the bunker is arguably one of the closest surviving structures in feel to Berlin’s Führerbunker. Local group Unter Hamburg run occasional tours of the site and we are indebted to them for helping preserve the site, arranging our access and guiding the visit.