The Flakturms (Flak Towers) were eight groups of immense blockhouses built in the centre of German cities in World War II to act as platforms for large calibre anti-aircraft guns. The towers were built in Berlin (3), Vienna (3) and Hamburg (2). Each site had a larger tower (known as ‘G’ or Combat) which housed the actual guns and a single control tower (‘L’ or Directing). The latter provide a headquarters and housed the radar equipment which automatically directed the anti-aircraft guns.
The first generation towers were 70 metres square and around 40 metres high with main armament of eight (four twin) 128mm guns – one in each corner of the roof. The second generation towers had a slightly smaller footprint (57 metres square) but had around the same height and armament. The towers also acted as civilian shelters for up to 15,000 people. Hamburg had examples of both generations of towers – the earlier one at Heiligengeistfeld and the later version in the harbour district of Wilhelmsburg.
In 1947 an attempt was made by British Engineers to demolish the Wilhelmsburg tower but although the internal floors were largely destroyed, the tower continued standing. Locals are alleged to have chanted ‘Made in Germany’ when the structure still stood after the demolition charges! It stayed like this for 60 years and in 2007 the idea of converting it to an ‘energy bunker’ or green power station was suggested. 27 million Euros later, the bunker produces power from solar panels, bio-gas, woodchips and waste industrial heat. As a consequence most of the interior of the Flak tower is now full of generating equipment on new concrete floors but the emergency exit passes through some original concrete.
Roof-top view The outside of the tower is however still largely original and proclaims its massive presence on the neighbourhood. We were met by Lydia who gave us a special tour of the roof area and showed us a superb album of photos of the site during wartime. As well as sheltering thousands of locals, the shelter was also used to accommodate the Harburg Hospital whose own buildings were destroyed. We also heard how survivors of the war recall labourers and others being refused access to the building as bombs fell around them.
The shelter was used for a recorded 884 hours during air-raids and some locals took up residence if their own homes had been destroyed. The scale of construction and amount of raw materials (concrete and iron reinforcement) used is difficult to take in – the top slab of the roof is around 3.5 metres thick of concrete reinforced with 50 kilos of iron per cubic metre. The construction only took around a year. However the damage caused to bombers by the heavy armaments is believed to be minimal and the collateral damage to German property was probably larger.
We were joined by Fred Cyranka – Unter Hamburg’s oldest member aged 84 who has lived in Hamburg all of his life. From atop the Flak Tower Fred pointed out the approach path of the Allied bombing raids from the south west that he had witnessed. He also had two fascinating British propaganda leaflets that he had personally picked up at great personal risk in 1943. One of these headed ‘Die Festung Europa hat kein Dach (‘Fortress Europe has no Roof’) gave figures showing the massive increase in Allied bombs dropped on Germany and encouraged the readers to unseat their leadership and leave cities. Fred was 14 when the war ended and just escaped conscription into the Hitler Youth.
The perimter of the tower can be walked at balcony level, which includes some explanatory panels. A visit there allows the massive size of the structure to be appreciated at close quarters. Part of the top floor of the Flak Tower is now a cafe which at thetime of writing had some English language pocket guides.