March 2, 2008
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BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s largest Cold War bunker, designed to protect the former West German government from a nuclear attack, will creak open its pressurized metal doors to the public this weekend.
Buried beneath the western town of Ahrtal near Bonn, the seat of the former Federal Republic, the bunker was designed to protect 3,000 people for up to a month.
Now nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, visitors will be able to examine the bunker’s control centre, presidential conference room and pay a visit to its decontamination chamber.
“It’s a very imposing place. It makes you feel quite tense and uneasy when you think about the lack of daylight and how people would have had to live and work there for days on end,” said Heinz Schoenewald, tour guide at the Ahrtal tourism board which offers site visits.
The site was originally dug in 1903 as a railway tunnel to France. During World War Two, the Nazis used slave laborers from Auschwitz and Buchenwald to expand the site in which they stored V2 rockets.
It was transformed into a bunker by the West German government between 1960-1972 at the height of the Cold War and became a sprawling 17-km (10.6-mile) maze of tunnels.
At a cost of 5 billion deutschemarks in the 1960s, roughly 10 billion euros ($15.19 billion) in modern money, it was Germany’s most expensive Cold War bunker and boasted nearly 1,000 bedrooms, around 900 offices and five hospitals.
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)