Protected by 13 feet of concrete, the Führerbunker was a multi-story underground complex in Berlin that became the central nervous system for the last five months of Hitler's murderous Nazi regime. Now it's a parking lot. And until recently, you'd never even know it was once there. Here's how to find it.
The subterranean bunker complex, bearing a name that quite literally means "the Führer's bunker," was constructed below Hitler's New Reich Chancellery initially as a temporary air-raid shelter for the maniacal German leader. But with the Allies increasing their bombing of Berlin, the bunker complex was expanded into an improvised permanent shelter.
The elaborate complex consisted of two separate levels, a Vorbunker (the upper bunker), or "forward bunker," which was constructed in 1936, and a newer Führerbunker, constructed in 1943, located one level below. In total, the complex was able to sustain Hitler and two or three dozen support, medical and administrative staff for almost five months from when they moved into the bunker in January of 1945.
Early in the morning on May 2nd, 1945, the Soviets stormed the Reich Chancellery, the last remaining generals under their now-dead Führer left the Führerbunker and surrendered.
Soviet intelligence operatives investigating the complex found more than a dozen bodies belonging to Nazi staff and their families who had apparently committed suicide, mixed in with the cinders of burned papers and documents.
Although the ruins of both the old and new Chancellery buildings were leveled by the Soviets starting in 1945, the bunker largely survived.
The Führerbunker sat untouched until 1959 when another attempt was made to blow up the bunker, this time by the East German government. But, like much done by the East German government, this attempt apparently went without much effect.
Since it fell in the no-mans-land close to the Berlin Wall, the site went undeveloped and neglected until after reunification. During the construction of residential housing and other buildings on the site in 1988–89 several underground sections of the old bunker were uncovered by work crews and were for the most part destroyed.
But some say that there are still some small coveys and rooms that likely remain.
For years, if you wanted to know where the bunker had been, you'd be completely out of luck. It never showed up in any official travel guides of the city. As you'd expect, government authorities were concerned about the site of the bunker evolving into a Neo-Nazi shrine.
That changed in June of 2006, when, just one day before the opening of the World Cup in Germany, the Berlin state government decided finally to oust the last Nazi-era taboo and officially recognize the place where Hitler killed himself. An information panel was finally unveiled by a Berlin-based historical society to demystify the history of the bunker and dispel some of the rumors.
As I'm here in Berlin for the first time to drive the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, I decided to visit the site earlier today. It was the coldest, drabbest and dreariest July morning Berlin has apparently seen in quite a while. How fitting. What I found was the most nondescript parking lot — in front of the most nondescript, boring apartment buildings — on the face of Earth.