Below Berlin, Tours of Another World





An organization called the Berlin Underworlds offers visitors an unexpected perspective of the German capital.

Founded in 1997, Underworlds is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Berlin’s vast network of subterranean spaces. It funds its projects by giving tours of bunkers, sewers, air raid shelters and catacombs. The tours are offered in a variety of languages, including English.

The 300-plus members of the association include history buffs, hobbyists and scholars of all ages. “Basically, people who all enjoy crawling around in the dark,” said Robin Williams, 32, one of the organization’s English-language guides.

Since many of Berlin’s underground structures were developed during the Nazi period, the association’s main work is based around World War II, Mr. Williams said. One popular tour (simply titled the “Classic Tour”) that guides you through a wartime bomb shelter is a history lesson from the perspective of German civilians living in fear of Allied bombs. The experience is made all the more unsettling by the fact that the shelter is located below the bustling Gesundbrunnen U-Bahn station, above.

Similar organizations exist in other cities, including Hamburg and Vienna. But the Berlin Underworlds Association owes its success in large measure to the continued fascination with World War II and the Cold War that followed.

Many people ask whether the association gives tours of Hitler’s bunker, according to Mr. Williams. A note on the association’s Web site explains that the remains of the demolished Führerbunker are beneath a parking lot in Mitte, marked only by an informational plaque.

The association does, however, offer tours through Cold War-era bomb shelters, abandoned U-Bahn lines and subterranean escape routes from East to West Berlin.

The Underworlds’ newest tour explores the Fichtebunker, one of Europe’s oldest gasometers. The structure, located on a quiet residential street in Kreuzberg, has served various purposes over the last hundred years: as a war bunker, a prison, an old age home, a homeless shelter; it is currently being turned into luxury apartments. “We’re showing Berlin’s history from the perspective of this particular building,” Mr. Williams said.


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