A year after Germany surrendered, the British Army was still working diligently to demolish the Zoo Tower. This photo was taken in what appears to be the early summer of 1946 and you can see the British still had a way to go before the tower was completely destroyed.
It was located where the bird area is today in the Berlin Zoo which is off the Kurfürstendamm (which splits to go around the zoo. Photo courtesy of the German National Archive)
The Zoo bunker or air raid shelter was designed to hold 8,000 people although thousands more were crammed into the shelter during heavy raids. In the last week of the war, over 30,000 people were said to have taken refuge in the Zoo Tower. That figure comes from a Luftwaffe physician who was in tower during that time and is quoted in The Flak Towers. It is not footnoted so it is impossible to track this down for confirmation. However, the entire building could hold 15,000 or more people as designed so it is possible that 30,000 people did occupy the entire structure, not just the bunker, in the last week of the war.
Whatever the exact number, the tower was so jammed that many people were unable to move. Hundreds of people in that mass of humanity died or committed suicide but that wasn’t discovered till the crowd finally left the tower because the bodies were being held upright by the crush of people. There was no food, limited water, and the limited sanitation facilities were overwhelmed. People simply evacuated themselves in place.
The anti-aircraft guns on the top of the tower fired on Soviet troops during the long days it took them to capture the city. The noise reverberated throughout the structure. As the Soviets closed on the tower, they took it under point blank fire from their tanks and artillery. Given the thickness of the walls and four inch steel shutters over the small casement windows, the entire structure proved impenetrable to Soviet fire.
You might imagine the stench, the terror, and the unbelievable din of the German guns combined with the noise of Soviet shells striking the building night and day; which had the effect of raining cement dust on people which only compounded the problem of the indoor air quality. Some people suffocated because they were unable to breathe or draw enough oxygen from the air around them. Others went mad because of the claustrophobia and the incessant pounding of the building by Soviet artillery and tanks. Both the electricity and water supply failed early on so in addition to the terror, noise, claustrophobia, and God knows what else, there was no light except for the small gleam given off by the fluorescent paint on the ceilings.
The building commander finally surrendered when informed of the surrender order signed by Helmuth Weidling, Kommandant of the Berlin Defense Zone. When the surrender to the Soviets became official, hundreds more people in the tower committed suicide.