New Use For An Old Tower

I have written about Germany’s Flak Towers previously and I recently came across this article from Der Spiegel discussing how the city of Hamburg is putting one of their derelict Flak Towers to new use.


At times during World War II, up to 30,000 people would cram into Hamburg’s Wilhelmsburg bunker to take shelter from Allied bombs. The enormous flak tower built during Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich was nothing if not sturdy. Indeed, it was so robust that it even survived post-war attempts to blast the block to the ground with dynamite.

For decades thereafter, the bulky eyesore stood derelict. But now, city planners are propelling it into the 21st century, turning it into a flagship renewable energy project.

The revamp of the appropriately renamed “energy bunker” is well underway. Yellow diggers have smashed through its two-meter thick walls, opening up one of the building’s facades. Scheduled to be finished in early 2013, the hollowed-out core will ultimately contain a biomass heating plant. Solar panels will cover the roof and the south wall, and it will contain a storage tank to pump hot water to nearby houses. The bunker is to supply 3,000 households with their energy needs.

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In the future the derelict bunker should look something like this. With a biomass heating plant, solar panels, and a water storage tank, it will provide energy for thousands of local households.

[Image courtesy of Der Spiegel.]

The Bunker in the Famous Zoo Tower in Berlin (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 

"Badeleben" in der Nachkriegszeit

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.

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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.

Zoo Flak Tower in Berlin: the Most Famous of Them All (Part 1 of 2)

 Part 1                      Part 2

 

"Badeleben" in der Nachkriegszeit

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 Tower was one of the three gigantic flak towers (Flaktürme) constructed to defend Berlin during World War Two. Hitler ordered the construction of these towers after the first (and very small) RAF Bomber Command raid on Berlin on 25/26 August. Only 29 RAF bombers constituted the attack force but this was a grave domestic political embarrassment to Hitler and the Nazis. The Zoo Tower was built close to the Berlin Zoo, hence the name, and is the most famous of the flak towers. It was the first one built and protected the government quarter in Berlin.

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The tower had formidable armament: four twin mounts of 128mm FlaK on the upper platform. Each barrel could fire 10 to 12 rounds a minute thus each twin mounted battery was rated to fire a maximum of 24 rounds a minute thus four twin mounts could fire as many as 96 rounds a minute. The guns were loaded electrically. The gunners carried the rounds from the ammunition hoist to the mounts and fed them into the automatic loaders. On the lower platforms were varying numbers of 20mm quads and 37mm FlaK batteries.

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While regular Luftwaffe gunners manned the FlaK batteries in the beginning years, they were supplemented as time went on with teenage “helpers”, Ukranian volunteers, and Russian POWs, these last given extra rations if they volunteered for this duty.

Although it is the most famous, the Zoo tower no longer exists. In 1947/48, the British Army blew up the tower complex. The ‘L’ tower was blown up on the first try. The ‘G’ tower required far more effort and dynamite than the British expected. Their first two efforts failed. The third effort took four months of preparation. Over four hundred holes were bored into the concrete structure. Those holes were then packed with dynamite. A total of 35 tons of dynamite was used in the third try which succeeded. The rubble was eventually trucked away, pulverized, and used to pave roads. The land occupied by the tower complex is now occupied by parts of the zoo, the smaller area of the ‘L’ tower now the location of the bird preserve island and the larger ‘G’ tower area now home to the hippopotamus park.

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The ‘G’ tower is what people are referring to in memoirs about the era when they speak of the ‘Zoo Tower’. It was an immense structure, being approximately 70 meters (230 feet) wide by 70 meters (230 feet) long. This equals 4900 square meters or ~52,700 square feet. Some examples: An NFL football field is 160 feet wide by 360 feet long or 57,600 square feet. A city block in Midtown Manhattan is 264 feet wide by 528 or 139392 square feet so 2.5 Zoo Towers would fit on each block. The Alamo in San Antonio, TX is 160 feet wide by 480 feet long or 76,800 square feet. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC is about 190 feet by 118 feet or 22,420 square feet so two of these could fit inside of the Zoo Tower.

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The tower had one cellar floor and six upper floors although it rose to the approximate height of a thirteen story building (39 meters or 128 feet). The second floor was used to house the most priceless and irreplaceable holdings of 14 museums in the Berlin area. The rooms were climate controlled including the Kaiser Wilhelm Coin Collection. The third floor was a hospital.

I think someone snatched the Kaiser Wilhelm Coin Collection after the war. Most or all of the artworks and other valuables were supposedly removed in March of 1945 but I think that the coin collection was stolen by the Soviets after the war. I’ve been unable to find the details of the situation and would enjoy any updates that someone might have.

[Football Stadium image courtesy of Wikimedia, Midtown Manhattan city block image courtesy of Design Boom, Alamo image courtesy of Wikimedia, and Lincoln Memorial image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

A City Destroyed: Berlin in July of 1945

Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers and the Soviet Union on 8/9 May 1945. Berlin itself was surrendered by its garrison commander on 2 May 1945. It’s hard for us to imagine destruction of the magnitude of Berlin in WW II. There had been no close combat fighting in a Western European capital since the Napoleonic era of the early 1800s prior to the Battle of Berlin.

The first three photographs taken for Life Magazine in July of 1945, give a sense of the utter collapse of the city. These women would have had an armed escort of US Military Police. The Fourth photograph shows the author in the same spot fifty-seven years later.

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American WACs examining the anti-aircraft guns atop the Flakturm am Zoo or Zoo Flak Tower tower in the Tiergarten. The tower took up an entire city block and was located at the present day entrance of the Berlin Zoo. The British dynamited the giant structure over a period of months in 1947/48.

 

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Female Russian MP being saluted by American WACs who are passing the Brandenburg Gate. Most Russian military police assigned to traffic duty were women. It doesn’t seem like a big job until one realizes that one Soviet armored division, for example, had thousands of vehicles and dozens of these divisions would be on the move at the same time. Traffic control was a major element in WW II offensive planning on all sides.

 

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American WACs at the Victory Column originally constructed to mark the Prussian victory over Denmark 1864 when the Prussians seized the Danish provinces of Schleswig and Holstein in a dynastic dispute. The provinces remain part of Germany today. Who should govern the provinces was a diplomatic question which dogged European governments for decades. British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston once said, “Only three people have ever understood the Schleswig- Holstein Question. The Prince Regent, who is dead. A German clergyman, who has gone insane. And I, who have forgotten all about it.”

 

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Charles McCain at the Victory Column which survived the war relatively undamaged and remains in the exact same place.