The Bunker or Reichsbahnbunker stands on the corner of Reinhardtstrasse and Albrechtstrasse. Situated in Mitte, Berlin, the bunker is a listed air-raid shelter dating back to World War Two. We visited in October 2017 as part of our first Berlin trip.
In 1941, planning began for the Friedrichstrasse Imperial Railway Bunker. The architect was Karl Bonatz under the supervision of Albert Speer. Speer held the the role of General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital.
Construction of The Bunker
Construction of the bunker began in 1942 and took under a year. Built by forced labourers, the bunker was an air-raid shelter for the civilian population. The large building could shelter up to 3,000 passengers from the Reichsbahn in 120 rooms split over five floors.
The impressive structure has an area of 1,000 square metres and is 18 metres high. With walls of three metres thick, even with damage sustained during Allied bombing it was impenetrable.
After 1945, the Red Army claimed the bunker. There, they held prisoners of war. In the years after the war, the bunker has taken on many forms. From a textile warehouse in 1949, it became a warehouse for tropical fruit imported from Cuba in 1957. Run by a state-owned fruit, vegetables, and potatoes company, locals referred to it as The Banana Bunker.
Reunification in 1990
From reunification in 1990, the building became property of the new federal government. The rest of the 1990s saw Germany’s Gabba, techo, breakbeat, and hard trance scene, fetish scene, and arts community make use of the large space. In 1992 it was one of the hardest techno clubs in the world.
The Deutches Theater staged Simon Donald’s ‘Lebenstoff’ on the fourth floor in 1994. The following year, an erotic trade fair called ‘Sexperimenta’ took place in the same area. Similar events including a banned New Year’s Eve part called ‘The Last Days Of Saigon’ led to authorities closing the clubs. They placed heavy restrictions on the tenants.
In 1996, the bunker housed its first art exhibition ‘Files’. This featured works by Olafur Eliasson, Daniel Pflumm, Ugo Rondinone and others. In 2002, it housed the Berlin Art Festival exhibition ‘Insideout’. The previous year by real estate investors Nippon Development Corporation bought the complex.
The Boros Collection
By 2003 Christian Boros and his wife Karen purchased the bunker to house their collection. He completed renovations in 2007 and the first public showing of installations took place in 2008.
The interior transformed into a 3,000 square metre exhibition space under the planning of architects Jens Casper and Petra Petersson. Boros added a 450 square metre glass penthouse to the roof.
Collection No. 1 attracted 120,000 visitors on more than 7,500 tours between 2002 and 2012. It featured works and performances by Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen and Dragset, Robert Kusmirowski, Sarah Lucas, Tobias Rehberger, Anselm Reyle, Monika Sosnowska, Santiago Sierra, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The second collection gained even more visitors. Over 200,000 on 9,000 tours visited the bunker between 2012 and 2016. The second installation featured 130 works by 23 artists including Ai Weiwei, Thea Djordjadze, Klara Liden, Wolfgang Tillmans, Cerith Wyn Evans.
Christian and Karen run their exhibitions for four years and entrance is by appointment only. Waiting lists are long for the unique guided tours. At the time of our visit, work was ongoing installing Collection No. 3.
This brutal piece of Nazi architecture looks set to remain part of Berlin’s Mitte neighbourhood for the foreseeable future. Authorities demolished many of the 1930s and 1940s buildings after the war but have never attempted to destroy the bunker. Doing so may damage the nearby Deutsches Theater.
For art fans, this is a must visit. For those interested in history, it’s worth a look to be able to get close to a remarkable piece of Germania and stand next to the bullet-ridden walls.