What is the Führerbunker?
The Führerbunker is Hitler’s underground bunker where he directed the operations of the Third Reich in its final days and where he and Eva Braun committed suicide.
Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, claiming to be Germany’s Messiah who would restore the country to glory following its ignominious defeat in the First World War. He promised to establish a ‘Thousand-year Reich’ – ‘Reich’ meaning Empire – but in the end fell 988 years short. He encouraged citizens to envisage and prepare for a pan-German Europe in which settlers would displace the peoples to the east, regarded as inferior. However, in the spring of 1945, German defeat at the hands of the Allies was an inevitability. While Germans knew that putting a white flag out of the window to signify surrender would be premature, and would risk being shot for defeatism, they nonetheless began to prepare covertly for a post-Nazi world. They burnt their Nazi flags and their copies of Mein Kampf (Hitler’s political manifesto), knowing that evidence of their loyalty to the Führer would do them no favours after Germany’s defeat. Many were heartbroken that their dreams of Germany’s bright future, which they had seen turn into a violent nightmare, would not become a reality.
No one was more disappointed by this turn of events than Hitler himself. Seeing what lay ahead, in January 1945 he took up residence in what was known as the Führerbunker, an air raid shelter, part of an underground complex near the Reich Chancellery. It was from here that he directed the operations of the Third Reich in its dying days. It was here too that as Russians entered Berlin and defeat became certain, Hitler made preparations for his death. In the early hours of the 29th of April 1945, he married his long-term girlfriend Eva Braun and later that day ordered a cyanide capsule to be tested on his beloved German Shepherd Blondi. The following day, Hitler and Braun both committed suicide. Hitler shot himself in the temple, while Braun poisoned herself. Loyal Nazi henchmen wrapped their bodies in blankets, doused in petrol and burnt them in the Reich Chancellery garden so that the Russians wouldn’t get hold of Hitler’s body.
On the 1st of May, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, his wife and their six children, who were hunkering down in the bunker complex, killed themselves too. The six children were injected with morphine and phials of prussic acid were crushed into their mouths. Joseph and Magda simply bit the phials of poison. At the end of the war there was a general wave of suicides prompted by despair at the end of the Nazi regime and fear of what would follow. There were nearly 4,000 recorded suicides in Berlin alone in April 1945, both those who had joined the Nazi party out of fear and those who knew they were guilty of unspeakable crimes.
Soviet troops destroyed the Reich Chancellery buildings in a bid to remove Nazi landmarks, knowing they could become pilgrimage sites for those who remained convinced by Nazi thinking. Though some parts of the bunker survived and were discovered during building work over the subsequent decades, they were deliberately ignored, filled in or resealed, and the government encouraged filling the area around the site with ordinary buildings to make it seem unremarkable. However, ahead of the FIFA World Cup in 2006 an information board was put up marking the position of the Führerbunker, just a few minutes’ walk from Potsdamer Platz. In the space of just six decades, the world’s most appalling state had given way to one that hosted a great and peaceful global football tournament.