Project: Transformation of 19 bunkers into land art sculptures - Turning the most secret military ground in Europe into land art sculptures

Project Summary

Bunker Detail  

The German Emperor decided to build a military camp outside of Berlin near the village of Wünsdorf at the beginning of this century. The nazis transformed it quickly into a huge military area where they tested new weapons but more importantly they built the most secretly hidden commando center for the generals.

The people who worked there went through thorough security checks. It is believed that the area was even better protected, hidden from the public, and secured than any other military project including those secret weapons-factories.

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There is a five story deep bunker which was built to run the entire telecommunication to and from Berlin. It contained the most sophisticated air condition system and telecommunication service available at that time. The bunker had its own water and heating system. It was used as the commando center for the planning of the second world war until April 1945. There are other underground bunker systems in the area which were used by air control personnel.

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Above ground, this is all in the middle of a forest, were the barracks, buildings for civil staff and single family homes for the officers. The underground bunkers were not build as air raid shelters, the underground bunkers were filled with technical equipment to control the entire military machine and to plan the second world war.

For the protection of the people who worked above ground, the nazis built nineteen above-ground bunkers. They are cone shaped, reach a height of 54 feet, have 8 floors, and a diameter of about 27 feet at ground level. In other words: real good looking towers. The concrete wall of those towers is as thick as 4 feet at ground level and 2 feet at the top. There are two doors, no windows, and an air conditioning system. They had water and toilets as well.

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The nazis left the area as quick as they possibly could when the Russians came. Everything was left. Since the area was THE secret heart of the German military machine, it was unknown and, therefore, bombed only once and that was in March of 1945. The bombardment did not do much damage. The Russians occupied the area immediately. According to the postwar agreements, all German military equipment, factories, camps, and centers were to be destroyed. The Russians blasted the above ground bunkers, other underground bunker systems, but left the telecommunication bunker intact. When the cold war started, the Russians rebuilt the area and transformed it into a forbidden city. It became the most secret place in Europe again. The Russians controlled the entire eastern European region from here, telecommunication, air traffic control, etc. The Russian European military center became Wünsdorf. Up to 50.000 Russians lived there at times. It had its own airport, railway station, helicopter port, gunnery range, sophisticated weapon systems, whatever you can imagine. The Russian center for strategic western European operations was there as well. The area was, of course, completely and tight closed off. The German people who lived in the vicinity did not have the slightest idea about the Russians and there doings behind the heavily guarded fences.

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The Russians are gone now. They took everything which could possibly carried with them. No papers, no plans, nothing to reconstruct the meaning of this place again. What to do with a ecological very unsound area? Massive cleaning followed. The buildings will be reused again, certainly with completely rebuilt interiors and modern external surfaces. The apartments and single houses are very well accepted by the people because they practically live in a forest.

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Wolf Gowin has been involved in the planning of the transformation of the above-ground bunkers. Seven of them still stand up right, the other 12 are ruins.

The least expensive method seemed to be to leave the structures were they are. Wolf Gowin presented a plan to transform all 19 bunkers into land art sculptures which become integrated parts of the local landscape. The project was accepted in October 1996. The work on the objects started in January 1997. There were many permits needed, many meetings with city and state personnel necessary. New technologies and techniques, as well as machinery, had to be tested to work with the heavily reinforced concrete. The project coordination took four people. There were 12 people at work at the bunkers every day. The time to finish the project took four years. Contrary to other public art projects, architects were not involved. It was a process which involved the ingenuity of the artist, and on this scale, the readiness of engineers to experiment.

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The land art sculptures have titles such as "Lotus Flower", "Power", "Submarine", "Star". The names resulted from the shape of the ruins and Wolf Gowin’s imaginary mind of how the sculptures might look like when finished. One bunker will be used as a museum and another one for art projects involving sound. The acoustic in the bunker is unique.

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