The Fuehrer Bunker 1935-1942/A Virtual Reconstruction DVD Review by Blaine Taylor

The Fuehrer Bunker 1935-1942/A Virtual Reconstruction DVD Review by Blaine Taylor

The word "virtual" is the operative one here, and this outstanding full color documentary is the closest thing to actually walking in the same rooms as Adolf Hitler did both before and during World War II that the viewer is ever likely to get. The camera zooms into an open window of the second floor of the Old Reich Chancellery in Berlin and does a full 360 degree sweep of the reception ballroom, then the cabinet room---complete with chairs emblazoned with a black Nazi eagle and swastika on red seat backings. Outside in the spacious "garden"---a park with gravel walkways, actually---the listener can "hear" morning doves cooing in the background. Overall, it is a truly peaceful, tranquil site and scene.

This impression is disarming, however, for as the narrator informs us from the very outset. Hitler came to appointed office as Reich Chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933 determined to start a new European war to undo the German defeat in the First. His domestic dictatorship solidified by late summer 1934, the Fuhrer now turned to having both his personal apartment renovated and also an underground air raid shelter built in the area of the park adjacent to the German Foreign Ministry building next door to the ORC. Both were to be constructed by the Atelier Troost, the Munich-based firm of Hitler's first major architect, Prof. Paul Ludwig Troost. After his sudden death in January 1934, his widow---Dr. Gerdy Troost---finished the projects with the help of the late architect's chief assistant, architect Prof. Leonard Gall.

One of the immediate first impressions this reviewer gained of this truly remarkable effort by a joint German-South African-Tanzanian production team---based on secret postwar East German Secret Police documents-is the amazing amount of time given to the hitherto unexplored territory of the Old German Reich Chancellery, from which Hitler ruled his Reich during the first half of its dozen years. Up until this film, the attention has been paid overwhelmingly to Prof. Albert Speer's later 1939 New German Reich Chancellery in Berlin that was supposed to be given to Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess in 1950 as his official residence---once the Nazis had won the Second World War, according to Hitler's 1933 timetable. At that point, Hitler would've occupied a much larger Fuhrer Palace, also in Berlin, which was to be renamed as Germania, capital of the new Nazi-dominated world.

This will no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to most viewers, as it certainly did to me! Indeed, I wish that I'd seen this excellent film's treatment before I published my own book on the subject in 2007. With sweeping vistas of the inner courtyard and park, the viewer is whisked along to an upper floor where was located the Fuhrer's own, private apartment---the original dating back to Bismarck's time in 1878--- which opened out onto a rooftop terrace with tables and chairs that reminded me of one at a Key West hotel.

A few short steps away was a staircase that led down to the building's dining hall, and also to the first of several underground shelters, which have come to be called bunkers.

The main underground Vorbunker discussed and seen here was superseded in 1943, when it was decided to build a second bunker that would be larger, deeper, and stronger, and that is why this film concludes with the year 1942.

This is a superior production in every way, and also includes hitherto unknown details and views of the additional public underground air raid shelters that could be entered via raised platforms at street level hydraulic doorways out front of the complex.

The building of this first Fuhrer Bunker---surprisingly!--- wasn't concealed in any way once construction began in June 1935, as the film points out, in contrast to the top secrecy that surrounded that of the later, second bunker during 1943-45. Although the bulk of the attention is focused on the earlier ORC and its bunker, the presentation visibly tie them in with the later NRC and its underground structure, too.

Indeed, an underground passageway initially designed to connect all the buildings was constructed for the structures' servants to bring food and other supplies from one building to another, while furniture was moved up and down via a solitary elevator. Hitler himself took the same stairs down that all of his aides did. They were given living quarters in an Annex built by Dr. Speer so that they would always be available to Hitler. The film visibly demonstrates how the Fuhrer's trips down took but a few minutes.

Little did anyone suspect at the time---at it interjects---that the servants' passageway would one day be used by Hitler himself, his personal staff, and top ministers, field marshals, and generals of the Third Reich as the war ground on.

As the film's box liner notes assert, "To date, over 20 different ground plans and countless contradicting descriptions of the bunker have been published. Recently, plans, measurements, and photographs were discovered. Using these documents, Keystone Animation created a full color 3D model of the Reich's Chancellery and the Fuhrer Bunker. The bunker was recreated in detail to finally demystify Hitler's last refuge."

According to the IHF catalog, "Filmmaker Christoph Neubauer and his digital animation company... studied hundreds of photograph and gather as much information as possible about the construction and layout of the Fuhrer Bunker. They compared them with first-hand accounts in memoirs and diaries of those who had used the bunker during the war.

"This unprecedented program will finally answer many questions...(to describe) "what it was like during the last days of World War II," covered in what is a fast 50 minutes of a walking tour through the various rooms, with the narrator at the viewer's side, so to speak. "Imagine descending the stairs into the darkness, pushing your way through the heavy door, and marching into the Fuhrer Bunker, deep under Berlin. It is the place where Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler spent his final days---the subject of numerous books and films, but virtually impossible to visit---until now."

Just as the tree trunks in Hitler's outdoor walkways at his various far-flung military Fuhrer Headquarters were marked with white phosphorescent paint at eye level to guide the occupants at night during air raid blackouts, this spectacular film presentation depicts how the earlier builders used green painted doors and a green phosphorescent stripe at chest level to guide the bunker's users during like occasions, and this aspect, too, is one of the overall unique features this reviewer found most interesting, as I'm sure that you will as well.

Stated the noted German news magazine Der Spiegel/The Spyglass at the film's release, this new DVD "Offers the most realistic recreation yet of Hitler's bomb shelter---a perfectly pixilated representation of every possible nook and cranny of the dictator's last residence. The creator, Christoph Neubauer, hopes that this new video will fix what he sees as repeated misrepresentation of what Hitler's bunker actually looked like."

Actually, as depicted herein in gleaming white floors and white-plastered walls with overhead electric lights, it seems to have been a rather pleasant---if admittedly cramped---place overall, and no windows, of course.

"Contrary to contemporary depictions that show Hitler spending his final days in a dank and dark cellar, Neubauer says his research shows the German leader lived quite the life in his underground lair. Most previous presentations of Hitler's lair, Neubauer says, seem 'frighteningly superficial.'

"'The proportions are wrong, the ceiling height is off, the doors and airlocks falsely positioned. In the recent movie Downfall---which tells the story of Hitler's demise---the Fuhrer and his henchmen are seen to be living in a dank, dark cavern with concrete walls, water seeping through the floors, and surrounded by poor lighting. This image has only been further propagated 'not because it is true, but because that is how Germans want to continue to imagine Hitler's end,' Neubauer says.

"'I understand the need to do that, but it's not how things looked .' Blame the Stasi (East German Secret Police). In the 1970s, the filmmaker explains, a crew ran electrical wires down into the dilapidated bunker, and installed spotlights to photograph their findings.

The eerie lighting that resulted has made it into future visual retellings: mud, rot, mildew, and cement prevailed in the popular mind. 'The walls were not bare concrete,' Neubauer says. 'There was just not any plaster left, after they were left soaking for decades.'"

The overall program is broken down into two parts. First comes The Fuhrer Bunker (1935-43) at 37 minutes, followed by a 10-minute-long segment entitled A Tour Through the Bunker; both are fascinating and riveting "you-are-there" history, to be sure! Other features include German and English trailers and also optional (switchable) English and German language versions. This exclusive North American release presentation is compatible with all DVD players worldwide.

There were 21 rooms overall encased in reinforced concrete in the first bunker, the film notes, with both exits and entrances that are shown that led to air lock waiting rooms. There were also restrooms with showers, with a roof that was able to withstand the most powerful bombs of 1935. The first bunker was built underneath the original park site earlier mentioned, overtop of which was built the new dining hall. The latter's many pillars both supported its own roof as well as that of bunker structure underneath it---as did the walls of both also---so that if the dining hall roof collapsed under the weight of enemy bombs, it would not also collapse the bunker itself. There were in addition reinforced concrete beams between the floor of the dining hall and the roof of the bunker below it.

I should here also note that the famous circular windows seen from the 1945 blasted courtyard views of the bunker's external entrance block and twin towers were those of the extended circular part of the new dining hall. Copper was used on the roof of this structure, the film explains, because it was both light in weight and also non-flammable. The building also had an unusually high chimney with a spark suppressor filter on top to prevent its fire being seen from airplanes above.

The narrator is at pains to point out that there really was no specific Nazi style of architecture, but that both Drs. Troost and Speer fancied the simple, unadorned elements of neo-classicism so admired by would-be architect Hitler himself, and thus these were reflected in both the ORC and the later NRC.

The film also notes that Hitler decided on the second, later Fuhrer Bunker in 1937, and shows, too, the building where his drivers were housed on the overall twin Chancellery grounds; their cars were housed in nearby underground garages, and it was the gasoline from these in which the bodies of Hitler, his wife and those of Dr. Josef Gobbels and his wife Magda were all burned after their 1945 suicides.

"Speer added a fountain to the pond in the courtyard, and the restored Annex had the Red Salon on top. The NRC dining hall" previously discussed "was completed late in 1938. "Outside" the recreated buildings, the viewer "hears" the surrounding street traffic of downtown Berlin, thus providing yet another touch of realism to this splendid production. "Speer demolished the nearby private apartments, just as Bismarck had originally wanted to," asserts the narrator.

"A much larger bunker had 55 rooms for the public air raid shelter, with hydraulic doors" that have to date been depicted in the 1945 Red Army newsreels showing Gen. Helmuth Weidling's surrender delegation, and also later in the movie dramatization The Downfall. "The servants' passage built in 1939 (by Speer) was called the Kannenberg Passage after the man who ran both the ORC-NRC complex as well as Hitler's alpine chalet at Berchtesgaden, Artur Kannenberg, a rotund, jovial man well liked by all.

"During August-December, 1940, the first RAF air raids on Berlin began, and Hitler used the rooftop terrace stairway down to the shelter many times," the narrator intones, as the viewer hears bomb blasts in the background. "No Jews were permitted in the public shelters. Hitler's shelter had its own power supply and gas locks to protect it from being gassed."

The overwhelming impression given of the entire structure---at least in this reviewer's opinion---was of modernity, brightness, and comfort, even by today's standards, decades later, proving Neubauer's justified assertions.

"Emergency exits were kept closed while the bunker was in use. There were no air vents visible, and water pumps ran constantly to keep water out of the bunker in light of Berlin's well-known low underground water table. There was a main room at the center of the bunker that connected all the other rooms surrounding it. There was a generator with four air filters, and clean air was pumped into the rooms."

Interestingly, the Vorbunker was located under the dance floor of the new dining hall. Hitler generally didn't dance, but is filmed on at least three known occasions doing so.

The Fuehrer Bunker 1935-1942/A Virtual Reconstruction Campaign

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