Stasi Bunker Machern
A former secret bunker near Leipzig
, eastern Germany
, that would have served as an emergency reserve command centre for the Stasi
of the region in the event of heightened tensions or war. It has been preserved in its original state and is now run as a memorial site by the same committee that is also in charge of the “Runde Ecke
” in Leipzig.
More background info:
The bunker was constructed between 1968 and 1972. Its purpose was to serve as an emergency relocation command centre (“Ausweichführungsstelle”) for the Leipzig
HQ of the Stasi
(see “Runde Ecke
”). Apparently all regional Stasi HQs had such a reserve command centre at the ready for the eventuality of a so-called “Spannungs- und Mobilmachungsfall”. That piece of bureaucratese literally means 'tension and general military mobilization case', but in other words, what they mean is: had war broken out, or was about to. And since this was during the Cold War
that would most likely have meant nuclear war, World War Three
. Even in such a scenario the Stasi wanted to make sure they'd have the infrastructure in place to maintain their grip on the people, to remain in control.
However, the bunker in Machern would not have provided all that much protection as a nuclear bunker. Its remote and secret location would have made a direct hit unlikely (which it wouldn't have survived), but even as a fallout shelter it could only have kept the people inside safe for no more than half a day.
Anyway, had it come to such a crisis, the bunker would have provided space for over a hundred Stasi employees, with all the necessary equipment, including communication lines that duplicated those at the regular Leipzig Stasi HQ.
The bunker had been built in secret and was kept secret throughout the remaining years of the GDR
. It was officially camouflaged as a recreation centre for the Leipzig waterworks employees.
The real nature of the site only became publicly known after the collapse of the GDR regime in the Peaceful Revolution 1989/1990. For a few years it lay abandoned until it was officially declared a memorial site in 1995, thanks to a campaign by the “citizens' committee Leipzig”, which also runs the memorial exhibition in the “Runde Ecke
” in Leipzig
. The bunker first reopened for guided tours in 1996.
It is the only Stasi
bunker of its type in the former GDR
that still survives in practically its original state to this day (but there are also a few GDR bunkers of other types, such as Harnekop
, that have been preserved and that are also open to the public).
The open-air parts around the bunker were given a permanent commodification through fixed information panels at 30 points of interest that were installed all over the ca. 12 acres area in 2006.
What there is to see: Looking into the area from the gate at the edge of the allotment garden colony the place looks totally inconspicuous. The house by the gate, the only structure visible from this point, was camouflaged as a typical recreational property with typical kitschy wooden wagon wheels on the wall for decoration. The building is now derelict. A sign fixed to a tree just behind the gate still warns of a vicious guard dog. These days, though, there are also signs that mark this place as the memorial site it now is.
When you gain access to the area (see the restricted opening times
below), you eventually come to a number of further above-ground structures: a guardhouse (at the inner security ring), dog kennels, a carpenter's workshop, and the main building in the centre that looks like a large garage and storage shed (and partly served/serves that function too). It is inside this building that the access point to the underground bunker is located. The only above-ground indicators of the bunker below are the air vents poking out of the lawn to the south of the large shed.
On the eastern side of the complex there are three additional little bungalows designed to look like holiday homes when seen from the perimeter fence. One of them was indeed lived in, namely by the deputy bunker commandant.
The track running through the complex also leads to a secondary access gate by the lakeside to the north.
Little metal signs provide some background information about various points of interest all over the complex's open-air area. The texts are all in German only, but the main labelling is also given in English, for at least a very rough orientation.
The large building above the bunker contains all manner of relics that were found here, including many boxes with Cyrillic inscriptions on them, which is an indication of Soviet
origin, of course.
Recent additions here are a side room that can serve as a film-screening and/or lecture theatre for group visits. When I visited there was also a small exhibition of text-and-photo panels about the wider topic of the Cold War
and what provisions and plans for nuclear war
there would have been in the GDR system. That's only a temporary exhibition, though, up until mid-2017. Whether something else will replace it after that I don't know.
The bunker itself is accessed via a steep staircase leading some 30 feet (10m) or so underground. Once through the heavy steel doors you can see the various sections of the bunker, including sleeping quarters, the kitchen/galley, an infirmary, stacks of communications gear of all sorts, the command centre, air ventilation systems and so forth – all inside long narrow rooms branching off from a main central corridor. Dotted along this corridor you can see yellow metal boxes with the Soviet star embossed on them. These, I was told, are air purifiers.
The atmosphere has all the typical oppressive visual aspects as well as that slightly musty olfactory element that you'd expect from such a facility.
Most impressive about this bunker is the fact that it has been preserved almost completely in its original state – down to the stuffy 1970s interior design, the furniture, lamps and so on. So there is a good dose of a time-travel feeling involved in visiting this place.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of international visitors, the site's commodification
is almost 100% in German only, including the guided tours. So you'd have to have some grasp of German in order to get anything substantial out of visiting this site. The visual impressions as such obviously also work without understanding the background information, but your insights into the significance of it all would remain rather superficial without that information.
some 10 miles (15 km) to the north-east of Leipzig
, in Saxony, eastern Germany
, just north of the village of Machern itself, next to the recreational area Lübschützer Teiche.
Google maps locators:
Co-ordinates: 51°22'43.0"N 12°38'39.8"E
Co-ordinates: 51°22'35.4"N 12°38'03.8"E
Access and costs: quite restricted; but not expensive.
Details: To get to the bunker you'll need your own means of transport. Coming from Leipzig on the B6 main trunk road you have to first turn off in Machern and drive through the village (observe the strict speed restrictions here!). There are a few signs pointing the way to the bunker.
NOTE that there is no parking
anywhere near the bunker or the gate to the complex. Instead you have to use the public car park for the Lübschützer Teiche recreational area. So if you're using a GPS/SatNav enter the co-ordinates for 'parking' given above
From the car park you have to walk back on the main road and then take the path through the allotment colony (signposted). Keep walking right towards the end of the path. The gate to the area around the bunker is on your left. It's only about a 10-minute walk, if that.
The opening times of the bunker for the general public are quite limited: only on the last Saturday and Sunday of each month between 1 and 4 p.m. (also on a couple of special days such as the annual “Tag des Offenen Denkmals”, 'Day of the Open Memorial')
During those times, the open-air parts can be freely explored independently, but to see the inside of the bunker you have to go on a guided tour. These start on a regular basis whenever a reasonable number of visitors have gathered. If it's very busy you may have to factor in a bit of waiting time.
Admission/guided tour: 5 EUR (concession 4 EUR).
For group visits other times can be arranged by prior appointment. But NOTE that all tours are conducted in German only. If you do not have a sufficient grasp of the language you'd need to bring your own interpreter, otherwise you'll lose out.
Time required: ca. 90 minutes for the guided tour of the bunker itself, plus about half an hour for the freely accessible outside parts.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
See under Leipzig
, especially the “Runde Ecke
” memorial museum in the former inner-city Stasi
HQ. The committee that's behind that memorial museum is also in charge of the bunker in Machern.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The bunker is right by a recreational area called Lübschützer Teiche (ponds/lakes), which may appeal to nature lovers or those into low-key conventional recreational pastimes. In at least one of the lakes you can go swimming. In addition there are tennis courts, boat hire (for going fishing) and even golf.
There's also a public lakeside camping site (with space for pitching tents as well as stationary trailers/bungalows for rent) and a simple, cheap-and-cheerful restaurant too. But it's all quite provincial and geared more towards locals than foreign visitors. The allotment colony that the bunker area directly borders on is even a strictly members-only affair.
More open and properly touristy attractions for international travellers are to be found in nearby Leipzig
- Bunker Machern 1 - stairs, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 2 - steel door, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 3 - inside, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 3b - internal communication gear, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 4 - command centre, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 4b - GDR-era lamp, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 5 - sleeping quarter, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 6 - emergency air filter, copyright Gedenkstätte Museum in der Runden Ecke mit dem Museum im Stasi-Bunker
- Bunker Machern 7a - main gate
- Bunker Machern 7b - inconspicuous looking building by the gate
- Bunker Machern 8a - main building
- Bunker Machern 8b - storage and extra exhibition inside
- Bunker Machern 8c - room for seminars, film screenings and lectures
- Bunker Machern 9 - dog kennels