An original former WWII
air-raid shelter, of a type commonly used in Hamburg
at the time, now turned into a unique kind of museum.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
This type of air-raid shelter, called 'Röhrenbunker' in German (= roughly 'tube bunker'), may have provided limited protection from shrapnel, debris and fire, but they would never have survived a direct hit – hence the black-humoured popular epithet "mass grave" for such bunkers. However, they were cheap and simple to build, and so hundreds of them were provided for the civilian population, especially in Hamburg
Countless people spent long fear-filled nights in such dire places, in particular during the worst phase of the bombing raids by the RAF
in late July 1943, under the somewhat cynical code name of 'Operation Gomorrah' (see also Hamburg
, and in particular Nikolaikirche
, for more about those night-time bombing campaigns).
There are still hundreds of such bunkers under Hamburg, but most are unused and derelict or by now filled with water. One such installation, however, was converted into a museum in the district of Hamm, namely by a group of unsalaried volunteers organized in the 'Stadtteilinitiative Hamm'. It is the only such sight in Hamburg that has been turned into a small museum – although other types of bunkers can be visited on tours with the 'Hamburger Unterwelten' or 'unter Hamburg' "underworlds
I first visited the place many years ago, not long after it had opened its doors to the public. When I revisited the site more recently (in March 2013) I found that it has been improved somewhat, in particular from a foreign visitor's point of view. They now have English translations of most the labelling (though the longer texts on the walls remain monolingual German). In addition they now even offer guided tours in English, which should be very useful for those really into bunkers and this particular aspect of WWII
Another change is that officially there's been a name change: instead of the previous "Bunkermuseum Hamm" they now call the site simply "Bunkermuseum Hamburg" – this is probably also more compatible with outsiders visiting (who most likely will not have heard of Hamm before). And given that it is indeed the only proper bunker museum in the city, I suppose the grander name is justified. It is, however, still the same thing at the same location in the district of Hamm. Therefore I'm taking the liberty of retaining the heading used here.
What there is to see: The main exhibit of the museum is of course the building itself, beginning with the entrance security area and then four 'tubes' of reinforced concrete, to house 50 people each.
Some reconstructed furnishings help to give an impression of what the original site must have looked like back then. Space is also palpably limited in those low and narrow tubes – however, you can hardly begin to imagine what it must have felt like sitting in here during those dreadful nights of the bombing raids. To help one's powers of imagination along, there are further exhibits, such as written accounts from contemporary witnesses of those nights, as well as further documents and photos.
Mostly these have been collected in Hamburg
, but there's also one section about the suffering of London's civilian population during the WWII
bombings of their city by the German Luftwaffe. So the exhibition does make it clear that those air raids preceded the raids on Hamburg and other German cities – in short: that it was Germany
that had started it all. So the chronology of events is made sufficiently clear – whether or not the subsequent 'Operation Gomorrah' or the systematic total destruction of other German cities, notably Cologne and Dresden
, can by justified at all.
Some of the photos on display are impressive – especially those showing the massive post-war "rubble-processing plants" that came into being after the destructive air raids. The largest one of them all was right in the vicinity of the current museum.
In addition to such secondary exhibits there are also a few original artefacts which enhance the museum's portfolio significantly: one room is lined with suitcases and helmets and such things that people took into the bunkers. You can also see charts plotting the air raids on Hamburg
. The time of the 'Operation Gomorrah' obviously stands out the most.
Some larger exhibits include bunk beds near the emergency hatch and toilets, rusty ventilation apparatus, a telephone and a big sign promising the helpful services of the NSDAP
(this sign made the scariest impression on me, I have to say).
Another room has shelves full of objects salvaged from the rubble outside. You can see rusty cutlery, glass or clumps of nails melted by the heat of the firestorm. In one corner sit two little bottles of an unidentified yellow substance. I asked the museum warden what was in them – but he replied that they hadn't dared open them so they don't know …
In one corner is a particularly large piece of "shrapnel" – or rather a one-thirds intact casing of a British 500lb bomb. You can see the tip almost intact, only the rear two-thirds are blown apart. Next to it is a technical diagram (in English) that explains the workings of such a bomb.
In one of the main tube rooms there was a screen, playing, presumably, topically related footage or documentary material. At the time of my visit, however, the screening had just finished and I didn't stay for the next loop, so I can't say what the audio-visual material may be like.
In any case, the main attraction of the museum remains the very fact that it provides access to such an air-raid shelter building. And that is pretty much unique. It may be only for specialists, but for them it's a chance not to be missed. A rare little gem of a dark tourism attraction.
in the east of Hamburg
, in the working-class district of Hamm, at No. 16, Wichernsweg.
Access and costs: A bit off the beaten track but still relatively easy to get to; inexpensive.
Details: To get there by public transport, take either a bus or metro line U2 to 'Raues Haus' station, from where it is only a short walk to Wichernsweg. The museum is at No. 16. From the centre of Hamburg it takes about 20 minutes to get there.
Note, however, that the museum has very restricted opening hours indeed: only on Thursdays (unless it's a public holiday) from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and from 3 to 6 p.m.
Admission is 3 EUR. On a few Friday evenings spread over the year there are also guided tours on offer that take place in the dark, or rather: by torchlight only! These cost 7 EUR per person but you have to pre-register well in advance (but these tours appear to be available only in German).
Guided tours outside normal opening hours can also be arranged, and on request can now also be conducted in English (contact:
). Tours take ca. 90 min. – and cost 80 EUR for up to 20 persons or 110 EUR for up to 30, and an extra 30 EUR for weekend or evening times. Whether English language provision incurs an extra fee I cannot say (but it's not unlikely).
Time required: It's a small museum, so you'd probably spend as little as half an hour in here or at best one hour (if you can read German). That's for individual visits. Guided tours (which provide much extra commentary) last 90 minutes.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Hamburg
Unfortunately, the only other dark site that would be even within walking distance from here, the Bullenhuser Damm
memorial, also has extremely restricted opening times, and they never overlap, so you'd have to do them separately.
However, a visit to the Bunker Museum combines very well with the Nikolaikirche memorial
, which is also about the aerial bombings of Hamburg and the firestorms. To get there take the U2 back to the centre, change at Berliner Tor or Hauptbahnhof to the U3 and take this to Rödingsmarkt, from where it is only a short walk.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
in general see Hamburg
– the immediate vicinity of the district of Hamm is anything but touristy, but at least it's within easy reach of the centre of Hamburg thanks to the metro line U2.
- Bunker Hamm 01 - above ground part
- Bunker Hamm 02 - a bit hidden
- Bunker Hamm 03 - entrance
- Bunker Hamm 04 - going down
- Bunker Hamm 05 - relics
- Bunker Hamm 06 - inside the bunker
- Bunker Hamm 07 - bunker baggage
- Bunker Hamm 08 - emergency escape hatch
- Bunker Hamm 09 - scary ideological relic
- Bunker Hamm 10 - gas mask
- Bunker Hamm 11 - all manner of finds
- Bunker Hamm 12 - objects melted in the firestorm
- Bunker Hamm 13 - nails clumped together in the firestorm
- Bunker Hamm 14 - unidentified substances
- Bunker Hamm 15 - how bombs work
- Bunker Hamm 16 - bomb shell
- Bunker Hamm 17 - the year of Operation Gomorrah