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The central command room in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. From here crew members could supervise and control the entire complex, from doors and security systems to air and water supply.

The central command room in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. From here crew members could supervise and control the entire complex, from doors and security systems to air and water supply. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

A vineyard road snakes along the wooded hill in Germany’s Ahr Valley that hides what was once the biggest of state secrets: a vast doomsday bunker.

After the chaos of World War II, a Germany that had barely crawled out from the rubble found itself at the nuclear front line between East and West.

The leaders of the fledgling country of West Germany needed a place of escape should the next war erupt on their doorstep. In 1950, they identified a location for an alternate emergency seat of government.

The safe harbor is a 30-minute drive from the West German capital of Bonn and was built in an old railroad tunnel in the picturesque spa town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

My wife and I embarked on the two-hour journey from Kaiserslautern to see this fortification for ourselves. Even from the parking lot, it was hard to spot until we saw the ominous-looking entrance of concrete block and rusted iron.

A guided tour is required to visit the underground complex. Tours are offered in German and English by appointment.

We learned that the bunker was originally conceptualized in 1913 as a railroad tunnel connecting Germany and France. Later, it became part of plans to support German troop movements during World War I.

A room within the former German government bunker houses the door closure mechanism for the 25-ton round nuclear blast doors  in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. Two doors made up the entrance to the bunker's airlock entranceway and took several minutes to open and close.

A room within the former German government bunker houses the door closure mechanism for the 25-ton round nuclear blast doors in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. Two doors made up the entrance to the bunker's airlock entranceway and took several minutes to open and close. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Twelve miles of hallways connected rooms and facilities in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. Today, only a fraction of the original complex remains preserved as a museum and historical documentation site.

Twelve miles of hallways connected rooms and facilities in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. Today, only a fraction of the original complex remains preserved as a museum and historical documentation site. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

After the war, the costly and unfinished railroad project was abandoned. The cold, damp and dark tunnels were used for mushroom cultivation.

During WWII, the tunnel again reverted to military use. For a while, portions of Werner von Braun’s V2 rocket were manufactured there, and it later served local citizens as an air raid shelter.

A World War II gas mask kit and helmet once used by a German air raid shelter troop is on display at the former government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. During the war, the former railroad tunnel served as an underground construction facility and shelter from allied aerial bombing runs.

A World War II gas mask kit and helmet once used by a German air raid shelter troop is on display at the former government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. During the war, the former railroad tunnel served as an underground construction facility and shelter from allied aerial bombing runs. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

As the Cold War launched new fears of a nuclear disaster, a top-secret underground bunker was designed to shelter all important political and military leaders.

For years, the bunker’s construction was kept from the public. It was considered the most secret building in West Germany, even while winemaking continued uninterrupted in the surrounding hills.

Eventually, journalists and spies alike picked up on the clandestine activities — literally through the grapevine.

After German reunification the bunker was abandoned. Yet public curiosity remained.

Since 2008, a 600-foot-long restored portion of the bunker now bears witness to the horrors that West German leadership once contemplated.

Our tour proceeded through tiled decontamination showers that line the entryway. Here, Germany’s top leadership would have stripped and washed themselves of any nuclear fallout before entering an elaborate airlock path of two security layers, separated by 25-ton round bombproof doors.

Visitors enter through one of several secondary nuclear blast doors at the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The facility was designed to house 3,000 personnel for 30 days.

Visitors enter through one of several secondary nuclear blast doors at the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The facility was designed to house 3,000 personnel for 30 days. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Visitors crowd into the maintenance area of the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The facility featured a full hardware and tool department that offered replacement parts allowing for repairs for every item in the facility.

Visitors crowd into the maintenance area of the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The facility featured a full hardware and tool department that offered replacement parts allowing for repairs for every item in the facility. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Visitors can see rooms where war planners would have tracked troop movements and political developments. A small television studio offered the ability to record messages for survivors above.

West German Television had a fully functional TV studio in the government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. The studio was designed to broadcast messages from senior government officials to the German people during a nuclear attack.

West German Television had a fully functional TV studio in the government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. The studio was designed to broadcast messages from senior government officials to the German people during a nuclear attack. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

An adjacent barber workspace enabled the chancellor, ministers and generals to maintain a proper hairdo and trim before appearing on screen.

A meeting area was outfitted with magenta chairs and a white table against decidedly clashing mint green walls, the few dashes of bright color in a vast sea of beige and forest green tones intended to calm the anxious minds of the entombed.

Magenta-colored chairs are the rare dot of color in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. Most colors in the subterranean bunker system range from beige to green and were thought to calm anxious government officials during a nuclear emergency.

Magenta-colored chairs are the rare dot of color in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. Most colors in the subterranean bunker system range from beige to green and were thought to calm anxious government officials during a nuclear emergency. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

In another room, once-cutting-edge communication and encryption machines stood ready to transmit orders and messages to military units and friendly governments.

Obsolete communication encryption equipment is on display at the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The machines include typewriters and coding equipment designed to deliver Cold War-era military messages in the event of a nuclear attack.

Obsolete communication encryption equipment is on display at the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The machines include typewriters and coding equipment designed to deliver Cold War-era military messages in the event of a nuclear attack. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

The upstairs consisted mostly of 936 military-style bunk rooms and bathrooms. Only the president and chancellor had private rooms. Notably, there was no planned space for families.

A dormitory hallway at the German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. Dorm rooms were designed to house more than 3,000 personnel.

A dormitory hallway at the German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. Dorm rooms were designed to house more than 3,000 personnel. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

One of the few private spaces in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler belonged to the German president. The room offered cold comforts and only room for one. Spouses were not intended to join officials.

One of the few private spaces in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler belonged to the German president. The room offered cold comforts and only room for one. Spouses were not intended to join officials. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Downstairs, the amenities included offices, medical facilities and multipurpose rooms.

Dental equipment at the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. In the case of a power outage, the tools include a foot-powered drill.

Dental equipment at the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. In the case of a power outage, the tools include a foot-powered drill. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

From the control room, crew members managed gate access, as well as a aquifer water and a filtered air supply. Kitchens and store rooms holding provisions and thousands of meal-ration kits would sustain as many as 3,000 people for up to 30 days. When asked what the plan was after day 30, our guide said one would just hope for the best.

A command console in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, controlled air ducts, doors and water supply throughout the underground complex.

A command console in the former German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, controlled air ducts, doors and water supply throughout the underground complex. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the $14 million cost of annual upkeep and the development of more powerful bombs made the bunker obsolete.

Most of the sprawling system was demolished down to its railroad tunnel origins or allowed to be flooded by groundwater.

Our tour ended at a towering metal gate that separated the museum space from the once-again bare and empty railway tunnel nearly 120 feet underground.

The German government bunker historical documentation site in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The simple metal and concrete facade houses the entrance to a once-secret 12-mile long tunnel system under the hillside vineyards between Ahrweiler and Dernau.

The German government bunker historical documentation site in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The simple metal and concrete facade houses the entrance to a once-secret 12-mile long tunnel system under the hillside vineyards between Ahrweiler and Dernau. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Much of the former West German government's bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, has been restored to its former condition as a railway tunnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bunker was considered obsolete and maintenance costs exceeded its benefit.

Much of the former West German government's bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, has been restored to its former condition as a railway tunnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bunker was considered obsolete and maintenance costs exceeded its benefit. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Electric carts were used to transport personnel and equipment throughout the German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The complex featured 12 miles of hallways where West Germany's senior government officials would have evacuated during a nuclear attack.

Electric carts were used to transport personnel and equipment throughout the German government bunker in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. The complex featured 12 miles of hallways where West Germany's senior government officials would have evacuated during a nuclear attack. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Indoor firefighter equipment on display in the the former German government bunker complex in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. During a nuclear attack scenario, the subterranean complex would have been hermetically sealed.

Indoor firefighter equipment on display in the the former German government bunker complex in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Feb. 13, 2022. During a nuclear attack scenario, the subterranean complex would have been hermetically sealed. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

On the QT

Address: Am Silberberg 0, Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany

Getting there: From Kaiserslautern, follow the A63 and the A61 north. At Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, take the exit to the A573. Take the exit to the B267 toward Altenahr and follow signs to the museum. The site offers free parking for 65 cars, but spots fill quickly during the summer tourist season. By train, the nearest stops are Ahrweiler Markt and Walporzheim. The closest bus stop is located at the Roemervilla Museum. From there, it is an 800-yard uphill walk to the bunker site.

Hours: Starting in April, tours for individual visitors take place on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Costs: 12 euros for adults, five euros for children ages 8 through 13 and 7 euros for students 13-16 years of age.

Food: The small museum cafe will reopen in the summer.

Information: Online: regbu.de; group visitors are asked to register their guided tour with the Ahr Valley tourist office by phone at 0264-191-7175 or email at regierungsbunker@alt-ahrweiler.de. Signage and daily tours are in German, but an English-language tour can be scheduled for 30 euros per group, in addition to the ticket prices.

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Alexander reports on the U.S. military and local news in Europe for Stars and Stripes in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He has 10 years experience as an Air Force photojournalist covering operations in Timor-Leste, Guam and the Middle East. He graduated from Penn State University and is a Defense Information School alumnus.
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