Berlin native Dietmar Arnold has, quite literally, carved out a career for himself as chairman of the Berlin Underworld Association. He now offers hugely popular tours of the bunkers and escape tunnels he and his team carefully restored from beneath 1.4 million cubic metres of rubble.
Dietmar Arnold serves as first chairperson of Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworld Association), a registered association founded in 1997. Berliner Unterwelten owns the building of the former Oswald Berliner Brewery — an interesting location, to say the least. There, guests can not only visit the building’s old vaulted basements, they also have the chance to traverse a remarkable length of restored tunnel which once served as an escape route from the GDR, running underneath the Berlin Wall.
The association offers eleven different programs, including a tour of the AEG tunnel, Berlin’s first attempt at building a subway line — directly beneath the offices of Deutsche Welle. “Our goal is to show people the history of the city at authentic locations,” says Dietmar Arnold, whose work is finally receiving the official recognition it deserves; in October 2018 he was awarded the Order of Merit for the State of Berlin. But he reserves his pride for another achievement: In one of his expeditions through the city’s underground tunnels, he unearthed thousands of files on forced labourers.
Thanks to the work of Arnold and his organisation, some of the victims of war who were unable to document their imprisonment in Germany at the time, finally received some long-overdue compensation for the horrors they were forced to endure. Sometimes it’s the little victories that make the difference. For Dietmar Arnold, the whole story began with the Humboldt bunker. Following the Second World War, the structure was slated for demolition. When that proved impossible, the bunker was simply filled in with 1.4 million cubic metres of rubble.
Thirty years ago, the Berlin native and his colleagues cleared out part of that original bunker and made it accessible to the public. “Back then, people thought of us as concrete lovers — that’s if they were being generous,” recalls Dietmar Arnold, who studied city and regional planning at Berlin’s Technical University. “Others were sure we were Nazis.”
But the underground researchers were not primarily interested in the military aspects of the structures. They were entranced by the brilliant sewer system and the unfinished subway tunnel — both of which were at least as fascinating as the city planning strategies of the National Socialists. The latter part of that history is now documented in the association’s ‘Mythos Germania’ exhibition, which can be seen at Gesundbrunnen underground station.
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
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