Built by forced labour, but Nazi bunkers are now trendy homes

 

Bremen

Rainer Mielke, a German architect, lives in a luxurious, light-filled penthouse atop a Nazi bunker in which his elderly neighbours remember sheltering during the Second World War. A pioneer of the art of converting grim structures into living or working spaces, his work is set to increase as Germany ramps up sales of these above-ground forts, originally designed as air-raid shelters.

There's a catch: nearly all were built with forced labour. And as bunkers become hot property, critics warn people against treating them like any other real estate without acknowledging their past.

"At the beginning, the authorities thought I was a bit daft," said Mr Mielke, who spent six years in the 1990s begging the property office in the northern city of Bremen to let him buy the bunker he now lives in. "They didn't think anyone would really want to live in a bunker," said Mr Mielke, who was eventually allowed to build on top of the bunker in one of Bremen's most chic districts on condition that it could still be used if there were an attack. He was on to something. After early tentative sales efforts, Germany is now stepping up a campaign to sell the structures and has now launched a competition for conversion ideas.

In 2007, Germany decided it was an anachronism to keep up the 2,000 bunkers, built both above and below ground before and during the Second World War and in the Cold War. Some 220 above-ground bunkers were the first to be decommissioned. Blowing up the concrete fortifications, often located in densely populated inner cities, was not an option, and so they began to be sold. In addition to bringing in revenue, it ended the maintenance costs which could reach hundreds of thousands of euros a year for bigger bunkers. Only 50 of the bunkers have been sold so far, according to the Bima Federal Agency for Real Estate.

The first conversions have shown that these huge, windowless boxes with ceilings up to 4m thick can become striking living spaces. "You can plan freely because there are no supporting walls," said Mr Mielke, who converted the whole of his first bunker once it was decommissioned. "But it requires a lot of special knowledge."

Mr Mielke kept his first bunker, filling it with paintings and designer furniture, but seized on the idea of bunker conversion as a hot business proposition. Since then, his architecture studio has converted 13 others. The architect says his first was a bargain, but prices have risen tenfold. Prices, all at auction, have ranged from €100,000 to €400,000, BImA says. Conversion can double their value.

Bima's Gerd Oligschleger has addressed concerns about forced labour by pointing out that much of Germany's infrastructure, from roads to railways, was built by the Nazis in similar conditions.

One of Bremen's bunkers is Germany's largest. "Valentin" is where more than 1,400 prisoners from across Europe died during its construction. This bunker is not for sale, but one section could be rented to defray the maintenance costs, estimated at about €300,000 a year. Critics say that renting part of the building could destroy the sense of its immensity, which in turn conveys the enormity of the Nazis' military aspirations.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions