If you go down to the woods today… Hitler's bunker blooms again

The Nazi leader's wartime nerve centre in a Polish forest is to become a museum

Berlin

The ruined bunker complex set deep in the forests of Poland's north east was once the nerve centre of Adolf Hitler's war machine. More recently, giggling tourists play paintball and pose for photographs in Nazi uniforms at the site which critics have dubbed a "grotesque Disneyland".

But now, 68 years after German troops dynamited much of Hitler's so-called "Wolf's Lair" before fleeing the advancing Soviet Red Army, Poland has announced plans to renovate the 600-acre complex and turn it into a key historical and educational centre containing outdoor exhibits and a museum.

The project has been initiated by Poland's Ministry of Culture and National Heritage which has granted a new lease for the "Wolf's Lair" under the strict proviso that the private company running the site fulfils an educational objective and drops its present fun park image.

"At this moment, one does not feel the tragic dimension of this place," said Tomasz Chincinski, a historian working on the project. "We need to work on new ways of telling history, to make young generations want to learn it and understand it," he told The New York Times.

Hitler had the "Wolf's Lair" built as his Eastern front headquarters in what was then East Prussia, and used it to co-ordinate the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The compound was a heavily guarded complex of 200 buildings and concrete bunkers complete with its own power plant and staff of 2,000 military personnel.

Those who worked there complained of boredom, freezing winters and summers plagued by swarms of mosquitoes.

Four months before German troops blew up many of the buildings in the compound in the face of the Red Army's advance, the "Wolf's Lair" was the scene of the abortive attempt to assassinate Hitler. The German army officer Claus von Stauffenberg detonated a briefcase bomb which failed to kill the Nazi leader while he was attending a staff meeting on 20 July, 1944. Von Stauffenberg was caught and executed along with many other plotters immediately afterwards.

Poland's post war communist regime opened the site for visitors but did little more to inform them of its history than display wartime photographs of the complex. After communism's collapse, Poland's new democratic authorities leased out the complex to a private company called Wolf's Nest, which tried to exploit its tourist potential.

The company turned some of the bunkers into a restaurant and hotel and opened an indoor shooting range in the offices used by General Alfred Jodl, the Nazi army commander sentenced to death at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The Polish historian Jan Oldakowski described the complex as a "grotesque Disneyland".

Today, although some paths have been cleared through the undergrowth, most of the "Wolf's Lair" is in disrepair. Its concrete bunkers are in ruins and covered in carpets of thick moss. "The biggest change here over the past decade has been the introduction of a cash machine," said Lukasz Joachymek, a freelance tour guide at the site.

The "Wolf's Lair" owes its new lease of life to the end of an ownership dispute which has left it firmly in the hands of the Polish Forestry Service. "It took years before the matter was settled. Before that, we could not think about investing," said Jan Zaluska, the director of Wolf's Nest, whose company has now agreed to work together with historians and meet the government's educational requirements for the site.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Help Desk Support

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...

Recruitment Genius: Interim HR Advisor

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are going through an excitin...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£37500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Quantity Surveyor r...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable