World War II Memorabilia To Call Home? German Bunkers For Sale

Hundreds of air-raid shelters are still standing in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, witnesses to a bygone era. The last ones are now being sold off.

A WWII bunker next to a modern U-Bahn station
A WWII bunker next to a modern U-Bahn station

HAMBURG — Even now, more than 70 years after the conflict ended, many of Germany's World War II bunkers are still in active use as flats or museums, or by companies and other organizations.

In Hamburg alone, there are still hundreds of these air-raid shelters, the most famous of which is probably the Feldstraße bunker. It currently provides office space for many creatives and is home to the nightclub Übel & Gefährlich. There are even plans for a rooftop garden and a hotel.

Until recently, around 30 bunkers in the city — of both the overground and subterranean variety — were still owned by the state. Now almost all of them have been sold. There are only three overground and two underground bunkers still up for sale by the Federal Institute for Real Estate.

"We are currently in negotiations to sell all five of the Hamburg bunkers that are still owned by the state, or their sale is imminent," said a spokeswoman for the Institute. Some will be sold to private investors, and some to the City of Hamburg.

Across the country, more than 250 overground bunkers changed hands.

In the neighboring state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Federal Institute for Real Estate had 13 bunkers for sale. All have now been sold, for a tidy sum similar to what a fairly large house would fetch. "Over the last 10 years, the average sale price in Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg was 700,000 euros," said the spokeswoman.

The bunkers are even more valuable in Hamburg, fetching on average 1 million euros each.

Nationwide, the average sale price for an air-raid bunker in the past 10 years was 270,000 euros. Only bunkers designed to protect ordinary citizens have been put up for sale, not those that housed weapons or military personnel.

Across the country, more than 250 overground bunkers changed hands in this way, after the government decided in 2016 to sell off all public air-raid shelters.

The City of Hamburg (including municipally-owned corporations) is currently in possession of 23 bunkers, according to its own figures. But as noted by Claas Ricker, a representative of the city's finance department, seven of them are unusable as they are situated in parks or traffic areas. A further eight belong to municipally owned corporations.

Bunkers are sometimes demolished to make space for houses or flats.

That means there are another eight bunkers available for alternative uses or development. Most are already rented out on long-term leases. "Not all bunkers lend themselves to being converted," says Andreas Dressel, finance senator for the Hamburg city-state. "But of course we always look at each individual case very carefully, to determine if and how a building could be used. There have already been some very good, creative examples of bunkers being repurposed."

That's precisely what's planned for the bunker at 195 Marckmannstraße, a protected monument, which could soon be turned into a concert venue and museum. But other bunkers — those without protected status — are sometimes demolished to make space for houses or flats. The Weidenstieg bunker, which will soon be replaced by newly built accommodation, is a case in point.

Others, such as the Steintorwall bunker, an underground facility by Hamburg's main station, are used as museums. Its historical significance, dating back half a century, makes it the ideal venue. "The whole thing is a museum piece," says Sandra Latussek of the organization Hamburg Underworlds. "We're not changing anything,"

The underground bunker belongs to the city but will be used and managed by Hamburg Underworlds​, which will also be responsible for costs, renovation and maintenance. And as a monument, the bunker has a lot to say, because catastrophes don't just belong in the past.

A WWII bunker with a police station in the foreground — Photo: Rauter

In fact, the building tells two stories. The first is about the devastating bombing during World War II. The second is a story of the Cold War, of living in fear of the nuclear threat. It is a fear that marked the post-war years and is reflected today in the ever-present threat of terrorism. The fear that it could happen to any of us at any time, that we are not safe.

There is nothing left of the original 1940s building.

The Steintorwall bunker was built between 1941 and 1944 when Hitler instigated a program to construct shelters in cities that were vulnerable to bombing attacks and had important weapons factories. Hamburg was designated as one of the most important cities and forced labor was used to construct the bunkers.

The structure is made up of two independent but linked chambers, measuring 2,700 square meters overall. It was intended to be used by 2,460 people, but it is thought that during the bombing raids up to 6,000 people sheltered there.

There is nothing left of the original 1940s building. "Everything we see here comes from the Cold War era," says Latussek. The British blew up a lot of bunkers after 1945, but this wasn't possible with the Steintorwall bunker as it was so close to the station.

At first, the building was used as accommodation, then as a hotel. As the East-West conflict raised fears of a Third World War, the underground bunker was adapted to provide protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Today it is open to visitors, who can take a guided tour and learn the secrets of its underground history.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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