By R. Jay Magill, Jr. in Berlin
Imagine descending the stairs into the darkness, pushing your way through the heavy doors, and marching into the Führer bunker, deep under Berlin. It is the place where Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler spent his final days -- the subject of numerous books and films. But virtually impossible to visit. Until now.
A new DVD, called "The Führer Bunker (1935-1942)," offers the most realistic recreation yet of Hitler's bomb shelter -- a perfectly pixelated representation of every imaginable nook and cranny of the dictator's last residence. The creator, Christoph Neubauer, hopes that his new video, the third in a series devoted to the Berlin government quarter in Nazi Germany, will fix what he sees as repeated misrepresentations of what Hitler's bunker actually looked like.
"You wouldn't believe the amount of false representations that are floating around out there," Neubauer told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "From the History and Discovery Channels, to any number of books by amateur historians … the representations of Hitler's bunker are based on photographs of a bunker that had already been destroyed and lying under mud and water for 30 years. The fact is that there are no existing pictures of how the bunker looked before that. Nobody knows."
Virtual Tour of Hitler's Headquarters
The new film is the third in a series, following "The Berlin Government District" -- a digital walk up Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin from where the Nazis ruled the Third Reich -- and "Albert Speer's Neue Reichskanzlei" -- which gives viewers a virtual tour of Hitler's above-ground headquarters. The films took Neubauer, a German-born filmmaker who runs Keystone Animation in South Africa, some 16,800 hours -- about two and a half years -- of research, photographic comparison and digital animation to complete.
The virtual structures are based on over 800 photographs and documents from public and private archives in Berlin. And the result, a short clip of which is viewable here, displays a perfectly accurate rendering of much of the architecture, along with some interiors, of the Third Reich. Over 2 million objects -- including fallen tree branches in the courtyards, swastika-bedecked chairs in the dining room, books, pipes, papers -- and 600 buildings are presented with stunning visual clarity. It looks like the truth.
For his bunker research, Neubauer used the original architectural plans and compared them with photographs that were made by the East German secret police, the Stasi, in the 1970s. In addition to the 75 pictures, there were also descriptive notes and maps from German archives to examine. Meticulously overlaying the various plans and studying the corresponding photographs enabled Neubauer to create a digital 3D image of how the bunker would have looked. Naturally, he amends, "we had to guess on the colors."
Most previous presentations of Hitler's lair, Neubauer says, seem "frighteningly superficial." The proportions are wrong, the ceiling height is off, the doors and airlocks falsely positioned. In the recent movie "Downfall," which tells the story of Hitler's demise, the Führer and his henchmen are seen to be living in a dank, dark cavern with concrete walls, water seeping through the floors and surrounded by poor lighting.
Second Life for Nazi Bunker
This image has only been further propagated "not because it is true, but because that is how Germans want to continue to imagine Hitler's end," Neubauer says. "I understand the need to do that, but it's not how things looked."
Blame the Stasi. In the 1970s, the filmmaker explains, a crew ran electrical wires down into the dilapidated bunker and installed spotlights to photograph their findings. The eerie lighting that resulted has made it into future visual retellings. Mud, rot, mildew and cement prevailed in the popular mind. "The walls were not bare concrete," Neubauer says, "there just was not any plaster left after they were left soaking for decades."
Neubauer has been living in sunny South Africa for the last five years, moving there originally, he says, to learn English; "not too much English instruction in East Germany in the 1980s," he laments. In the meantime, however, he set up his own digital production company, Keystone Animation, which produced "The Führer Bunker," and is currently working on the second part of the film for the years 1943-45. He also started a publishing company in Germany to sell and distribute the films.
"Being in South Africa has made it much easier to work on such a controversial and sensitive subject," Neubauer says. "It has enabled me to have a certain distance from my own national history and identity," he admits, "and to have a bit more objectivity in analyzing the architectural realities of the Reich. It's a subject that makes for discomfort at home."
Neubauer's matter-of-fact conclusion about the mythologized bunker, he said, is that Hitler spent his last days neither in an dark, dank cavern, nor in some plush grotto surrounded by luxury. Rather, he spent it in a seemingly normal, staid, if well protected, government office that happened to be underground.
Soon, Neubauer is hoping, visitors will be able to stroll around the bunker themselves -- in the online space Second Life. Keystone Animation already has an employee working on it.
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