Many of the world's cities have scores of tunnels underneath them. London has one of the largest in the world with many secret military tunnels, disused sewer lines, disused metro lines and stations, and much more (no one really knows just how much is under London). Berlin is no different and there are scores of tunnels underneath this city too.
But unlike other cities, some of the highlights of Berlin's tunnels are its escape tunnels under the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. Not only that, it has the beginnings of massive tunnels before the War that was part of the project to transform Berlin into the "Capital of the World". Berlin boasts masses of bunkers and other tunnels as well but that is another story.
Escape Tunnels Under The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall became the symbol of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. Famously Ronald Reagon once pleaded "Tear down this wall". A few years later Germans were tearing it down. They tore it down as the Red Army looked on doing nothing, perhaps unbeknownst to them they were not only tearing a wall down but also the mighty USSR. It was one of the first major events that would rapidly spell the end of the Soviet Union.
- The Berlin Wall: Built 1961, Torn Down 1988
- Length: 156 Kilometers or 97 Miles
But before that Germany was divided and the regime in East Germany was brutal. The wall stopped Germans from traveling from the East to the West of Berlin. Those running the gauntlet could be shot. In desperation, some enterprising Germans dug escape tunnels under the wall.
One of the tunnels open to the public is at Bernauer Strasse near Berlin's main Wall memorial. It was dug in late 1970 nine years after East Germany sealed its border. Its length is 100 meters (or yards). This particular tunnel was built by East Germans who had escaped to West Berlin and wanted to help friends and family to flee to the West.
Bernauer Strasse was a popular spot for tunnel diggers because of the high amount of clay in the soil. Seven tunnels were built in just a 350 meter stretch of wall here. Some of these tunnels cannot be opened to the public as one needs to crawl through them.
- Tunnels: Over 70 Tunnels Were Built Underneath The Wall
- 300 People: Managed To Escape Through These Tunnels
Unfortunately, before it could be used the East German officials found out about it and partially destroyed it.
This tunnel can be accessed via a visitor's tunnel around 30 meters long and is the only real escape tunnel that can still be visited today.
Tickets to visit this tunnel can be purchased with Berliner Unterwelten. They offer tours in German and English of these tunnels
- Tour Duration: 2 Hours
- Price: 15.00 - 18.00 Euros ($18.00 - $22.00)
- Age Restriction: Not Suitable For Children Under 7
- Age Recommendation: Tours Are Adult Themed And Recommended For 16 Years And Older
Tunnels of The "Capital Of the World"
Adolf Hitler had a megalomaniac vision for Berlin to be the new architectural center for the capital of Nazi Germany. He called it "Berlin - the capital of the world" but it's sometimes now known as Germania. This was a monumental plan that never happened due to the war, but a few things were started.
- Number Of Tunnels: Three Tunnels Were Started
- Built: In 1938 Stopped Because Of the War
In 1938 16-meter or 50-foot deep tunnels were built as part of the planned underground transport network for the new Berlin. These tunnels are between 90 and 220 meters long beneath the Tiergarten park and would have accommodated roads and a railway line.
They are closed to the public most of the time because of safety concerns. But they can be visited if arranged. After the British occupied their part of Berlin they closed the tunnels and they were rediscovered in 1969. One can read more about them in this Reuters article and on the Berliner Unterwelten website.
Don't Forget The Bunkers
Another massive part of the underground secrets of Berlin is its masses of World War Two bunkers. Once the city had around 1,000 bunkers and some survive and are open to the public today. By the end of the war, Berlin was Germany's most heavily bombed city and it could protect as many as 800,000 people in its bunkers. Visiting these bunkers is the story for another day.
Another major city with mysterious tunnels is New York City and this is what we know of them. Sometimes it is actually true that no one truly knows exactly what tunnels lay beneath these cities.