Germany opens new museum in a bunker designed to protect against nuclear attack during the Cold War; Nazi slave labor built part of it

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BERLIN — The former West Germany’s most-secret place — an underground bunker designed to shelter the government in case of nuclear war — officially opened today in its new incarnation as a Cold War museum.

The bunker complex, which includes a maze of more than 10 miles of tunnel, is tucked into the rolling hills west of the former West German capital of Bonn. It originally was dug in 1903 as a train tunnel to France.

The new museum in Ahrweiler, called the, is a memorial to Germany’s division by the Iron Curtain and the fear of a nuclear standoff that gripped the nation.

“This bunker was a part of the system of mutual nuclear deterrence,” said Florian Mausbach, the head of the Federal Authority for Construction and Urban Planning, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The site can now serve as a place of remembrance, admonition and hope for enduring peace.”

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During World War II, the Nazis used slave laborers from the Buchenwald concentration camp to expand the tunnels, and hid rockets in them. A plaque to memorialize those who did the forced work is planned.

West Germany first made provisional plans for an emergency government bunker when it joined NATO in 1955. But it was not until 1960 that work on the bunker began.

By the time the $2.5 billion-project was completed in 1972, it comprised 936 bedrooms, 897 offices and five small hospitals. If there had been a nuclear strike, it was equipped to provide for up to 3,000 people — including the chancellor, president and other high officials — for 30 days.

The bunker ceased to be secret after Germany’s reunification and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. The tunnels were abandoned in 1997, as Germany made preparations to move its capital to Berlin.

Visitors can tour 200 yards of the tunnels, which have been restored to their original condition. They house decontamination rooms, a meeting room for the president and a reconstruction of the apartment where the chancellor would have slept during an extended nuclear crisis.

An adjoining visitor’s center features an exhibition focusing both on the Cold War and pre-World War II history.