What do you do with an eyesore built by a madman?
November 5, 2002 12:01 AM   Subscribe

What do you do with an eyesore built by a madman? [Geocities site, caress lovingly before clicking] During WWII, Hitler built several Flakbunkers around the city of Hamburg, to act as self-contained civilian shelters and defensive posts. After the war, the British tried to blow them up. And failed, on two accounts. The buildings still stand today, squat and romanesque remnants of a horrible period in the city's history. So, in a show of Hanseatic League moxie, the citizens of Hamburg have converted one of them into a disco. [warning: Flash, and starts with music]. There are better pictures of the truly hideous exterior here and here. A timely reminder, this Tuesday morning, that poor decisions can have long-reaching and unintended consequences. What will your grandchildren have to turn into a disco?
posted by condour75 (40 comments total)
This is my favorite picture of the bunch. Just sayin, is all.
posted by condour75 at 12:06 AM on November 5, 2002

Like a lot of Nazi commisioned and directed design, I don't see what is so ugly. I think a lot of people write off architecture and design that has links to Nazi Germany without considering on its on right.
posted by randomblondeboy at 12:22 AM on November 5, 2002

I would like to know how the British failed to blow them up? I find it hard to belive that they can't be demolished...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:36 AM on November 5, 2002

yeah... i kind of thought that too. But I asked a Hamburger once, and she had the same story as these sites. Bear in mind that a) it was designed to withstand Allied bombing, b) they probably didn't spend that long or that much on the project, and c) the British once took 2h 40m to blow up a bamboo bridge. :)
posted by condour75 at 12:47 AM on November 5, 2002

What will your grandchildren have to turn into a disco?

Flakbunkers have nothing on Sharis...
posted by iamck at 12:49 AM on November 5, 2002

haha... I love that movie...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:51 AM on November 5, 2002

oh god that's disturbing... some day our distant ancestors will dig up TGIFs and assume that our religion required the placement of random objects on the walls

oh and steve@, they did manage to blow up most of them. These must've been particularly dense or something. Or maybe they didn't know the location of the thermal exhaust shaft.
posted by condour75 at 12:52 AM on November 5, 2002

dig up TGIFs and assume that our religion required the placement of random objects on the walls

Don't forget the high priests and priestesses wearing their "flare"
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:04 AM on November 5, 2002

Perhaps I'm strange but I quite like the look of them. A bit brutalist but interesting. Kind of a supermodern castle kind of thing going on. Toss on a few decorations (pennants, that sort of thing) and they look a lot better than most office buildings.
posted by datadawg at 1:05 AM on November 5, 2002

I was aimlessly browsing old MeTas, and clicked this link. Just too funny, that layout, and the top headline was "What do you do with an eyesore built by a madman?"
posted by fvw at 1:06 AM on November 5, 2002

Meatafilter: an eyesore built by a madman
posted by fvw at 1:08 AM on November 5, 2002

Maybe i complain too much, especially considering that it's a bunker -- it's not supposed to look good. And I'm sure over the course of a 1000 year reich, they would have gussied it up with some shrubbery or a winnie-the-pooh flag. But it leaves me cold. Although I must say, it would make a helluva Return to Castle Wolfenstein map.
posted by condour75 at 1:21 AM on November 5, 2002

Why are so many of these still standing? Hell, blowing them up is difficult. Imagine a 5 stories high block of massive concrete right in the middle of an urban setting. Sure, stuff it with dynamite an it'll come down sooner or later. But what about the neighbourhood? What will be left of it? And can you imagine the cost? And why would you blow up a would be disco? That is crime! And look how cute they look once you had them painted. Some even look good.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 2:14 AM on November 5, 2002

Don't get me wrong, I see no reason to destroy them if they can be put to good use...
(I find the photo of the McDonald's in u_n_s's last link, very amusing)

I just find it odd that in post-war Germany, the British were unable to blow them up, I would assume a great deal of Hamburg was in ruins, so damaging surrounding building was really an issue, as well as I am sure they were not lacking in explosives... more of a logistical question, than why...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:28 AM on November 5, 2002

I just found this site with an exhaustive thumbnails listing of Luftschutzbunkers in Bremen. Up to 11 stories high! And this bunker has been converted and this one demolished - a complicated operation done by specialists with special tools (basicaly they had to grind the concrete away).

Steve, I think everybody had better things to do in Europe after 1945 than blowing up stuff - rebuilding for example. And the cold war started almost right after WW2 - bunkers could have been useful.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 2:47 AM on November 5, 2002

Steve - Flak towers were designed to be indestructable, and with exterior walls of steel-reinforced concrete up to 12 ft thick and backed by a rubble core, roofs of 14ft thickness and internal walls 5ft thick, they were possibly the most bombproof surface structures ever built. Here's a thread from feldgrau.net on the same topic which may be of interest. As far as I know, neither the Soviet, British or French post-war engineers managed to level any of these things completely - as with other static defensive structures at the time, the maximum destruction of the integrity of the towers rather than their demolition was a perfectly acceptable outcome. As this site which deals with the Berlin towers shows, it was preferable to either leave them standing, or to slowly reduce their bulk as much as possible with explosives and heavy machinery, and then simply bury the remaining structure in it's own rubble and that of the destroyed streets surrounding it.

All in all, German flak towers were truly awesome feats of military engineering
posted by Doozer at 3:39 AM on November 5, 2002

Like a lot of Nazi commisioned and directed design, I don't see what is so ugly. I think a lot of people write off architecture and design that has links to Nazi Germany without considering on its on right.

I guess it is ugly in some respects, but, OTOH, it has the beauty of perfect functionality.

But your other point touches upon what really troubles me about the original MeFi post: the rather obvious mandatory political correctness of someone who is either working in academia or the mass media, or is aiming for a career therein.
posted by bannedThrice at 4:23 AM on November 5, 2002

Next stop: we blow up all the Volkswagens.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:44 AM on November 5, 2002

Oh - another thought. Because these buildings were among the few large, ready-made and usable centres for internally-displaced persons and casualties which remained in key German and Austrian urban centres after the war, it wasn't really in the Allies' interests to destroy them following the cessation of hostilities (although IDPs weren't exactly a Soviet priority, which might partly explain the more rapid destruction of towers in the Soviet sector). The delay possibly meant that by the time they could have been destroyed (mid-1946 onwards, I suppose), work on making the surrounding areas habitable would have been well underway and the demolition of these things in one big bang would have been counterproductive and would have imposed a sizeable logistical strain on the interim authorities. All a question of priorities at the time, I guess....

Okay, I'll shut up now!
posted by Doozer at 4:44 AM on November 5, 2002

Albania's covered with ugly bunkers.
posted by ptermit at 4:52 AM on November 5, 2002

I can't see what all the fuss is about.

Fair enough, having the relics of the third reich hanging about isn't condusive to a 'party' atmosphere, but they're no worse architecturally than many 20C buildings.

Paint 'em up by all means, but I don't see any reason to blow 'em up, although I'd probably have been feeling different in 1946...
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:17 AM on November 5, 2002

Next stop: we blow up all the Volkswagens.
No, just the beetles... ;)

Personally, I rather like them.

But I have to ask, why make something that obvious a target instead of sticking them underground?
posted by twine42 at 6:18 AM on November 5, 2002

Twine42: I doubt that even german engineers could design undergroung anti-aircraft installations. I like these as well, at least they were built to last, unlike many modern buildings seem to be.
posted by lazy-ville at 6:36 AM on November 5, 2002

Personally i think they are beautiful - not that i don't hate nazi-facist ideology. But these things look really damn cool. I think people have to learn to hate the actions people do without hating the good things they may create. Since we All have ugly horrible things inside of us, and yet we all have the potential for beauty.
posted by re_verse at 6:54 AM on November 5, 2002

But I have to ask, why make something that obvious a target instead of sticking them underground?

Well, if they are bomb proof - its a pretty smart strategy of playing agasint their egos. Of course of the thing the allies would want to destroy the most , the "bomb-proof" buildings would rank pretty high. So why not pull all the attention to them that they can.... paint big targets on their roofs etc, just to egg them on. Sounds like a fairly solid strategy to me, if they are as impregnable as they sound.

Is my logic flawed here?
posted by re_verse at 7:02 AM on November 5, 2002

I love Nazis. Certainly the most stylish uniforms, other than the fascist in Italy. And Albert Speer was a pretty good architect. If the Allies would have stopped bombing Germany maybe these Flaks could have been a little more pleasant.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:09 AM on November 5, 2002

I concur that these buildings aren't that bad on the eyes. Maybe a fresh coat of paint would help, though. I'd love to see one of these in pastel blue.
posted by angry modem at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2002

I'm pretty sure that the urge to tear them down because they are "ugly" isn't so much a reference to their aesthetic value per se, as many on this thread seem to assume, but rather the memory to which their structure is inextricably linked. You look at those towers and, if you live in Germany, you think things you'd rather not. Speer's plan for Germania (Greater Berlin) looks pretty cool, I suppose, and likely more than a few people have probably seen it and said "damn, too bad they didn't build that," at least until they realized that riding down the middle of the mile-wide street would have been Hitler's limo.
posted by risenc at 7:27 AM on November 5, 2002

re_verse: Yes your logic is flawed because while the bunker structures themselves are hard targets, the AA guns that were on top of them (exposed) were not.
posted by Cerebus at 7:42 AM on November 5, 2002

Somebody call Christo.
posted by Stan Chin at 7:51 AM on November 5, 2002

the rather obvious mandatory political correctness of someone who is either working in academia or the mass media, or is aiming for a career therein.

Yeah, or I could actually think it's ugly.

I actually saw these buildings before knowing what their original purpose was, many years ago in a trip to Hamburg. I asked my host what that ugly building was and got a response. But don't take my word for it. [insert reading rainbow vamp here]
posted by condour75 at 8:37 AM on November 5, 2002

The main reason flak towers were seen as a good idea in the first place were that, in addition to serving as impregnable fire-control centres and bunkers, their size allowed for both high-level and low-level AA fire to be coordinated to maximum effect. In other words, their sheer height and prominence was their most effective tactical asset.

I think also that the AA guns themselves were pretty tricky targets, as the ones on the largest towers were mounted on cupolas and platforms which could be retracted into the structure for protection during intense aerial bombardments and for repair and refitting. In fact, the suppressed guns of the Zoo Tower were one of the most formidable obstacles Soviet ground forces faced upon entering Berlin, as they were virtually impervious to air and ground strafing.
posted by Doozer at 8:43 AM on November 5, 2002

Here's a machine translated essay on the building's design:
Holding to the building projects can be explained therefore only for psychological reasons, because despite small success the " Geballere of the Flak" nevertheless had large impression for the population and demoralized the aggressors. In addition the building project served the own strength and superiority for the demonstration after the slogan: Who can establish such enormous buildings of fortresses, can also the war win.
So it looks a major part of their design was psyops. If anyone can actually read the original in German and translate it, i'd love to hear impressions.

In other news, I am a new tie wearing.
posted by condour75 at 8:59 AM on November 5, 2002

Now I know what inspired all that Doom & Quake architecture...
posted by freebird at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2002

Wouldn't it be a good idea to buy a building and start a hosting service? The building's bomb proof! Probably has some ancient redundant power supply that probably could be upgraded to.
posted by riffola at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2002

What has happened to the 7 Flaktürme of Vienna? All are still standing. This one is now housing an impressive sea life museum. Take the tour (click on [weiter]). Furthermore, it is popular as a training ground for mountainclimbers. For some time a hotel was planed there. Another one is now home of a modern art museum. An alternative use here seems to have been as a Holocaust memorial museum. Both projects have been realized in a way that would minimize the changes to the outer structure so as to keep the somber aspect of the building as an anti-war memorial.

And here is the testimonial (in German) of a guy who served during WW2 at one of the Hamburg bunkers. Impressive pictures and plans from inside and outside - then and now. Plenty of technical explanations as how the anti-aircraft gun system operated.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 12:04 PM on November 5, 2002

ugly: WOW! Nice work. Plenty of Flaktürme to go around.
posted by condour75 at 1:25 PM on November 5, 2002

I love this stuff. The testimonial I mentioned 2 comments above has been translated in English here. Another guy - Wolfgang Waldhauer (born 1928) - served on the Humboldthain Flakturm in 1944; they were only school age teenagers serving at anti-aircraft units! His testimony in German and in passable googlish.

As to the cost of demolition, I found this: in 1986 the demolition of the Hamburg Wilhelmsburg bunker (great vintage pictures with radar antenna) would have cost 50 million Deutschmark and lasted 4 years. I guess that this would be about the same sum in Euro/Dollar today. Think of it: these structures absorbed about 80,000 to 100,000 cubic meters of steel reinforced concrete, weighting about 200,000 to 250,000 tons: that's the weight of half a WTC tower. Total debris removed from ground zero: 1.6 million tones. And any Flakturm location consisted of two bunkers!

And here's the ultimate bunker delicacy: U-Boot-Bunkers. For example "Valentin" near Bremen is quite a beast: 450,000 cubic meters of concrete, 1.2 million tons weight and more than 426 meters long. Here you can enjoy theatre: "The last days of humankind" - really!. Demolition? Can't be done: 500 tons of explosives would annihilate the neighborhood. And this isn't all: the whole net of U-boat bases is a collection of gigantic bunkers, Brest having the Überbunker (508,540 m³ of concrete; WTC: "only" 355,000 m³) and Lorient even offering a whole family of bunkers, the Keromans - totaling 650,000 m³. Today Lorient is a planning playground for architects.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 5:02 PM on November 5, 2002

Oops: correct link Keroman bunkers.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 5:11 PM on November 5, 2002

hehehe love the graphics on that first page ugly.. I knew that the Germans loved Hasselhoff but that Kitt scanner takes the cake.
posted by condour75 at 5:14 PM on November 5, 2002

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