The Vorbunker (the upper bunker) or "forward bunker" was located behind the large reception hall that was added onto the old Reich Chancellery, in Berlin, Germany. It was meant to be a temporary air-raid shelter for Adolf Hitler, his guards, and servants. The bunker was officially called the "Reich Chancellery Air-Raid Shelter" until 1943, with the construction to expand the complex with the addition of the Führerbunker, located one level below. On 16 January 1945, Hitler moved into the Führerbunker. He was joined by his senior staff, Martin Bormann, and later, Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels who, with his wife Magda and their six children, took residence in the upper Vorbunker. The Goebbels family lived in the Vorbunker until their deaths on 1 May 1945.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler decided to expand the Reich Chancellery (German: Reichskanzlei), which he considered too small for his needs. On 21 July 1935, Leonhard Gall submitted plans for a large reception hall (that could also be used as a ballroom) to be built onto the old Chancellary. The drawings were unique because of the large cellar that led a further one-and-a-half meters down to a bunker which later became known as the Vorbunker.
The Vorbunker's roof was 1.6 metres thick, which was twice as thick as the bunker underneath the nearby Air Ministry building. The thick walls of the Vorbunker supported the weight of the large reception hall overhead. It had three entry points, to the north, west and south. Construction was completed in 1936. It had 12 rooms branching out from a single corridor.
The Führerbunker was built by the Hochtief company as part of an extensive program of subterranean construction in Berlin. It was finished by 1944 and was connected to the Vorbunker by a stairway set at right angles (not a spiral staircase) which could be closed off from each other by a bulkhead and steel door. Posted by the steel door was a permanent guard detail. The Führerbunker was located about 8.5 metres (28 ft) beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery, 120 metres (390 ft) north of the new Reich Chancellery building at Voßstraße 6. The Führerbunker was located 2.5 meters lower than the Vorbunker and to the west-southwest of it. The accommodations for Hitler were moved to the newer, lower Führerbunker and by February 1945 it had been decorated with high-quality furniture taken from the Chancellery, along with several framed oil paintings.
"To carry out the air raid drills, a precise regulation is required for the three office buildings, Wilhelmstraße 77, Wilhelmstraße 78 and Voßstraße 1...The officials and residents of Wilhelmstraße 78 and Voßstraße 1 can go to the substitute shelters in Wilhelmstraße 78 and Voßstraße 1. The inhabitants of the Reich Chancellor House, Wilhelmstraße 77, will use the shelter under the ballroom."
The only residents of Wilhelmstraße 77 were Adolf Hitler, his bodyguards, adjutants, orderlies and servants. It is unknown if the Vorbunker was used before 16 January 1945, the day that Hitler moved into the lower Führerbunker. Thereafter, the Vorbunker was used by various military officers and also housed men from Hitler's personal bodyguard. In April 1945, as the Battle in Berlin raged on, Joseph Goebbels showed his strong support for Hitler by moving himself and his family into the Vorbunker. One of the rooms they occupied had been recently vacated by Hitler's personal physician, Theodor Morell. Two rooms in the Vorbunker were used for food supply. Another room was the kitchen which had a refrigerator and a wine store. Frau Constanze Manziarly, Hitler's personal cook/dietitian, made meals there.
On the evening of 1 May 1945, Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to kill his six children in the Vorbunker by injecting them with morphine and then, when they were unconscious, crushing an ampule of cyanide in each of their mouths. According to Kunz's later testimony, he gave the children morphine injections but it was Magda Goebbels and SS-Obersturmbannführer Ludwig Stumpfegger, Hitler's personal doctor, who then administered the cyanide. Shortly afterward, Goebbels and his wife went up the stairs to the ground level and through the Führerbunker's emergency exit to the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery, where they killed themselves. Goebbels' SS adjutant, Günther Schwägermann doused their bodies with petrol, but the remains were only partially burned and not buried.
At 01:00 on 2 May, the Soviets picked up a radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge. Early in the morning of 2 May, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00. Down in the Führerbunker, General Krebs and General Burgdorf committed suicide by gunshot to the head. Johannes Hentschel, the master electro-mechanic for the bunker complex, stayed after everyone else had either committed suicide or left, as the field hospital in the Reich Chancellery above needed power and water. He surrendered to the Red Army as they entered the bunker complex on 2 May. The bodies of Goebbels six children were discovered on 3 May. They were found in their beds in the Vorbunker; the clear mark of cyanide shown on their faces.
The ruins of both Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets between 1945 and 1949 but the bunker complex largely survived, although some areas were partially flooded. In December 1947 the Soviets tried to blow up the bunkers but only the separation walls were damaged. In 1959 the East German government began a series of demolitions as to the Chancellery and also the bunker complex. In 1974, 1.5 metres of water was pumped from inside the bunkers, and the East Germany Stasi conducted a survey of the interior of the Vorbunker; external measurements of the Führerbunker were also taken. Since it was near the Berlin Wall, the site was undeveloped and neglected until after reunification. During the construction of residential housing and other buildings on the site in 1988–89 several underground sections of the bunker complex were uncovered by work crews and were for the most part destroyed (with the Vorbunker’s top and external walls being the first to be torn down).
The construction of the buildings in the area around the bunker complex was a strategy for ensuring the surroundings remained anonymous and unremarkable. The emergency exit point for the Führerbunker (which had been in the Chancellery gardens) was occupied by a car park.
On 8 June 2006, during the lead up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, an information board was installed to mark the location of the bunker complex. The board, including a schematic diagram, can be found at the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, two small streets about three minutes' walk from Potsdamer Platz. Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch, one of the last people living who was in the bunker at the time of Hitler's suicide, was on hand for the ceremony.
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