Time Bunker

September 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

World War II bunkers can still be found in almost every German city, mainly because these concrete giants — some of them hidden underground, some of them as conspicious as huge castles — were so well constructed that their destruction is not only too costly but sometimes even impossible. (In our town, several failed attempts to blow up a small tower bunker next to a playground left it standing askew, a devious, wounded giant watching over the children playing at his feet.)

Last weekend I was in Hamburg to attend a reading I was very much looking forward to, at the Harbour Front Literaturfestival. The event took place at a fantastic location, at the Überseebrücke, in the iron belly of Cap San Diego, an imposing cargo ship turned into museum. The sublime literary evening ended for my friends and me at a trance music club in one of the most famous of the 700 World War II bunkers in Hamburg, the Flakturm IV Bunker in St.Pauli.

We reached the club on the bunker’s fourth floor via elevator. As striking as the structure appears from the outside, the moment we entered, it looked like an ordinary trance club venue: industrial sober darkness, sharp light effects on the DJ stage, the audience’s meditative collective movement to the music.

I started moving, too, but occassionaly I couldn’t help but be aware of the several-metres-thick concrete walls that separated us from both the fresh air and the past — 70 years back in time when bombers flew overhead. The same walls that were built to protect the people inside from the terrors outside now protect the people outside from the noise inside.

When in places such as this, if we’re conscious of history and the long shadows it casts on our walls, a time-travel moment is bound to occur. For me it happened on the way out of the club as we descended the big spiral staircase.

Exhilarated by alcohol and music, my friends and I ran down the beautiful curves fleet-footed. As I remember the sounds in the stairwell now, I hear no music, only the quick footsteps of people hastening down the stairs. But they’re now rushing outside, longing for fresh air, with hearts beating in agony to learn whether their homes still stand and their friends who weren’t in the bunker had found another refuge in time.

Our refuge from all of this is the future. Our refuge is on the other side of the exit door: a taxi waiting to take us to our hotels as the morning sun rises behind the city buildings and the harbour sounds transport us out of this place, out of any time, in time.


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