History knows her as the “Atlantic Wall” and it is nothing other than “The Nazi underground town”, one of the largest infrastructures of the last century that the German regime built in record time in Europe during the Second World War.
Adolf Hitler’s idea was to prevent a possible Allied invasion from Great Britain, and for that reason he had more than ten thousand defensive structures cordoned off from southern France to northern Norway.
Bunkers, trenches and firing points sheltered hundreds of thousands of German soldiers in this defensive chain with which the German army tried to stop an attack from the sea, a plan that failed on June 6, 1944 with the allied victory after the Normandy landings.
The Atlantic Wall museum in the Hoek van Holland bunker in Rotterdam. Photo: Dutch Gazette.
Today, that subterranean wall and barely visible among bushes of more than five thousand kilometers begins to have life again: in some strips, especially in Holland, they were turning into museums and small hostels where the visitor can relive at the same time the monstrous and gigantic of the war.
The Nazi Underground Village
On the coast next to Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the Dutch recover the memory of the war with museums that show intact rooms with radar communication devices and others that recreate life in the bunker, with original objects such as kitchen utensils or lounge chairs. It is the living account of a chapter of the Second World War that, for decades, the dunes and the implacable vegetation were in charge of hiding and today it is beginning to be unearthed.
There the German soldiers lived, waiting for the Allied offensive. And during the war they served as baths, canteens and even theaters.
After the end of the war, many residents returned from nearby towns. They excavated and expanded the buildings, painted them white, baptized them, and used them as their main or vacation home. Since the end of August this year, some bunkers in the Hoek van Holland area – a town in the center of the west coast of the Netherlands – they will become sustainable accommodation with views of the dunes, according to the ABC newspaper.
An image of German soldiers living in bunkers during WWII.
A non-profit association called Cocondo launched a rebuilding and maintenance program to give these ancient, airtight and dark structures a second life. Along this coast there are thousands of bunkers semi-hidden among the dunes, and the goal of Cocondo is “to preserve the cultural and historical heritage to maintain the stories behind these ancient constructions and to help protect the surrounding nature.”
Cocondo recalls on its website that coastal cities like Hoek van holland Y Zandvoort they were evacuated during World War II by the German occupation forces and largely destroyed. After liberation, the liberated citizens returned to a barren landscape.
In the dunes, however, they found dozens of empty bunkers and, of necessity, a special new chapter began for both the inhabitants and the area. The bunkers were excavated, painted white, decorated, and renamed. From there they served as a home or vacation home.
A magazine clipping that tells how neighbors used the bunkers to live. Photo: cocondo.nl
Before the pandemic, this association had warned of the growing urban pressure on the dunes. With the recovery of the old bunkers, many of them damaged by vandalism, they believe that they will be able to protect that landscape. Through collaborations with designers and artists, the Hoek van Holland dune bunkers will become unique and eco-friendly accommodations.
Other museums, the same story
Between 1942 and 1944, more than eleven million tons of concrete and one million tons of steel built this defensive chain with which the German army sought to stop an attack from the sea, a plan that failed on June 6, 1944 with the Allied victory at the Normandy landings.
Like a rampart, the Atlantic Wall runs through the dune terrain in Katwijk, north of the Hague coast. Photo: Dutch Gazette.
But until then, these tens of thousands of bunkers served as a true underground town, being able to house hundreds of Nazi soldiers for months, as well as ammunition and an entire radar communication system.
But fans of the history of the Second World War are happy, because in recent years several associations have restored some of the most representative bunkers of the Dutch “Atlantic Wall” and every Sunday in spring and summer they are open to the public.
Distributed in four museums, in Ijmuiden aan Zee, near Haarlem; Noordwijk; The Hague and Hoek van Holland, in Rotterdam, all of them allow the visitor to enter the bunkers and even go through the tunnels that connect with each other.
Commander’s room inside the bunker. Photo: Dutch Gazette.
Most of them have more than one room and their walls are three meters wide and have a bomb-proof iron structure on the ceiling. Those who served as a refuge for commanders and other superiors of the land army had central heating and running water, as well as electricity and telephone communication with other important bunkers in the area. And this is what German museums show.
In The Hague, 250 bunkers
While hundreds of cyclists ride the path, a few meters away, two concrete walls rise among the vegetation, with inscriptions in German and massive iron gates. Two of the 250 bunkers built in The Hague during the Second World War are hidden in a forest near Scheveningen.
Exterior of bunker bunker 33-8712, located in the forest between The Hague and Scheveningen. Photo: Dutch Gazette.
One of them has the peculiarity of being a “commando” bunker: up to twenty soldiers and a commander could take refuge in it. There you can see how it had a separate room arranged to be able to spend a long time, with a work table and a bed.
A kitchen, another room with lounge chairs For the rest of the soldiers and an office for radio communication complete this museum which, together with display cabinets with war propaganda, weapons and other curiosities, provides an idea of how these bunkers work and their relevance during the war, according to the site Dutch Gazette.
Another interesting museum is the Kijkduin underground complex, in a protected area on the Hague coast, where you can go through its tunnels that connect several bunkers and that they came to house up to 60 soldiers. Stores for ammunition, a water tank and even an underground field hospital were some of the functions that they had in addition to accommodation. Although one part had to be closed, the rest can still be visited during the spring and summer.
Galleries of the refurbished complex in Noordwijk. Photo: Atlantikwall Musea Hoek van Holland.
A little further north, on Noordwijk beach, there is another museum on the Atlantic Wall, which has a curiosity: in the years of the Cold War, one of the ammunition bunkers was set up to be used as a warehouse of artistic heritage, where valuable works of art would be hidden in the event of a war.
Thus, lost among the dunes, next to the beach and the sea, that underground Nazi town begins to emerge for its own visitors and tourists, looking for the pandemic to open the windows again to rediscover history.