Login | Create Account Poll Currency Weather Facebook Youtube Search

Dusting off ‘painful’ bunkers

NETHERLANDS: Just behind The Hague’s sandy beaches under the dunes lie dozens of Nazi bunkers built during World War II which the Dutch are now dusting off to attract tourists and to help heal lingering scars.


Sunday 20 August 2017, 03:00PM

The bunkers and tunnels are a remnant of Hitler’s ‘Atlantikwall’, a coastal defence stretching 5,000 kilometres from northern Norway to southern France. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

The bunkers and tunnels are a remnant of Hitler’s ‘Atlantikwall’, a coastal defence stretching 5,000 kilometres from northern Norway to southern France. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Once buried under heaps of sand and rubble, this network of bunkers and tunnels is a remnant of Hitler’s “Atlantikwall”, a coastal defence stretching 5,000 kilometres from northern Norway to southern France.

The Hague in particular was seen as a strategic point to be heavily fortified, and the German Nazi dictator ordered the Atlantic Wall defences to be built in 1942 seeking to keep an Allied invasion of Europe at bay.

More than 870 bunkers of different shapes and sizes were constructed of reinforced concrete. Today around 470 of them can still be found in the Dutch capital’s dunes and forests, said Jacques Hogendoorn, a volunteer at the Atlantikwall Museum based in the seaside suburb of Scheveningen.

“Some have been opened to the public, others are used as a shelter for bats during wintertime,” Hogendoorn said.

“Some bunkers are still being discovered,” added Guido Blaauw, a businessman who has bought a bunker at the Clingendael estate where Austrian Nazi boss Arthur Seyss-Inquart – later executed for war crimes – once had his own massive underground shelter.

After the war, shortages led to the bunkers being plundered for materials such as wire and wood until the angry Dutch sealed them off.

Since 2008, Hogendoorn and his foundation, with the agreement of local authorities, have carefully restored one 10-room bunker complex in the Scheveningen woods.

Here visitors can experience the damp, cool claustrophobic atmosphere where generators constantly ran in the past to ventilate the underground maze.

It is a step back in time with vestiges of an old telephone system and signs that say in German: ‘Beware, the enemy is listening’.

But the bunkers are a dark reminder of the bitter German occupation of The Netherlands between 1940-45, said Deirdre Schoemaker, spokeswoman of the European Atlantikwall Heritage Foundation.

More than 100,000 Hague residents were forcibly removed to make space for the Atlantikwall, which saw thousands of homes, seven schools, three churches and two hospitals flattened.

The bunkers were often built using Dutch slave labour and with the collaboration of Dutch companies hoping to profit from the war.

No wonder that when The Hague was finally liberated in early May 1945, its residents buried the bunkers under sand and rubble to put the war behind them.

“We have a Dutch expression... which literally means ‘buried it under the ground’,” Schoemaker said.

Futsal League 2019

“That was really the case after the war and for many years, for decades you saw that. It was a painful history,” she said.

“People just did not talk about it.”

For decades the bunkers mostly lay dormant, an intriguing playground for local children, while others were used by the Dutch government as high-security command posts during the Cold War.

Slowly, however, in the last decade people’s views have changed, Schoemaker said.

“There’s more and more openness. People are becoming more comfortable about talking about them, even with German tourists,” she said.

Growing curiosity combined with an understanding of their historic significance led to The Hague’s first official “Bunker Day” in 2014.

“It’s German history, not the best history, but history you have to see in order for it not to happen again,” said German tourist Sebastian Frank, 31, a geriatric nurse from Dresden.

The annual June event has now grown to incorporate bunker visits along the entire Dutch coast as well as Belgium for the first time this year, Schoemaker said.

“There is huge interest. At our latest Bunker Day we had more than 10,000 visitors and each of them visited at least three to four bunkers,” she said, at an entrance price of six euros (B226) for adults and three euros (B113) for children.

For many Dutch people who lived through the war, a visit to the bunkers may be the first time they can confront an often repressed past and it “brings back the memories,” said Schoemaker.

“I think it can be very therapeutic ... It’s often a part of their history that’s been hidden inside them. In this way they can let it out and put it behind them.”

Bunker owner Blaauw added that “elderly people who witnessed the war and had problems with the bunkers right after the war are now more interested in them”.

But still many hesitate to be reminded of that time as the “war has defined their whole lives up until today,” he said.



Comment on this story

* Please login to comment. If you do not have an account please register below by simply entering a username, password and email address. You can still leave your comment below at the same time.

Comments Here:
Comments Left:
# Characters

Be the first to comment.

Have a news tip-off? Click here


Phuket community
Dozens of street racers, promoter arrested in Bangkok

Are there no racing circuit areas in Thailand for this hobby? Organise races, have a police unit the...(Read More)

Chalong Municipality calls in private company over polluted stream

I can promise you this smells very very bad, black tough water. This happend fore 5 days last week r...(Read More)

Chalong Municipality calls in private company over polluted stream

As Tuesday 19th is a holiday, guess all Officials, etc not start to make a move before Wednesday, 2...(Read More)

Power outage to hit main areas near Heroines Monument

When will you bury these scruffy and dangerous cables underground. Half of them are dead anyway and ...(Read More)

Holding the balance: Phuket Immigration clarifies new rules on retirement visas to start March 1

Anyone being 'grandfathered' would necessarily be at least 70 if Thai Imm goes back to 1998...(Read More)

Phuket Opinion: Fear and loathing in paradise

Actually you haven't helped the situation by your incorrect reporting regarding the grandfatheri...(Read More)

The Honey Badger battles in Bangkok

All those blablabla before a fight. I will win.i will win.And now ? He lost !People should celebrate...(Read More)

Phuket Opinion: Fear and loathing in paradise

"It was Thailand who invited them to come" An invitation? When? And if there was an invita...(Read More)

Board vetoes ban on hazardous chemicals

53 countries have banned these chemicals. They have been proven to cause cancer. Why would anyone de...(Read More)

Chalong Underpass makes breakthrough

I seem to recall an article from last September that boasted the surface traffic around the circle w...(Read More)