During WWII, Adolf Hitler commanded the construction of several flak towers in Germany and Vienna, Austria. While some were destroyed or disguised as mounds after the Nazi’s defeat, others have been re-purposed as quirky climbing walls and other examples of adaptive reuse.
(Image: Anna Regelsberger, public domain)
These twentieth century counterparts to medieval fortifications were used by Nazi Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe, to counter airborne allied forces. Anti-aircraft warfare requires some serious artillery power so these blockhouses were equipped with at least eight 128 mm guns, with a range of around 14 km, and up to 32 20 mm guns covering 360 degrees.
With so much firepower and 3 metre thick reinforced concrete walls, it’s easy to see why Allied aircraft avoided the Fliegerabwehrkanone (anti-aircraft gun) Towers.
Each one was made up of a Gefechtsturm Tower and a Leitturm Tower. The larger G-Towers were known as the Combat, Gun or Battery Towers and the smaller L-Towers were often called Listening Bunkers or Command Towers due to the huge retractable Würzburg radar on their roofs to detect enemy bombers.
(Image: Seebeer, public domain)
Flak towers were strategically located to protect key strongholds. Three were posted in a triangle formation around Berlin, each with the ability to sustain an 8,000 rounds per minute rate of fire. Thousands of people sheltered in Berlin’s Flak Towers during air raids and, when the Soviet ‘Red Army’ invaded the city, many Berliners only surrendered due to a lack of food supplies.
Because the massive towers were relatively difficult to disassemble, most were left to bare witness to the restoration of the war-ravaged landscapes that surrounded them. Flakturm III, the Humboldthain, in Berlin was only partially destroyed by the French army and the German Alpine Association now maintain a climbing wall on its graffitied ‘North Wall.’
The G-Tower of Flakturm IV, Heiligengeistfeld, in Hamburg, Germany, is now home to a music school, shops and a nightclub. Arguably the most impressive re-purposed flak is the L-Tower of Flakturm V, Stiftskaserne, in Vienna, which was converted in to an aquarium complete with shop and cafe. A climbing wall adorns the outside of the 47 metre tall Haus des Meeres and a giant box on top of the old Command Tower proclaims Lawrence Weiner’s anti-war message: ‘Smashed to Pieces… In the Still of the Night.’