On this day in 1955

The US Army Center of Military History posted a reminder this morning that today marks the 62nd anniversary of the end of the military occupation of Germany. Ten years after the end of the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Germany (which had been formed in 1949 from the territories occupied by the western powers) became a sovereign state, a full-fledged member of NATO, and was authorized to rebuild its military as a new and important ally of its former enemies. Foreign military bases remained on German soil by special arrangements between the Bonn government Great Britain, France, Canada, and especially the United States. While most of these bases are now closed, dozens remain and are targeted for closure within the decade.

The Hamburg Flakturm

An update is certainly overdue! In the last few weeks, I’ve had many exciting opportunities to travel and see important historical sites in person. As I was sorting through pictures, I thought a recent trip to Hamburg would be a good subject for a post. Many thanks go again to my friend Sarah, who invited me for a visit and who graciously showed me around her home away from home!

A Hamburg ferry speeds away from its stop along the river.
A Hamburg ferry speeds away from its stop along the river.

Hamburg is located in northern Germany and is the country’s largest seaport. The Elbe River, which originates in the Czech Republic, connects the city to several trade routes and provides important access to the North Sea. Extensive sea trade is documented from the early Middle Ages and characterizes the city’s history through the modern day.

During the Second World War, Hamburg was also home to several manufacturers of submarines, a distinction that made it an even more attractive target for Allied bombing. After the first aerial attack on Berlin in 1940, Hitler enacted the “Führerbefehl zur Aufstellung von Flaktürmen in Berlin,” an order to construct massive anti-aircraft installations around the capital. This order was expanded by 1942 to include Hamburg and Vienna. Called “Flak towers,” these installations were massive bunkers with meters-thick concrete that made them virtually impenetrable by aerial bombs. In addition to firing on attacking aircraft, they were to serve as air-raid bunkers for local civilians. Their architecture also lent itself for defending against possible ground attacks. Famously, one of the Flak towers in Berlin was among the last defended posts to surrender to the Red Army.

Flak tower IV as seen in 1945. Picture is from the Australian War Memorial Collection, SUK14320, Public Domain.
Flak tower IV as seen in 1945. Picture is from the Australian War Memorial Collection, SUK14320, Public Domain.

In Hamburg, three such bunkers were planned (in addition to smaller communications and “aiming” bunkers which were to provide targeting information to the larger installations). The three were to form a triangle around the city to optimize anti-aircraft coverage. Only two of the three were built and were named numbers IV and VI, as these towers were numbered according to the order of their construction across the three cities.

Flak tower IV in 2016.
Flak tower IV in 2016.

Most of the wartime Flak towers have survived either completely intact or were only lightly damaged, as post-war efforts to destroy them with explosives were mostly futile. Today, many of them house businesses – in the case of Hamburg’s tower IV, even a rooftop club!

These imposing structures are certainly worth a visit for anyone interested in the Second World War or the evolution of defensive structures. Tower IV is located on the Heiligengeistfeld, a large, open park that was recently used for Germany’s second-largest public viewings of the Euro-Cup (the largest is in Berlin).

The Heiligengeistfeld being prepared for the public viewing of Germany vs Slovakia (3:0 Germany).
The Heiligengeistfeld being prepared for the public viewing of Germany vs Slovakia (3:0 Germany).