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Tue 22 Jul 2003
Allan Hall in Berlin:
AN AIRPORT used by hundreds of thousands of tourists and business travellers each year could be sitting on top of thousands of live bombs.
Papers among thousands of files captured from the Stasi, the secret police
of East Germany, claim tons of live Second World War munitions were buried in concrete bunkers beneath the runways of Schoenefeld airport in East Berlin. It is now the main destination for discount airlines, such as
Ryanair, and numerous charter companies.
Not only did the commissars intern munitions beneath the runways, but also entire Nazi fighter planes, all fuelled and fully bombed-up, according to the Stasi.
The captured files of Interflug, the former East German government airline and the airport authority of the DDR, are now being examined to see if the Stasi claim is true.
Experts believe it entirely feasible that, in the aftermath of the Second
World War, with Berlin littered with millions of tons of unexploded
ordnance, the Soviets could well have pressured local officials to move to
clear the airfield as swiftly as possible.
"They would have stuffed them anywhere they could - there was simply too much stuff to blow up all at once," said Karl-Heinz Eckhardt, a Berlin
historian. "There was a warren of massive Nazi bunkers beneath the site of the present airport that would have suited their purposes."
City authorities claim the airport is perfectly safe, but a thorough check
on the claims in the Stasi files - 140 km of them that will still take a
number of years to decipher - is being undertaken.
Nearly two million passengers a year pass through Schoenefeld. According to the Stasi files, the ammunition was buried in bunkers between eight and nine metres deep.
A spokesman for the airport said: "We became aware of the bunkers in 1993, four years after the fall of the [Berlin] Wall. A check was undertaken then and everything was determined to be safe."
But he conceded that he was astounded at the claims that fully-fuelled and
bombed-up aircraft lie beneath the runways and said new tests about the
safety of the structures will be carried out.
He added: "We had no idea that so much ordnance is supposedly under there."
Frank Henkel, the Conservative interior ministry spokesman, said: "This must be investigated thoroughly and immediately and the runways strengthened if necessary."
Berlin, with its sandy, dry soil, was perfect for the bunker-building of the
Third Reich. Hundreds of thousands of them were constructed during the
12-year lifespan of the Nazi government: for every one metre of building
above ground in modern-day Berlin, there are three metres below ground.
Bunkers are being discovered every day and a group called Underground Berlin has turned several of them into tourist attractions.
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