Friday, May 20, 2016

A memorial roundtrip: visiting the Valentin submarine factory on the Weser River at the Bremen suburb Rekum

View through the floodable-dock hall toward the sluice gate of the never completely finished Valentine submarine factory
The Valentine submarine factory, Bunker Valentin, was built during the second half of World War II to assemble submarines from parts that were prefabricated in Bremen, Hamburg and GdaƄsk. The unfinished Bunker with its several-meter-thick walls and roof was constructed from ferrous concrete to withstand air-raid bombing. A picture below shows that precision bombing toward the end of the war, when the Allies gradually gained supremacy in German airspace, produced partial damage, anyway.

Overall, the nearly completed, fortified U-boat facility survived. Post-war bombing did not succeed in destructing the massive shelter. For a short time in the 1960s the bunker served as a storage depot for the German Navy. In January 2011, it became the Denkort Bunker Valentin memorial, encouraging visitors to learn about the bunker's past—about the twenty months from summer 1943 to spring 1945 during which the bunkered shipyard was constructed under inhumane conditions by concentration camp prisoners and other forced laborers.

Footpath and levee southwest of Bunker Valentin
Once a place of ill-fated ambition and terror, now it is a site of remembrance. Today's setting of the bunker on the Weser riverbank in the Bremen suburb of Farge-Rekum in northern Germany—surrounded by trees and trails including a bike path alongside an otherwise idyllic stretch of the river—may make sightseers forget about the dark history of this site. One cannot fail to notice the colossal structure. Bernd Hettlage writes [1]:

The aura of this building, its sheer monumentality, is overwhelming. The bunker is more than 400 metres long, more than 30 metres high, and almost 100 metres wide at its western end. It is the second biggest facility of its kind ever built above ground in Europe. Today its walls of black-stained concrete, partly overgrown with creepers, purvey a morbid atmosphere - a ruin, created as if for eternity.

Irreparable damage of the bunker roof
Approaching the site on the levee from the south, you will first see the specially dredged Weser bay in front of the bunker's west side with the sluice gate. Since the actual assembly of submarines never happened, the bay-sluice cutoff was not carried out: submarines were never launched onto or into the Weser river. From the trail at the northwest corner of the bunker you are getting a view through the floodable-dock hall toward the northeast corner, where concrete parts are hanging down as a result of Allied bombing in March 1945. Some birds and many bats make the cave-like interior with its cold gloom their habitat.

As you continue on, you get to a T-junction, at which a bike-path sign tells you that the center of Bremen is 36.5 km away. Turn right to circumvent the bunker. Signposted walkways give information on what took place during the construction of the U-boat bunker. Framed floor panels remember some prisoners who suffered, were beaten and tortured, and died here. While the armaments infrastructure around the bunker and the camps that housed the prisoners were destroyed after the war, the indestructible monster building, which some wanted to see being covered by sand, stayed in place.
“Annihilation through work” sculpture

At the northeast corner of the bunker rectangle, you will find the concrete sculpture with the title “Annihilation through work.”  This memorial sculpture was created by the Bremen artist Fritz Stein and was unveiled in 1983. Walk south and then west alongside the south-facing concrete wall to get to the main entrance of Bunker Valentin and its documentation center.   

Getting to the Denkort Bunker Valentin site

From the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) in Bremen, take the NordWestBahn train via Vegesack to Bremen-Farge. There, you may want to continue by bus (the bus stop is on Farger Str.) or hike alongside the Weser river.

The bus option is the BSAG Line 92, northbound. Exit the bus at the Rekumer Siel stop and walk the short distance along Rekumer Siel street to the “Annihilation through work” sculpture and the bunker.

To hike or bike to the bunker, follow Farger Str., which turns into Rekumer Str., northbound. Turn left on Unterm Berg, where a sign tells you that it is 2.0 km to Bunker Valentin. Pass the Rathaus (city hall) on its left side. Continue to and pass the Jugendfreizeitzeitheim Farge until you see the levee and the river. While continuing north on or next to the levee, the concrete giant is coming into view.

Note that bicycling is restricted on certain paths next to the bunker.

There is no admission. An on-site welcome panel includes the following request:

Visitors are requested to conduct themselves respectfully, as befits the significance of the historic site. No bicycling or dogs allowed (except assistance dogs). Walking outside the designated areas occurs at your own risk. Concrete pieces may fall down. Parents are responsible for their own children.

References and orientation
[1] Bernd Hettlage: “Bunker Valentin” Remembrance Site and Documentation Centre.  Gedenkorte Nr. 12. Stadtwandel Verlag, Regensburg, 2015.
[2] David Crossland: Germany opens former U-boat bunker as museum to Nazi inhumanity. The National, May 31, 2011.
[3] Denkort Bunker Valentin: English version:
[4] Detailed Terrain Map of Rekum:

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