A sprawling bunker complex in Poland which served as Hitler’s eastern front headquarters during the Second World War is being refurbished in an attempt to shake off its tacky image for better educational purposes.
Known as the Wolf’s Lair, the historically charged ruins hidden in the forests near Ketrzyn in eastern Poland attracts over 300,000 tourists every year.
During the war, the concrete complex consisted of about 200 buildings, mostly shelters, huts and barracks.
The bunker’s former leaseholders had until recently offered visitors garish entertainment such as paintball competitions, and the chance to use replica pneumatic machine guns.
Such gimmicks were criticised as being a “grotesque Disneyland” by Jan Oldakowski, director of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
“I was very disappointed with my visit to Hitler’s headquarters a few years ago,” Oldakowski told Xinhua.
“For example, there was no information about the Holocaust and German-occupied Poland between 1939 and 1945. But in the shop, there were ashtray skulls in Waffen SS helmets or gypsum SS soldier skulls.”
After numerous complaints, the Polish Forest Inspectorate recently took back control of the Wolf’s Lair from the private leaseholder in an effort to shake off its tardy reputation.
Now, refurbishment plans, which are currently underway, include adapting alleyways for wheelchairs, illuminating bunkers, more historical information boards for visitors and building a station for charging electric cars.
“My understanding is that this will have more of a museum feel, which is exactly what many guides and historians have been calling for,” history author Philip Baumann told Xinhua.
Between 1941 and 1944 it served as the headquarters of Hitler and his General Staff and was where on July 20, 1944, German army officer Claus von Stauffenberg carried out an unsuccessful attack on the life of the leader of the Third Reich.
The incident was popularised in the 2008 Hollywood blockbuster “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise and Eddie Izzard.
“This is a very important location, given its place in the world history and especially the German resistance movement. With that in mind, it needs treating with the proper respect and used as a tool to learn from the past,” Baumann added.
“Using such places for education purposes, gives students a real chance to see the places they read about in the classroom, so these improvements are welcome but long overdue.”
The site’s name refers to Hitler’s nickname “Herr. Wolf” and is known as Wolfsschanze in German. During the war, the complex also included two airports, a power plant, a railway station, heating plants, and a communications headquarters.