Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fort Reuenthal, Switzerland (World War II bunker)

Switzerland was neutral during World War II but extensive fortifications were built along its borders--especially with Germany. Built between 1937-1939, Fort Reuenthal sits on a high ridge overlooking the Rhine River and its purpose was to prevent the Germans from crossing the Rhine at the nearby hydroelectric plant. Above is one of four artillary blocks. Two were armed with 75 mm guns and two with machine guns.

 So, this looks like a big boulder correct?
 Nope, the fake exterior opens and a machine gun has you in its sights.
Deactivated as a military post in 1988, it's operated as a museum--open on the weekends. This is the entrance.
Walking in past the big vault-like door you can see the tracks on the ground where supplies were wheeled into the main tunnel. The tunnel runs about 900 feet (the length of three football fields).
Strangely, making my way down the long tunnel the usual damp, corroding metal pipe smells I've normally experienced visiting these underground fortifications has been replaced by the strong aroma of home cooking.
This is one of the 75 mm guns.
Well, all these people in the fort's underground canteen explains the smell of food and the tour bus I saw parked outside. Evidently, tours can be booked which includes lunch. 
To the right, guns are at the ready-just like when the fort was active. To the left are display cases.
I love visiting these places especially those that allow you to wander without having to travel in a guided group. I saw this opening off the main tunnel and started down. It seem to go on forever, going down 20 steps, then a straight walk, then down 20 more steps, then a long straight away, then down more steps and so on until it ended with the tunnel seeming to go on but the lights were off. I found the light switch and the tunnel seem to continue. I wanted to continue but assummed the lights were turned off because they didn't want visitors to go further. Disappointed, I retraced my way back to the main tunnel where I came across one of the volunteers. The man spoke only a little English and I explained the tunnel coming to an unexpected end with the light being off. He said that shouldn't be the case. I decided to return down the tunnel and knew the man wouldn't join me because it's quite a long walk with plenty of steep steps and he's in his early 70's. It is one heck of a long walk (find out later this tunnel is 951 feet long) and the end is very disappointing as it leads to a dead-end with a very, very long blocked-off ladder which I assume leads to the surface. 

Returning to the main tunnel I come across a volunteer who speaks impeccable English and ask him about the long side tunnel I just explored. This underground fortress was built by a contractor and when the military moved in they found a big flaw: if this fortification came under attack the only escape was via an opening right underneath one of the 75 mm guns--meaning you were exposed to enemy fire! So, the military ordered the contractor to build an escape tunnel (the one I just traversed). I explained to the volunteer my going down the tunnel twice due to the lights being off. He said they do that on purpose (turning the lights off) to discourage visitors from going further. "Why?", I ask. He answers, "people get claustrophobic down there". Boy he got that right! I recall when almost reaching the far end of the tunnel I nearly slipped on the wet floor and remember saying to myself how if I fell and broke a leg and started yelling-- nobody would hear me because I was so far underground and isolated. 

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