Andreas Magdanz. Dienststelle Marienthal

The Rose Garden

“The essence of victory will be that one will have a good longsighted view,  that everything will be seen from close-up and that everything will have a name.”


 25.000 doors represent 25.000 opportunities of stepping across a threshold. If they remain closed, however, they have the capacity to represent a Kafkaesque world of visual and physical denial of access. Even one’s ability to visualise goes into denial when confronted with 25.000 doors.

Retrospectively, the government bunker in Marienthal with its 25.000 doors is without a doubt among the greatest expressions of denial in the Federal Republic of Germany. Information blackouts, strictly enforced by means of at times seemingly absurd codes of secrecy, have ensured the extreme demonisation and mythification of the installation since it was commissioned in 1972. Hence even some members of the German Bundestag have been refused entry into this example of the Federal Republic’s defensive architecture which was initiated by the national Security Council and which - at 3 billion German marks - is also Germany’ most expensive. Not once in its 22-year period of operation has an incumbent Federal Chancellor visited the Marienthal facility. In stead a double, described as Bundeskanzler üb., used to test its suitability in the event of an atomic incident during the biennial Nato exercises.1 The taboo attached to the real thing must have too great even for those in power, too great was the fear of the place where no imagination can come to grips with its actual use. It therefore does not seem so surprising that the government bunker which is located 25 kilometers to the south of Bonn and which was given the ambiguous code name The Rose Garden during manoeuvres, has remained the most absurd and at the same time most secret remnant of the Cold War even after the fall of the Berlin Wall.2 A building which until recently no-one was allowed to see and which was enveloped in a veil of silence provokes a nagging curiosity even retrospectively. What is actually concealed behind the phrase ˝Emergency seat of the constitutional organs of the Federal Republic to enable them to continue to function during a time of crisis and defence”?

25.000 Doors
In fact this consistent strategy of denial is reflected not just in the policy of secrecy which has been enforced for decades. It reveals itself almost paradigmatically in the perfidious architecture of the system of galleries and tunnels cut into the soft slate and beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination. That which is hidden from sight can only be described by giving a summary of the facts about it.:

Located in state-owned lands measuring 188.023 square kilometres the security installations spread out underneath the Trotzenberg. The labyrinth consists of an underground system of galleries and tunnels having a total length of 19.000 meters; the underground area amounts to 83.000 square metres, the building space amounts to 367.000 cubic metres. Located here are, inter alia, 936 sleeping booths, 897 offices, five large canteens, five command centres, five medical buildings, two bicycle parking bays, a printing works, a hairdressing salon as well as a room for ecumenical services. Five completely self-sufficient sections were to be able to provide 3.000 people with an adequate supply of air, and an almost inexhaustible supply of food and items of practical use (20.000 spare parts alone for the technical installations) ensured an optimum level self-sufficiency.3

If the mere listing of facts and figures can give some idea of the enormous monstrosity of the nation’s security madness the image of it created by the imagination still remains remarkably clouded. “The bunker is not just a non-place, it is placeless space. It is scarcely comprehensible even by the imagination.”4 Ultimately, 25.000 doors remain unimaginable.

The Myth of Invisibility

In his book Risikogesellschaft the sociologist, Ulrich Beck, points out a significant differentiation in attitude: “Where an abundance of risks so greatly dwarfs the abundance of riches the apparently innocuous distinction between risks and the perception of risks gains in importance.”5 In the case of the government bunker in Marienthal it seems evident that the power of imagination does not just fail when confronted with the scenario of an atomic crisis.6 It fails at that very moment when the state-initiated and pre-emptively constructed reaction to the potential occurrence of the catastrophe is hidden. The taboo of the bunker is consequently grounded in its very existence. Its function as a completely self-sufficient shelter, its labyrinth-like design and its location underground are based on the premise of their not being seen. For decades now in Marienthal a myth of invisibility has been enacted, the motivation for which can be a wonderful subject for speculation. That there are not only military-strategic considerations behind the deliberate mythification is shown by the seemingly absurd history of the government bunker following the reunification of Germany.

On 8 December 1997 the cabinet under the then Minister for the Interior, Manfred Kanther, voted for the closure of the national security installation. So far attempts decommission it have failed as have the attempt to capitalise on plans for a change in its use. The bunker has indeed been considered in the interim as the site for a coin depot, a techno disco, a subterranean adventure hotel (“Bunker Wonderland”) and the cultivation of fungi cultures.7 However, due to the lack of fire prevention facilities and enormous knock-on costs these suggestions have failed to materialise. The Marienthal facility has denied access to any use for civilian purposes. Following its sealing and closure the rebuilding of the installation in the immediate future has been definitively ruled out.8 An official from the local district authority remarked laconically: The once strictly secret “Installation for the Defence of the State” practically does not exist in the legal sense.”9

The Truth of the Possible
“The bunker has become a myth, present and absent at the same time: present as an object of disgust instead of a transparent and open civilian architecture, absent insofar as the essence of the new fortress is elsewhere, underfoot, invisible from here on in.” As far back as 1975 the French intellectual Paul Virilio diagnosed the increasing invisibility of military and defence installations in his brilliant analysis entitled “Bunker Archeology”.10 Using the tools of photography, cartography and source analysis this study succeeded in revealing retrospectively the specific structure of the approximately 1.500 monolithic bunkers which made up the Atlantic Wall. Inspired by Virilio’s studies Andreas Magdanz felt obliged to photographically record the government bunker in Marienthal after he spotted a notice in the Handelsblatt in 1998 concerning the closure of the installation. With dogged persistence the Aachen photographer succeeded in gaining access to the tightly guarded military area and in documenting the eastern part of the bunker over a seven month period.

The present monograph devoted to the building gives for the first time an impression of the Marienthal facility. The view which had formerly been concealed reveals truths beyond the bounds of language and the listing of facts.11 While the taboo subject of a real atomic incident is already evident in the childish strategy of digging holes in the ground the concrete visible manifestation of the bunker system is governed by the dictum of the subjunctive down to the last detail. Telephones, which in the event of an actual atomic incident can be used to maintain contact with the outside world (Label: “112”), are still wrapped in plastic, chairs are stacked on tables, kitchens remain unused.

“Defensive architecture is therefore instrumental, existing less in itself than with a view of “doing” something: waiting, watching, then acting or, rather, reacting.”, remarked Paul Virilio.12 In contrast to the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall, which with the landing of the Allies on 6 June 1944 were transformed into historically used buildings, the traces of which are still visible even today the tension of waiting, watching and reacting has not been realised in Marienthal. Hence the architectural monster is locked in an absurd Sleeping Beauty sleep with all the concomitant horror peculiar to same. With their detailed clarity Andreas Magdanz’s large-format pictures dissect the uncomfortable truth of what is possible. Waiting for the apocalypse forms both the starting and finishing point for their inherent thought structures..

In the last analysis it is by intellectually inverting what is final in what exists, what is factual in what is possible that the key to the ideology of the government bunker in Marienthal. At the beginning of the play Endgame, the most accurate commentary on the apocalyptic postwar era, Samuel Beckett has his hero Clov announce in a toneless voice:

“Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.”13

The Rose Garden would be an ideal stage.


© Christoph Schaden, 2000

 published in: Andreas Magdanz, Dienststelle Marienthal, Aachen 2000, o.p.


1 Michael Preuthe: Der Bunker. Eine Reise in die Bonner Unterwelt, Cologne 1989, p. 16ff.

2 Michael Winter: Im Rosengarten, Süddeutsche Zeitung 2-3-1999. I like to thank Tuya Roth from Bonn for her help during my researches.

3 Thomas Gehringer: Baden durfte nur der Präsident, Der Tagesspiegel, 29-11-1998.

4 Peter Michalzik: Wie entsorgt man eine Regierung?, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1-9-1998.

5 Ulrich Beck: Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne, Frankfurt am Main 1986, p. 76.

6 For a discussion of the portrayal of atomic catastrophes see Ralf Leppin’s comprehensive film analyses: Die postnukleare Endzeitvision im Film der achtziger Jahre, Cologne 1997.

7 Harald Biskup: Champignonkeller oder Gruselkabinett? Die Zukunft des Regierungsbunkers, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 22-10-1998.

8 Anonymous: Bunker der Bundesregierung wird entkernt und versiegelt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6-2-1999.

9 Helmut Kniel, District Authority, quoted by Rainer Schanno: Eine Hotelanlage tief unter den Ahrbergen, Bonner General-Anzeiger, 28-10-1999.

10 Paul Virilio, Bunker Archeology, Paris 1991, p. 46.

11 The exact achievement of Andreas Magdanz’s photographical works is pointedly reflected in my opinion in a quotation of the French writer Maurice Blanchot: “Thus the essence of th (photograic, author’s note) image consists in being completely outside, without intimicy and yet more accessible and more mysterious than the inner vision: without significance, yet <at the same time a challenge to the unfathomableness of any possible meaning; concealed and yet obvious, having that presence-absence character which goes to make up the attraction and fascination of the sirens.” Quotation from Roland Barthes: Die helle Kammer, Frankfurt am Main 1985, p. 117.

12 Paul Virilio: Bunker Archeology, Paris 1991, p. 43.

13 Samuel Beckett: Endspiel/Fin de Partie/Endgame, Frankfurt am Main 1957/1996, p. 10.



text published in:
Andreas Magdanz. Dienststelle Marienthal,
Aachen 2000, o.S.

Website Stichworte (Sitetags)

Syndicate content