War on German soil? Until recently, an absolutely unthinkable idea. But the country must be prepared for the worst case, says Interior Minister Strobl – and puts pressure on the federal government.

Stuttgart (dpa/lsw) – Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, fear of war and crisis has also set in in Germany. What if the conflict in the East escalates? What if bombs fall here too? Then the civilian population should seek protection in bunkers, so the idea. However, the simplest of arithmetic is causing disaster relief workers to worry more and more: more than eleven million people currently live in Baden-Württemberg. Once upon a time, during the Cold War, there were 547 public shelters with more than 400,000 seats for the citizens of the southwest. Of these, 220 shelters with around 176,000 places are left.

And really ready for use? are zero.

Interior Minister Thomas Strobl is now sounding the alarm – and wants to put pressure on at the interior ministers’ conference this week. With the support of Hesse, Baden-Württemberg is demanding that the federal government draw up a clear shelter concept for the civilian population. “It is important to think the unthinkable and to prepare accordingly,” said the CDU politician to the German Press Agency in Stuttgart. “That’s why we urgently need clear statements from the federal government, among other things for the structural requirements of everyday buildings, testing of underground road and railway systems for accommodating people, but also recommendations for the population itself.”

Until 2007, the bunkers in Germany were still functional. Then the course changed: “Public shelters do not offer adequate protection against current threats such as climate change, natural disasters and terrorism,” said the Federal Agency for Real Estate Tasks (BImA). The federal government stopped receiving the bunkers in agreement with the federal states. “The existing public protective systems have since been gradually phased out.” Bunkers were shut down, dismantled or used for other purposes.

Many systems still exist, but are no longer functional. The BImA is currently taking stock of individual systems. “However, the first interim results suggest that these are no longer ready for use,” writes the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Interior. State Secretary Wilfried Klenk (CDU) responded to a parliamentary question in May that there was not a single operational bunker in Baden-Württemberg where people could seek protection from air raids or in the event of a disaster.

New bunkers have not been built since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. Most of the systems that still exist from before have been formally released from the so-called “civil defense obligation” and the state no longer has any legal access to them. “The originally public shelters are mostly privately owned and owned by local authorities,” according to the Ministry of the Interior. There are currently 220 shelters in the south-west that are still part of the civil defense system. According to the ministry, these have not been properly maintained for years.

Rolf Zielfleisch is the chairman of the association for protective structures in Stuttgart, operates a bunker as a museum and maintains the facilities. He knows about bunkers. At the beginning of the Ukraine war, some citizens dialed his number and sought advice. Many buildings in the country are still intact, but not the door seals, the air filters or the emergency power generators, he reports. In 2015, the facility in the Stuttgart bunkers was dismantled and destroyed with the support of the federal government, from the fork to the seat. The bunkers would only be stocked with canned goods in the event of a crisis, says Zielfleisch. “These bunkers would never have withstood a nuclear conflict anyway. To a certain extent it was just a placebo,” he says. “A bunker is of no use to me with a sufficiently powerful nuclear bomb.”

The bunker expert doesn’t think much of putting state money in bunkers: “That doesn’t make sense,” says Zielfleisch. “They can’t do that many buildings.”