Germany Holidays: Cochem’s secret stash

During the height of the Cold War contingency planning for the possibility of a nuclear war was high on every politician’s agenda. With Germany the likely epicentre of any potential conflict, the federal government in Bonn had to plan for all sorts of worse case scenarios. One of these was the need to replace the entire stock of currency in circulation in case it became or was infected with poisonous viruses imported from East Germany.

A location for storing all the notes required for such a task had to be found. Frankfurt was deemed too risky a location because it was a natural target for any nuclear attack and only lay 100 miles from the border between the two Germanys. Cochem, on the Moselle, was selected because of its proximity by air to the capital, Bonn, and to the Ahr range of hills, where the government had built a bunker to which it planned to relocate. In addition it was thought that the steep and sparsely populated Moselle valley would escape the full brunt of any nuclear attack.

In 1962 the government purchased a doctors’ surgery in the hills overlooking the town and began converting it into a bunker that could safeguard some 15 billion Deutschmarks, to be held in 10, 20, 50 and 100 denominations. These had no intrinsic value as they differed from the notes then in circulation. They would only have value once the entire currency was replaced. They were packed in boxes and stored 30 metres below ground in a safe with walls six metres thick and a door weighing eight tons.

Top secret

The bunker remained a secret throughout its existence, and even the Stasi never found out.  During construction however, such quantities of earth were removed that it was impossible to keep it from the nearby residents. In order to “buy” their silence, the government admitted it was building a nuclear shelter and offered 100 places to its neighbours in the event of an attack.

In the end of course neither the notes within it, nor the sanctuary it offered to local residents, were ever required. In 1988, with East-West tensions noticeably lessening, the bunker was decommissioned and notes removed. The building remained unused until the Volksbank Cochem came looking for an alternative to its safe in the town centre for storing its customers valuables after the floods of 1993. Eventually the Volksbank too moved out, in 2004, leaving the site unoccupied and beginning to deteriorate.

It was bought by the current private owners in 2014 and a process of restoration began which saw the Bundesbank Bunker open to the public in 2016, with regular guided tours. These last just under an hour and it is advisable to take suitable clothing as it can be a little chilly in the bunker, which remains temperature controlled. The Bunker is a 15 minute walk from Cochem’s bridge over the Mosel, but it a relatively strenuous uphill walk, so a shuttle bus operates from the other side of the river near the town centre. – Mark Arrol

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