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Stories & Secrets

  • Writer's pictureSamantha Aeschbach

Discovering Zurich's Bunkers: Forgotten Remnants of World War II and the Cold War 


Zurich Old Town on both sides of the Limmat river
View on Zurich Old Town
An Insider's Guide

Dear Cultured Traveler,


Amidst the bustling streets and picturesque landmarks of Zurich lies a hidden and mysterious world beneath its surface – a network of bunkers that silently bear witness to Zurich's wartime past preparedness in the 20th century. 


In this short article, we delve into the intriguing history of Zurich's (fortunately) never-used bunkers, their purpose during World War II and the Cold War, and their transformation in the present day.


History of Bunkers in Zurich: A Testament to ITS Preparedness

During World War II's tumultuous years, Switzerland was surrounded by the chaos of conflict. The Swiss government embarked on an ambitious construction project to safeguard its citizens and defend against potential invasion – the first wave of building bunkers and fallout shelters



Von Switzerland_relief_location_map.jpg: Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting) and NordNordWestderivative work: Orphée (talk) - Switzerland_relief_location_map.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10074794
Limmatlinie. (2023, April 29). In Wikipedia. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limmatlinie

On October 2nd, 1939, Operation Order-Nr. 2 designated the lake of Zurich, among others, as the main line of defense against the north.

This line ran right through the city of Zurich!

These underground fortresses, constructed with remarkable speed and efficiency, served as air shelters for civilians and strategic strongholds for the military. And let's remember all the rigged bridges ready for a spectacular blowup should the occasion have arisen! 


At lightning speed between May and June 1940, Zurich constructed 95 combat posts!


However, towards the end of the summer of that year, the Swiss troops belonging to the city commando were released from duty. This was a result of the armistice that had been signed between Germany and France.


Curiosity: Switzerland played a pioneering role in constructing civilian shelters during the Cold War, with the Shelter Obligation Act launching in 1963.

Purpose and Current Use: From Defense to Adaptation

Today, Zurich's bunkers stand as silent, discreet sentinels of the past, their original purpose now transformed by the passage of time. Many are now repurposed, with their cavernous interiors serving as storage facilities, archives, or even underground parking garages. 


Amidst the ever-present shadow war, these bunkers stand tall, or better said, deep, if you will, as a symbol of Switzerland's unwavering commitment to preparedness and defense.



Adapting to our changing times, they continue to inspire and remind us of the importance of being ready for anything that comes our way.

Examples in Old Town Zurich: Unveiling Hidden Relics

In the heart of Old Town Zurich, amidst the timeless charm of cobblestone streets and historic buildings, several discreet bunkers and military facilities are waiting to be discovered. 

Entrance Urania Parking
Entrance Urania Parking

Take, for example, the centrally located Urania Parking facility. Today, a parking structure a few minutes away from everything in Zurich: Bahnhofstrasse, Rennweg, museums, shopping, Limmat River, etc. 


Curiosity: Still today, Switzerland's most prominent and largest civil defense location! 


The 7-level deep structure, built in 1974, can transform into a shelter to house 10'000 people in just a few days, complete with sanitary facilities, water reservoirs, power generators, gas filters, and a Faraday cage with the control center. 


The lowest point of the building lies 6 meters below the river Limmat! Why not enter, stroll through the garage, and observe the characteristically thick doors or the water pipes running along the walls and ceiling?  




Stadthausquai & Quaibrücke Zurich - wall with gun openings
Stadthausquai & Quaibrücke Zurich

Another in-plain-sight hidden reminder of our preparedness is Bunker A 04844 on the Quaibrücke bridgehead near Bürkliplatz. The firing slits and observers' openings are plainly visible in the bank wall once you know where to look. 


Curiosity: The construction plan shows the facility in the form of a gallery with five fighting rooms lined up next to each other just underneath the unsuspecting pedestrians.




Where to Find Them: Guided Tours and Urban Exploration

Most of these echoes of our past remain seemingly hidden from the everyday passerby yet reveal their presence to the person who knows what signs to look for. And most remain closed to the general public.


For the curious among you who want to learn about Zurich's emergency preparedness history and present state, I have listed some engaging resources at the end of the article (most are in German). 


Alternatively, you are welcome to join a private tour with The Zurich Insider and request this topic to be included.


Furthermore, Zurich organizes a free visit to the Civil Defense Museum four times yearly (only in German). Do inquire with us for a private visit, including translation and transfers. 


Conclusion

Mechanical mouving sculpture by jean tinguely in Zurich
Heureka Sculpture – Jean Tinguely

Zurich's bunkers are tangible reminders of a time marked by uncertainty and conflict. As we delve into their history and explore their hidden depths, let us remember the resilience of those who endured wartime hardships and cherish the peace and prosperity many enjoy in the present day.


While this article provides a glimpse into Zurich's bunkers and their role during World War II, it only scratches the surface of Switzerland's complex involvement in the conflict. The topic is vast and multifaceted, and this article merely serves as a starting point for the curious.




Stay curious and keep exploring this fascinating world. 


Warmly, 


signature Samantha Aeschbach





 

Bonus: Sources for the curious


Extra Bonus:

Should you find yourself wandering through Berlin, and wanting to know more about WWII, then I can highly recomend meeting up with Matti. His private tours are steeped with pure passion for his city's history and culture. He boasts a career marked by collaborations with prestigious companies like Rick Steves and EF.



This article is part of a blog series about Switzerland at War. Make sure to check out the other articles as well!

 
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