After the Royal Air Force bombed Berlin on October 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the construction of several flak towers to protect his cities against the allied air threat. The first three pairs of towers went up in Berlin in 1940, followed in 1941 by another two pairs in Hamburg and finally the three pairs in Vienna, which were constructed between December 1942 and January 1945. All sixteen flak towers were designed by German architect Friedrich Tamms, employing hundreds of forced laborers and war-prisoners from all over Europe.
The massive reinforced concrete structures were equipped with anti-aircraft guns ranging from 20 mm to 128 mm in size, that could fire 8,000 rounds per minute at enemy aircraft over 14 kilometers away. Also present were radar dishes that could be retracted behind a thick concrete and steel dome to protect them from damage in an air raid. The lower floors provided air raid shelters for civilians, with room for 10,000 civilians, and even a hospital ward, inside.
With concrete walls up to 3.5 meters thick, flak towers were considered to be invulnerable to attack with conventional bombs carried by Allied bombers. The towers, during the fall of Berlin, formed their own communities, with up to 30,000 or more Berliners taking refuge in a single tower during the battle. These towers, much like the keeps of medieval castles, were some of the safest places in a fought-over city, and so the flak towers were some of the last places to surrender to USSR forces, eventually being forced to capitulate as supplies dwindled.
After the war, the allied forces destroyed all flak towers in Berlin and only two towers were preserved in Hamburg. The six flak towers in Vienna, however, remained almost unchanged until today. One of the towers is used as a storage facility for the museum of contemporary art MAK, another one has been transformed into an aquarium and climbing wall, a third one is located in the middle of a military complex and used by the Austrian army. The other three are unoccupied since the end of the war and their access remains restricted. There have been an endless number of projects for the re-use of the single towers with ideas ranging from a warehouse for back-ups of important data, to a coffee house or a hotel. Today the towers are owned by the State and the City of Vienna and some of them are leased to private companies.
Heavy firing from the Berlin Zoo flak tower on April 1942. Photo credit
Soldiers with anti-aircraft guns and a distance measuring device at the Berlin Zoo flak tower, April 1942. Photo credit
Flak tower in Hamburg. Photo credit
Flak tower in Berlin. Photo credit
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