Sunday, July 1, 2007

BERLIN — A Nazi academy designed by Albert Speer and forgotten for decades has become the focus of a monumental treasure hunt in Berlin after explorers claim to have found it buried under a mountain of rubble.

The huge complex, part of Speer’s grand design for the Third Reich’s capital, Germania, was intended to train a new generation of Nazi military engineers producing “wonder weapons.”

Adolf Hitler laid the foundation stone in 1937, but construction was halted three years later as World War II escalated.

After the Allied victory in 1945, Britain considered using the building as its Berlin headquarters, but converting it proved too complicated and the idea was dropped.

The site, to the southwest of central Berlin, was then used as a dumping ground for wartime rubble from the shattered city.

The original 115-foot-high plateau, on which Speer had intended an academic “city,” was transformed into a 350-foot-high mini-mountain of debris known as “Devil’s Hill.” Despite its name, the area subsequently became a favorite with German hikers and kite-fliers.

Soon all memory of the academy, a massively expensive project that included a bunker designed to hold 5,000 people, was buried under 40 million tons of rubble.

“It was forgotten,” said Sascha Keil, a spokesman for the group Unterwelten, or Underworlds, which specializes in digging out Berlin’s buried history. He said that the academy was “80 percent ready” before work was halted. Despite being partially stripped for building materials after the war, the bulk of it remains entombed.

“We are particularly interested in the large underground network of the academy,” said Mr. Keil. “We have conducted a geological survey but the only way to be sure exactly what is there is to dig.”

Berlin municipality, already burdened by huge debt, has proved unwilling to excavate the city’s notorious past.

“They don’t want to know,” said Mr. Keil. “They didn’t even want to mark the Fuehrer Bunker [where Hitler spent his final days in 1945]. We did that at our own expense.”

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