Friday, April 29, 2011
Deep beneath the city of Prague is another city altogether, one that most people are completely unaware of, and that they'll hopefully never see
This is entirely eerie yet wildly fascinating...
The pedestrian tunnel under Vítkov hill
Deep beneath the city of Prague is another city altogether, one that most people are completely unaware of, and that they’ll hopefully never see. It is a system of hundreds upon hundreds of concrete bunkers with their own electricity, water and ventilation systems awaiting the day that you might hear the air-raid sirens wailing.
Air raid sirens are normal enough in Prague; they are heard all over the city on the first Wednesday of every month at noon when they are tested. The system of bomb shelters is in a similar state of readiness. In the event of a war, there is room beneath the city for 40% of the population. In peacetime however, the countless kilometres of tunnels are inhabited only by a few dozen workers of the town hall’s shelters administration department. Deep beneath Prague, they keep the bunker system in tip-top shape from day to day, hoping at the same time it will never be used. Mr Rostislav Guth is in charge of the department.
Going into the Prague bunkers is a literal descent into history. Key to the general ambience are the technological relics kept in perfect working order. The machinery is almost all from the 1950s, great big objects piped into the walls with huge bakelite knobs, and needle gauges. Everything is of massive design, even the ancient telephones hanging from the walls, and of course the ventilation system, the noise of which would probably drive one mad within less than 72 hours.
"Everything would rot if there were supplies down here, it would be a waste of money, and there’s no sense in it either. If there was a threat of war everything needed would be brought down for those 72 hours. We have a 48-hour readiness period to prepare the bunkers. In that time, we’d we fitting the air filters, bringing down food stores, beds and bottled water … There are already five wells here, but that’s utility water. Originally those things were here, but they realised it was senseless. There was even canned food, they were storing cans down here that ended up getting thrown away. But that was in the 50’s, when they thought there could be a conflict any day.”
The city’s emergency services would rely on notification systems established during the Second World War. Each district has a plan for sending its citizens to the appropriate shelter. Emergency workers would be stationed around the city to help people orient themselves. The bunkers themselves would have to be not only stocked but also cleared out within 24 hours, as many are rented out as storage space. And perhaps even more difficult to imagine, the underground transportation services – the metro and tunnels – would be transformed into a living space for tens of thousands of people.
“Switzerland has 100% coverage. Or the Swedes, they have something like 70% of the population covered. The neutral states are basically the best equipped, even in terms of the number of gas masks. When the east and west were divided, the neutral states in between were the ones who paid the most attention to it.”