Column: Berlin’s clandestine tunnel
Berlin’s Allied Museum collects and displays items from 1948 to 1990, when the city was divided between East and West. The museum’s most fascinating item reflects western espionage activities during the Cold War.
The Allied Museum occupies the building and land of the U.S. Army’s “Outpost” movie theater, used to entertain troops stationed in Berlin’s American sector until the troops left in 1994. Located outside the main building are a number of large items from Berlin’s divided past, including an American guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie, a British Hastings TG 503 airplane used during the Berlin airlift in 1948 and 1949, and a French railway car. A small section of the Berlin Wall stands in front of a concrete watch tower once used by East German border guards. Inside the museum are exhibits from Berlin’s Cold War history, including a display remembering President John Kennedy’s trip to West Berlin in 1963, when he famously declared: “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner.”).
The museum’s largest enclosed exhibit is a 22-foot long tube, about six feet in diameter. The metal tube once formed part of a 1500-foot-long tunnel built by the American CIA and the British SIS in 1953 and 1954. The tunnel originated in the American sector of Berlin and extended east about 1000 feet underground into the Soviet sector, intersecting 1200 buried telephone lines. Beginning in 1955, American and British intelligence operatives intercepted more than 440,000 telephone conversations involving the Soviet military. The interceptions stopped when Soviet intelligence discovered the tunnel in April 1956, creating an international controversy.
The refurbished tunnel section now in the Allied Museum came from the western segment, excavated in 1997. Remains of the eastern segment of the tunnel, discovered in a German forest about 100 miles from Berlin in 2012, are stored in a museum warehouse.