The physical vestiges of Germany’s WW2 military ventures have largely been removed over the decades. Prominent exceptions can be found, however, in a curious spattering of brutal towers still looming over neighbourhoods in Berlin, Hamburg, and Vienna. These concrete monoliths were so well made that demolishing them has proven more trouble than its worth. As a result, many remain, though mostly empty and unused—silent reminders of a time when military pragmatism took precedence over architectural design.
The flak towers were constructed during World War II as staging sites for the Luftwaffe’s anti-aircraft artillery – although the actual value of their contribution to the defence of the cites is debatable. That said, their impenetrable concrete innards doubled as air-raid shelters for thousands of German civilians.
Each flak tower complex involved two separate towers: a large Gefechtsturm or “combat” G-tower for gun mounts, and a smaller Leitturm or “leadership” L-tower for fire control and command. Together, the two outposts could communicate efficiently during combat and coordinate with other defence complexes in the area. Like besieged medieval castles, the flak towers also proved effective in providing a final defensive strongpoint for some of the last Nazi garrisons resisting the Red Army as it took Berlin in 1945. Eventually, however, even these holdouts ran short of supplies and surrendered.
When Hitler ordered the construction of the initial Berlin flak towers in 1940, he expedited the process by adjusting national rail schedules around the delivery of building materials. The towers were erected in just six months. After the war most of the smaller L-towers were demolished or buried. Seventy years later, the remaining flak towers are slowly being converted for other uses. A tower in Esterhazy Park in Vienna, for example, houses a public aquarium and a climbing wall. Hamburg’s Heiligengeistfeld G-tower is now a complex of nightclubs and businesses, while plans are afoot to crown it with an elaborately tiered public garden.