Thursday 8 August 2019

The Annual Fat Tire/Insider Tour BBQ 2019

This year we had our annual BBQ get-together at Tempelhofer Feld – a former airport that has been turned into a public park. Built in the 1920s, it has a rich history: used by the Nazis in WWII, it was also the focal point of the Berlin Airlift of 1948–49. Shortly after the closure of the airport in 2008, the space was re-opened to the public in the new form of the Tempelhofer Park. It covers 355 hectares of the site of the former Tempelhof Airport, including its buildings and surrounding land, making it Berlin's largest city park, not to mention the largest inner-city open space in the world. 

Photo by Ciarán O'Connell
Today, the area has a six-kilometre cycling, skating and jogging trail, a 2.5-hectare BBQ area, various dog-runs covering around four hectares, former airplane runways where people can bike and fly kites, and an enormous picnic area for all visitors. They even have an urban gardening section where locals can grow their own veg in raised beds. The perfect place for a burger and a beer with our friends and colleagues!

Monday 15 April 2019

Berlin's Russian Embassy

Insider guides are always exploring. After many years of guiding tours all around the the Russian embassy, we finally got access to the inside of the building.

The Russian Embassy

Originally built in the 18th century as a palace for a high-ranking Prussian military officer, it was bought in 1837 by Tsar Nicholas I. As foreign property ownership was not allowed at the time in Prussia, he conveniently became an honorary citizen of Berlin. During WWII the building was used by Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Ministry for Occupied Eastern Territories. In 1942 it was destroyed during Allied bombing. Rebuilt in 1949-51, its grandiose scale reflects the status and ambitions of what was then a burgeoning world power.

The Domicil Hall

 The entrance leads to the very impressive Domicil Hall, adorned with this fabulous stained-glass window representing the main tower (Spasskaya Tower) of Moscow’s Kremlin.

Dome of Domicil Hall
The hall is lit by daylight coming through the glass top of the dome that crowns the building. It reaches the same height as the Brandenburg Gate.

The Great Hall
The photo above shows the main meeting room for international negotiations. It was here that the Allies sat across from the Soviets in 1954 and 1972. It is also where Presidents Yeltsin and Kohl met in 1994 to agree the withdrawal of all Russian military forces from the former East Germany. 

The Ambassador’s Salon
This is the room where Chancellor Merkel and President Putin met for a discreet conversation some years ago.

The Gentlemen's Salon

Lamp Detail from Gentleman's Salon

 The Gentlemen’s Salon is used as a reception room for guests. The lamps on the wall come from Hitler’s Reich Chancellery. The eagle-shaped feet of the lamps used to look upward, but after their relocation to the embassy they were turned upside down in order to symbolise the Soviet victory over fascism.

The Hunting Salon
The room shown above is adorned with a traditional laquered painting of a hunting scene originating from the famous Palekh workshop in Russia. One of the largest Palekh paintings in the world, it was made especially for this room. Stuffed animals and hunting trophies belonging to former Soviet ambassadors are also on display in this room.

The Concert Hall

 This hall can seat up to 400 guests for cultural events. The embassy hosts many theatre productions, classical music recitals, and visiting groups from the Bolshoi. To the left is access to a large veranda for socialising in the summer evenings.

Insider Guides

This photo was taken by our host and guide for the tour, the absolutely brilliant Vladimir. We were delighted to have gained access and insights into one of Berlin’s most iconic and historical buildings. It did not disappoint!

Thursday 21 March 2019

Insiders Visit Zossen Bunker Complex

The Insider guides went on a guided tour of the bunker complex in Zossen, which is situated one hour’s drive south of Berlin in the sleepy town of Buecherstadt Wünsdorf. The town has some interesting history: this is where Germany’s first mosque was built, opening in 1915 to serve as a place of worship for the Muslim prisoners captured during World War One. In March 1935 the Oberkommando Des Heeres (OKH), the High Command of the Army, located to Zossen. In 1938 the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the High Command of the Armed Forces, followed, also building their headquarters in Zossen. The German Olympic team even trained at the military sports complex in Zossen before the 1936 Summer Olympics. As part of the Potsdam Agreement after World War Two, military installations had to be dismantled, meaning many of the bunkers were destroyed by the Soviets in 1947. The location was of such strategic importance to the Soviets that they rebuilt and expanded the bunker complex during the Cold War.


You can only walk through the immense bunker complex as part of a guided tour.

"Maybach 1" 

The photo above shows how the bunkers look today, having been partially destroyed in 1947.
“Maybach 1”, as this bunker complex was known, was built between 1937 and 1939. What looked from the air to be a normal housing complex was actually twelve solidly built bunkers in which the OKW had their HQ during World War Two, and from which the OKW ran army operations throughout Europe, planning operations such as the invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed “Operation Barbarossa”. This is also where members of the German resistance worked, including people such as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and General Eduard Wagner, who plotted to assassinate Hitler.

The entry to the Panzir Bunker (Cut and cover)
Tunnel in the
Panzir Bunker 

The two photos above show the “Panzir” bunker, which was built in 1979 by the Soviets. Known as a “cut and cover” bunker, it is constructed in such a way that half the bunker lies above ground with the other half lying underground. It was used for communications and physical excercise for Soviet soldiers and officers.

"Nickel" Bunker

This photo shows the entrance into the “Nickel” bunker, which was the most important Soviet communications bunker during the Cold War. It monitored and tracked all civilian and military aircraft flying over Western Europe and Scandinavia. This gave the Soviets valuable real-time data on Allied war planes. They had the information needed to decide upon a given action, whether that be a preemptive strike, or a counter-strike. When the Russians left this bunker in 1994, they took all their high-tech equipment with them, so that it didn’t fall into “enemy” hands.

Werner, our guide, tells us about the strategic importance of the complex; the Insider guides absorb the information.

Walking into the final bunker on our tour, known during the Nazi period as “Zeppelin” and during the Cold War as “Ranet”.

The two photos above show us walking into the “Zeppelin/Ranet” bunker, which was built in 1937-39. It was the communications bunker and post office of the High Command of the German armed forces during World War Two. The bunker was manned around the clock. It was built 20m deep underground and during the Cold War the Soviets expanded the bunker to make it nuclear, biologically and chemically (NBC) protected from attacks.

Werner shows us how this bunker connected the Soviets to all the communication hubs around Europe during the Cold War – a fascinating place!

The last photo is of a section of the pneumatic post system used in the Nazi complex to link Maybach 1, Maybach 2 and the Zeppelin bunker. The cylinders put in these tubes reached a speed of 9m per second, providing a secure means of communicating rapidly between the various operational bunkers of the OKW.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour through the bunker complex in Wünsdorf, and would recommend the tour to visitors to Berlin as a potential day trip out of the city.
It is easy to get to Zossen by train or with a private vehicle. For further information, you can visit their website here: