In the spirit of cultural exchange that has seen the British Museum lend one of its Elgin Marbles to the Hermitage Museum, perhaps the Top Secret theme park could persuade the Lubyanka archive in Moscow to lend it some of their choicest exhibits.
Authorities tried to destroy the bunker after the war (Alamy)
They include Hitler’s jawbone, removed for identification on 5 May 1945 by the SMERSH agents who discovered his charred body buried outside the bunker, and Hitler’s gold Nazi Party badge, which he presented to Magda Goebbels, although that is rather melted round the edges from when her body and that of her husband Joseph were doused in petrol and set on fire.
This gold badge was stolen to order a number of years ago from inside the Lubyanka, and we do not know whether it has been recovered or not. To snatch it from under the FSB’s nose was quite an achievement in itself, and goes to show how much artefacts linked to the Third Reich hierarchy are prized by rich collectors of dubious political views, both in Russia and Germany.
Hitler’s bunker pictured after the war (Alamy)
A rather more accessible item would be Eva Braun’s solid silver hand mirror, with the swastika and RK for Reichskanzlei, which an elderly German proudly showed to me after a lecture I gave in Berlin in 2004. He said he had bought it from Lev Bezymenski, a Soviet military intelligence officer. I had interviewed Bezymenski because he had been an interpreter at Paulus’s surrender in Stalingrad, and then been one of the first to enter Hitler’s Bunker on 2 May 1945.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was bizarre to find that former Red Army officers were selling Nazi items they had seized as souvenirs in 1945 in an attempt to augment their pathetically devalued pensions.
A US soldier inside the bunker in 1945 (Getty)
My strange encounter with Eva Braun’s hand mirror coincided exactly with the release of Downfall, one of the most acclaimed German-made films about Hitler’s last days. One can nitpick a number of historical details in it, but I suspect anyone wanting to understand what it was like in the Führerbunker in April 1945 would do better to see it again than make their way to Oberhausen.
The decision to create a “Hitler bunker experience” at all has been made possible only thanks to Germany’s burgeoning self-confidence.
After its admirable victory in the 2014 World Cup, the almost compulsory apologias for the Nazi era are now truly a thing of the past.
Adolf Hitler’s command centre conference room in the bunker partially burned out by SS troops and stripped of evidence by invading Russian soldiers ( William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Any notion of collective guilt is dead and buried, and thus – ironically – this mock concrete sarcophagus can finally be contemplated. The sceptical reaction to the announcement last month is in contrast to the embarrassed panic that occurred in Berlin soon after the collapse of Communism, when building work revealed that the real Führerbunker had survived partly intact.
Soviet and East German attempts to destroy it completely with high explosive had failed because of the four metres of solid concrete above. Berlin’s municipal authorities cordoned it off hurriedly and re-covered it in earth. It is now buried under a car park surrounded by blocks of apartments.
But since the turn of the century, a new mood has emerged in Germany. After all the post-war years of collective national guilt, a new feeling of Normalisierung – or normalisation – began to gather pace. Many felt that at last it had become right to portray Germans in 1945, especially the civilians fleeing from the Red Army, as victims. This was sparked in part by Günter Grass’s 2002 novel, Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk). The book, based on the fate of refugees from East and West Prussia in the early part of 1945, revolves around the sinking by a Soviet submarine of the liner Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic. More than 7,000 – some say 10,000 – drowned in the icy waters off the Pomeranian coast.
The same year, German historian Jörg Friedrich published his detailed and highly emotive account of the suffering of German civilians under British bombing in Der Brand (The Burning). Friedrich called Churchill a “butcher” and implied that he should be classified as a war criminal for such senseless suffering.
Abandoned furniture and debris seen inside the bunker (William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Friedrich took a narrow view of his subject, failing to recognise that the British strategic bombing offensive from 1942 was our “Second Front”, to help the Soviet Union in the only way we could. Our feeling of blood guilt towards the Red Army, which was taking all the casualties, influenced British policy more than had yet been fully realised.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Friedrich and most German commentators failed to appreciate how effective British bombing was in forcing the Luftwaffe to withdraw a large proportion of its fighter squadrons and anti-aircraft batteries from the Eastern Front to defend the Reich. This aided the Red Army enormously in 1943 and especially 1944, when they were able to make huge advances.
It was, of course, quite right, that the terrible suffering of German civilians in 1945 should have been acknowledged. They too, in their way, were also victims of Nazism, even if some – or many – of them had supported Hitler’s regime. It was also quite right that modern Germany should lay down the burden of self-reproach. But that did not of course mean that a veil should be drawn over the horrors of the past, or that the German right should be allowed to confuse cause and effect, as it had done so often in the past.
The 2004 film Downfall, which was set in Adolf Hitler’s Führerbunker
The announcement of this fake Führerbunker could hardly have been timed any worse, coinciding with the anti-Islamist Pegida demonstrations in Germany and then the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris, which was clearly intended to provoke a backlash to recruit more jihadists.
And although many Germans are unduly nervous, drawing comparisons with the Pegida marches and a possible return of the Brown Shirts, this is far from the case. History never repeats itself, and any superficial parallels with the 1930s are deeply misleading. For a start, democracy in Germany could hardly be more secure. Whether facing neo-Nazis or Jihadists, the bulk of the country is impressively united.
Of course, in an increasingly amorphous world of fragmented societies, there are many young males who, through insecurity, bitterness and a lack of opportunities, feel a strong need for a tribal, religious or nationalist identity.
The exterior of the bunker as seen in the 2004 film Downfall
Yet Germany faces another, rather longer term paradox. The Euro crisis as a whole can only be resolved through a drastic centralisation of political and economic power, and that in turn will greatly increase the anti-Brussels resentment across Europe and play into the hands of the extremist groups and parties. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Germany’s Federal government had been avoiding decisive action and preferred to wait upon events, but now, with the Greek crisis, probably cannot delay any longer.
As for the fake Führerbunker, common sense could yet save the day. If it goes ahead, this Nazi-lite attraction will not have any portraits of Hitler on its wall, just empty frames. And as swastikas are not permitted to be displayed under German Federal law, with any luck it will be as disappointing as those rip-off Winter Wonderlands that seem to spring up each December.
It is sheer sophistry to pretend that crude attempts to popularise history leads to a better understanding or a desire to learn more. Rather more often, they simply confirm existing caricatures and clichés.
Antony Beevor’s latest book, Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble (Viking, £25), will be published in May. To order your copy for just £20 plus P&P, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk