Was the emergency necessary in 1975

As part of the “Open Doors” campaign, the Kölnische Rundschau offers readers exclusive guided tours at places whose doors normally remain closed. On November 8th, the Bundeswehr opens the gates to the underground facility (UTA) in Mechernich.

MECHERNICH. There is a gap between trees and undergrowth on the Bleiberg: the entrance to the five-kilometer “main traffic tunnel” into the secret world of the UTA. Otherwise, the safety barrier will only open to the "initiated" - and only if a control device has previously accepted their chip card, beeping and flashing. Those who dare to go inside are not allowed to do this alone: ​​After a safety introduction, each visitor has to strap on his “self-rescuer”. The highly developed device is reminiscent of a lunch box - an expensive sandwich container for 700 euros. Designed like a snorkel, the self-rescuer ensures 30 minutes of "survival time" in an emergency.

130 meters below the Bleiberg, 13.2 kilometers of tunnels lead through a gigantic (parallel) world under Mechernich. A construction period of twelve years (1963-1975) was necessary to create the 87,000 square meter area. Originally, the triple-sized facility was intended as an underground repair yard for combat aircraft. After changes to the NATO strategy, however, these plans became obsolete - construction was halted immediately.

The UTA found its current task as a material depot: A wide range of items can be stored here. With a length of 700 meters, the tunnels are twelve meters wide and nine meters high - aircraft dimensions. "All in all, we could hide a 2.5-kilometer train here," reveals depot commander Major Lammers. He points to a track that is lost in the seeming infinity of the tunnel.

It's unnaturally quiet, the conditioned air makes everything a bit unreal - a vacuum of reality. In the past, the material was transported to and from the Mechernich train station directly to the loading ramp in the tunnel.

Over 81,000 different goods - from screws to aircraft tail units - are stored in 74,000 small, 3,600 medium and 10,000 large compartments in the depot. Some of them come from disbanded locations, some of the material is "waiting" for missions abroad. Mechernich also equips soldiers who are called to crisis areas. A “hot” door opens for this purpose: over 15,000 weapons are stored in a specially secured area. Some of them in stacks in open lattice boxes, "these are old weapons that are waiting to be sent to be shredded". The new "material" is stored in countless steel boxes.

Curious: signs showing coins are still hanging on the rows of shelves. During the currency changeover to the euro, the central bank converted this tunnel into a "high-security wing" and maintained a main warehouse for new coins in Mechernich.

In the cold war

Command center

"With us, the sensitive Bundeswehr material can recover," Lammers alludes to the storage-friendly climate in the UTA with a constant 55% humidity. The climate is controlled from a technical center. Occupied day and night, the air conditioning, electricity, electronics and access traffic are monitored. But here the floor is squeaking! “That”, explains air conditioning mechanic Horst Weber, “is due to the antistatic coating.” Then it can hardly be heard - three huge marine diesel engines make a hell of a racket. In the event of a power failure, the rattling monsters can generate emergency power with almost 850 PS and supply the UTA autonomously.

During the Cold War, this safeguard had another meaning: the so-called "headquarters" was always ready to serve as the command center of the military air force leadership in the event of war. Strategic plans and maps on the walls still bear witness to this today. Once again, the “Inner Director” delivers film scenes to the viewer: men who develop war strategies, analyze the hostile situation. The military leadership would have been well taken care of: 1500 soldiers could be cooked in the UTA kitchen. Today the employees are supplied “from above” and only use the large dining room.