Shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power, he ordered the construction of the New Reich Chancellery just south of the Brandenburg Gate in East Berlin. The Chancellery was a showpiece of the Third Reich and designed to project a sense of power and grandeur. The project also contained an extensive underground complex with a bunker and bomb shelter. On January 16, 1945, with Allied troops closing in, Hitler descended to the bunker where he would spend the last 105 days of his life before committing suicide in April 1945.
In 1933, Hitler decided the current Reich Chancellery was too small for the needs of his government. He wanted to enlarge his headquarters. During construction, crews built a cellar that could serve as an air-raid bunker for Hitler. It was called the Vorbunker and featured a reinforced concrete roof over five feet thick. The concrete walls were sturdy enough to support the weight of a newly built reception hall above. The underground complex contained 12 rooms and was completed in 1936.
In 1943, Hitler ordered the Reich Chancellery to expand again. This time, an additional bunker was built one level below the Vorbunker and connected by a stairway. Called the Führerbunker, the complex was located 50 feet below the garden of the old Reich Chancellery and contained its own heating, water, and electricity. Although dimly lit and damp, fine furnishings and art from the Chancellery above adorned the bunker. It was accessible by a red-carpeted hallway and contained luxuries like a wine cellar.
In January 1945, with the Soviet Army approaching and Berlin under bombardment, Hitler moved his headquarters underground. His aides, bodyguards, servants, and his girlfriend Eva Braun joined him in the bunker. Later, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda moved into the bunker with their six children.
Hitler ran his government from the bunker, strategizing with military leaders as Allies slowly chipped away at his empire. The 3,000 square-foot space was claustrophobic, and the constant airstrikes by British and American bombers brought a sense of doom. On April 19, Russian troops began to encircle the city. During his last Supreme Command conference held in the bunker on April 22, Hitler declared that if Germany fell, he must die in Berlin. On April 29, as Russian troops were fighting street by street and nearing the Chancellery, Hitler and Braun were married in the bunker. The following day, with Russians almost to the gates, both Hitler and Braun committed suicide. Their bodies were brought outside the bunker, placed in a shell hole, and burned. Others living in the bunker also committed suicide. Among them was Magda Goebbels, who poisoned her six children before she and her husband killed themselves. The deaths of Hitler and those in his inner circle signaled a final blow to the Third Reich. Days later, Germany signed an unconditional surrender, and Allied forces declared victory in Europe.
After the war, the Soviets attempted to level the Chancellery buildings and underground complex. Much of the bunker complex remained undisturbed until a reconstruction project in the late 1980s uncovered portions intact. At that time, authorities demolished most of the bunker. Some corridors still exist today but are sealed off from the public.