New uses for old bunkers #21: geocaching and memory-work in German Cold War bunkers

This short post is a signpost to Gunnar Maus’ account of his investigation of geocaching and other recreational engagements with German Cold War bunkers at:

I met Gunnar briefly at the RGS-IBG conference in Edinburgh earlier this Summer and I was struck by his account of the ambiguity of these places both in terms of their future use and their disciplinary status – in the sense of them falling into no singular department of study: archaeology? anthropology? real estate? history? heritage studies? In my view, a bit of each, and more.

In his blog-essay Gunnar gives an evocative account of his first encounter with hunting bunkers through the lense of geocaching. Along the way Gunnar mentions metal theft (another of my pet projects), access/trespass (and another), concrete materialities (gosh, another) and hints at their paint balling potentiality, a possible revalorisation of these emplacements as places good for fighting in. This passing aside poses the intriguing question of how paintballing ‘fun’ in real bunkers would deal with its affective and symbolic complexities. As Gunnar puts it:

“Only half-jokingly, we concurred that this would be a cool place for paintballing. But in a moment of reflectiveness inbetween our‚ play, a somewhat terrifying thought crossed my mind: This is not for play. They meant it.”

Gunnar presents his initiatory exploration in ethnographic fashion, acknowledging an anxiety attached to both an association of physical danger with these now abandoned places, and one concerned with the propriety of access: matters of trespass and land-owner reaction in his opening paragraph thus:

‘It’s April 26th, earlier this year. I’ve been anxious all day, and even the night before. I had found a geocache called‚ abgerüstet’, that is ‚disarmed’ in English, a couple of weeks before on the geocaching dot com website. The description promised exactly what I was looking for: a cache hidden at a disused Cold War military site. According to the description, this was a former nuclear arsenal run by the US Army on a German training ground. Close to the site was a German barracks complex that housed artillery and tank troops until it closed down in 2008, the cache description goes on. They are now planning a large-scale leisure centre on the grounds and the cache owner remarks sceptically: “Goodness knows if that’s really going to happen”…[and] some of the older log postings for this cache warned of an‚ angry’ forest official apparently loose in the area. Therefore, I was quite unsure whether one might have to climb fences or otherways illegally gain access to the site, which I wasn’t really prone to do. One couldn’t really tell from google earth’

Like Gunnar I’m shocked if its the case that anglophile geographers are unaware of geocaching. Come-on people…

Anyway, Gunnar’s essay is well worth a read and I will be following his further reports with interest.


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

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