March 15 - Germany steps up a campaign to sell former World War II bunkers which are fast becoming hot property across the country. Tara Cleary reports.
German architect Rainer Mielke lives in a luxury penthouse in Bremen. What's different about it is that it's built atop a World War II Nazi bunker. Mielke pioneered the conversion of these grim structures - he said it took him years to convince authorities to approve construction. And he says even though planning is easy because there are no supporting walls to consider, there are disadvantages to renovating. SOUNDBITE: Rainer Mielke, architect, saying (German): "The disadvantages, I must admit, we haven't yet discovered these apart from the fact that it is quite difficult and requires a lot of special knowledge to renovate a bunker. It is something completely different than building something new. Even the first part of construction requires making holes in walls instead of making a pit and building walls." It turns out Mielke was onto something. The government is stepping up a campaign to sell the above-ground bunkers. Auction prices have soared to between 130,000 and more than half a million U.S. dollars. And that's before alteration costs. But there is a catch - the approximately 220 bunkers in Germany were built with forced prison labor. And Marcus Meyer from Bremen's Center for Political Education is creating a memorial exhibition in one of the biggest, called "Valentin". The federal real estate agency wants to rent out space in the bunker, largely to cover upkeep costs. Building the mammoth structure cost 1,400 prisoners their lives and Meyer believes it should remain as is as a reminder of Nazi aspirations. SOUNDBITE: Marcus Meyer, Bremen Center for Political Education, saying (German): "You just have to be aware of what you are doing, where you are living. But at the end of the day it's up to each person to question if they are happy living, for example, in a bunker that has been built by forced labor." Mielke's company has converted 13 bunkers in Bremen. Some have not been renovated, just divided into smaller rehearsal studios. Ideal soundproofing for loud instruments. Tara Cleary, Reuters.