Unbeknownst to the thousands of passengers that pass through the station each day, right under their feet, between platforms 2 and 3 at the Gare de l’Est lies an old concrete World War II bomb shelter. One of the busiest stations in the heart of Paris, the 19th century terminal is hiding a 120m² wartime bunker that was half-built by the French as an air raid shelter and taken over by the Germans during the four-year Nazi occupation, evidenced by inscriptions on the walls.
We’re lucky enough to see these photos thanks to a (bad ass) French urban explorer and photographer known as Diane of Neverends.net. How Diane gained permission to access the underground bunker, ‘only seen by a few’ and privately owned by SNCF (the French national rail company), shall remain her secret, but I suppose that’s all part of the mysterious charm of urban explorers.
Notice the sign above on the wall written in German, ‘Notausgang’, meaning “emergency exit”.
The old bunker is very much intact and has obviously been quite well-maintained by the SNCF, even though they have never decided to share it with the general public. The space that could inhabit up to 70 people in an emergency, is made up of a machinery room, a telephone control station and even the old furniture and objects still remain, including a folding bed and oxygen cylinders in case of a gas attack.
In a dimly-lit office with wiring and fuse boxes decorating the walls, on the desks Diane found old sheets of paper with graphs of the rail network. “One can almost imagine that traffic control officers are going to burst into the office at any moment to ensure the trains are running properly,” says Diane on her French urban exploration website.
Diane also found this pedal generator, used for providing electricity in case of a failure (it still works).
Is it a shame the SNCF has to keep this secret time capsule under lock and key– or does the challenge of finding a way in make it more more exciting? Diane isn’t giving out any maps so it’s up to you to embark on this subterranean adventure on your own, under the Gare de l’Est, right in the heart of Paris. Sounds more enticing than climbing up the Eiffel Tower with thousands of tourists…