Historians unearth the lost secrets of Hitler’s Wolf Lair fruit and veg plot

More than just a bunker: the Wolf’s Lair also boasted its own vegetable garden. Tomasz Waszczuk/PAP

Nearly seventy-five years after Red Army units first tentatively entered its devastated remains, Hitler’s notorious Wolf’s Lair HQ is in the news again after a team of local historians unearthed the remains of a garden and greenhouse complex once used to grow vegetables destined for the Fuhrer’s dining table.

Made on the grounds of Mazurolandia, a small theme park featuring miniature models of Mazurian landmarks as well as a rich haul of WWII military hardware, the discovery has yielded a wealth of ceramics, porcelain and glassware dating from the war. In addition, the dig has uncovered the original foundations of the gardener’s house, two greenhouses and an underground boiler room that supplied water and warm air to enable the year-round cultivation of fresh garden produce.

Some of the pieces that have been recovered from the garden.Mazurolandia

A creature of habit, Hitler’s routine involved a late breakfast of two apples, biscuits and tea, and later meals that included vegetarian broths, carrot and potato stews and fried eggs with mash.

“His meals were the most delicious fresh things,” recalled one of Hitler’s food testers, Margot Wölk, “from asparagus to peppers and peas, served with rice and salads.” Forcibly employed for over two years at the Wolf’s Lair, the food that Wölk ate to check for poison was sourced direct from these gardens.

Hitler with Goering. The garden kept the dictator well supplied with vegetables throughout the year.Bundesarchiv_Bild_101III-Reprich-012-08

“Mazurolandia was opened eight years back,” says Jacek Adamski from the Mazurian Military Museum, “and we already knew then that somewhere here lay the remnants of the gardens that once served the Wolfsschanze. As a teetotal, non-smoking vegetarian, Hitler had such gardens at every HQ, so three years back we made the decision to start looking for it by examining photos, sifting through archives and talking to local people who could remember seeing it straight after the war back when they were children.”

Having narrowed down the area of search, earthworks were commenced at the beginning of the summer holidays with the resulting discoveries allowing historians to puzzle together an accurate picture of what the area once looked like.

The remains of the boiler room that supplied water and warm air to enable the year-round cultivation of fresh garden produce.Mazurolandia

Set eight kilometres from Kętrzyn in what was formerly Eastern Prussia, construction on the Wolf’s Lair was initiated in 1940 as Nazi Germany limbered up for its attack on the Soviet Union. Shielded by woodland and swamps, its surrounding environment offered much natural protection, and in the ensuing months Organization Todt, the Third Reich’s engineering group, set about building a series of above-ground bunkers for the Nazi hierarchy.

With Operation Barbarossa launched in the summer of 1941, Hitler finally arrived to the Wolf’s Lair two days after the invasion of the Soviet Union on board his fortified train and would subsequently spend over 800 days here orchestrating his murderous campaigns.

Along with Hitler and his staff the Wolf’s Lair also housed a 1,500-strong SS garrison.Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R99057

Protected by overhead camouflage, 54,000 mines, and an elite garrison of around 1,500 soldiers, the presence of a barbershop, casino, cinema and teahouse did little to ease the living conditions. General Jodl likened the compound to a cross between a monastery and concentration camp, whilst others were moved to compare it to life inside an Egyptian tomb.

“It was a stale, hermetic existence,” wrote Albert Speer in his post-war memoirs. “Hitler’s room stressed sparseness and he’d even renounced the comfort of an upholstered chair… The teahouse was a pleasant change from the drabness. Here we occasionally met for a glass of Vermouth, as Field Marshalls waited before conferring with Hitler.”

A model of the house belonging to the gardener who ensured Hitler’s “meals were the most delicious fresh things”.Mazurolandia

Furthering the discomfort were plagues of mosquitoes and efforts to get rid of them saw oil poured into the surrounding swamps. Successful only in killing the frog population, Hitler was said to have been so disturbed by the absence of soothing croaking sounds that crates of frogs were specially brought in to appease the dictator.

If life was monotonous, the mundanity was shattered on July 20th, 1944, when Claus von Stauffenberg left a bomb during a situation conference before exiting and departing on a plane bound for Berlin. Hitler survived this attempt on his life and the coup that followed was quickly snuffed out with bloodthirsty efficiency. The tide of war, however, had already turned and on November 20th he took leave of the Wolf’s Lair one last time.

An aerial shot from 1944. The Wolf’s Lair covered a huge area.Public domain

With the Red Army nearing, orders were issued to destroy the complex on January 24, 1945, and the operation saw five to six tons of TNT detonated in each bunker. Despite the extravagance of this pyrotechnical action, the efforts of the German sappers merely shattered the buildings, and today they loom from the tangled undergrowth like jagged fragments of a concrete jigsaw.

Officially rendered safe from mines in 1955, the decision to open the Wolf’s Lair as a tourism site was largely a macro-political manoeuvre designed to demonstrate to other communist nations that East Germany, too, had an active wartime resistance.

Goering inspects the shattered remains of the conference room destroyed by a bomb meant for Hitler.Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1972-025-10

“The Wolf’s Lair was opened up to tourists in the 1960s ostensibly because East Germany needed a propaganda theme to show to others that not every German was bad,” says Adamski. “A Canadian professor, Dr. Peter Hoffman, became the first person to map the area but his focus was only really on the first zone where the Nazi leadership were based. As such, since the 60s, pretty much everything that tourists learn is limited to the context of the assassination attempt and this primary zone.”

Yet this represents just a fraction of the wider plot. Zone II housed administrative and military facilities, Zone III was given over to bodies such as the Luftwaffe and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whilst Zone IV, where Mazurolandia finds itself, served mainly logistical functions – it’s here that Hitler’s train would park.

Jacek Adamski from the Mazurian Military Museum examined old photos, sifted through archives and talked to local people to find out if they could remember seeing it straight after the war when they were children.Kalbar/TFN

“In the books published so far,” notes Adamski, “no-one talks about this last zone with the exception of author Bogusław Perzyk.”

This stands to change. Situated just 900-metres from Hitler’s personal bunker, these latest finds lend a new angle through which to view one of history’s most infamous figures. Whilst Adamski stresses that Hitler never worked in the garden himself, the artefacts provide a stark insight into his life while acting as further confirmation of his habits. More so, they underscore the sheer banality lurking behind the evil.