(All images: Boreally.org. Secret WW2 bunker beneath Gare de l’Est in Paris)
Every year, almost 34 million passengers hurry along the crowded concourse of Paris Gare de l’Est railway station, in the 10th arrondissement, making their way to and from trains that are served by 30 different platforms. But many remain unaware of the of the secret wartime bunker that lies frozen in time beneath their feet.
The underground space is rarely open to the public, but photographs reveal a network of subterranean rooms that remain eerily intact. Situated beneath platforms 2 and 3, the historic bunker has for years been faithfully maintained by the SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français), the state-owned railway company than manages rail traffic across France and the Principality of Monaco.
As World War Two loomed menacingly on the horizon, the French authorities set about building a 1,290 square foot air raid shelter beneath the platforms of Gare de Paris-Est, anticipating a sustained aerial bombardment from Göring’s Luftwaffe. But the shelter wasn’t finished by the time the Third Reich marched into Paris, and it was later completed by occupying Nazi forces.
Atlas Obscura writes that “the subterranean chamber’s purpose and the extent to which it was used is unknown, but the key location suggests it could have been an important hiding place.” More than 70 years later, German inscriptions on the walls reflect its use during this period of occupation.
The gloomy interior of the mysterious Gare de l’Est bunker is like a Second World War time capsule, a haunting and rather sinister slice of hidden history amid the timeless beauty of Paris.
A silent network of chambers and ancillary rooms are connected by narrow passageways lit by stark yellow lights. The French and German signage – stencilled on the cold concrete walls and steel doors – that once directed occupants around the underground space, remains extant.
Metal tables, chairs and other basic furnishings are as they were when Allied forces reached Paris, as are the pipes, wires and other apparatus that line its chilly walls. The only natural light comes from a glass roof that opens onto the busy concourse above, but even that offers few clues to the bunker’s existence amid the clamour of the daily commute.