I hunched down as far as I could, one hand dragging my backpack full of gear behind me and the other holding my tripod and camera. The headlamp illuminated the thick dust I was breathing in and a sliver of the room stretching out before me. Christian was in the lead with a large kerosene lantern, and stopped to crouch at the end of the curved room. It was wide enough for three people, yet claustrophobic, as there were only a few feet of room from the earthen floor to the curved ceiling.
"This was used by civilians. Can you imagine being down here during the bombings?" Christian asked. I tried to imagine myself a few feet lower in the same crumpled position, listening to the cracking thunder of bombs being dropped nearby and the wail of the air raid siren echoing through the ventilation system. It was difficult to imagine this bare hulk of concrete serving as a hospital, but definitely possible.
I felt like this was my first glimpse of a "real" WWII bunker; I've been inside a few in the US but they never actually used for their intended purpose. There was something sterile about them, almost museum-like even though they weren't maintained - and this place was quite different.
We met up with Christian the day before, after we had been driving around the South-Western part of the country following at a pretty "bum" list of places to explore with few exceptions. He seemed to feel our pain, and cautiously told us about a secret bunker that not many people knew about, and asked if we were interested provided we did not disclose the location. Secret underground hospital-bunker? It was difficult to think of something less interesting!
The first section of the bunker was amazing to say the least; no graffiti was to be seen, and many components were left behind from what I assume to be from the Russian occupation period. Eventually we arrived at a "beach," where the sediment on the floor slowly receded into a still lake of frigid water. Christian had kindly brought us trash bags for our feet so we could wade through - the thin plastic barrier only held up for a few minutes before being punctured by some submerged object. The hospital section of the bunker was small, barren, and partially filled with earth, but still amazing to be inside.
Although our feet were wet and cold, not one person could complain given the amazing world we had just seen!