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A treasure of billions in an earth bunker

The property, which HOCHTIEF began building in the Moselle Valley in 1962, is unique. Above ground, it is a training center like many others; below ground, it is a high-security bunker whose true function was known for decades only to a few hand-picked secret-keepers. 30 meters deep in the ground, hidden behind meter-thick concrete walls, armored intermediate doors and secured with alarm systems, a mega treasure was stored: 15 billion German marks. 15,000,000,000 - a 15 with nine zeros. "The meaning and purpose of the whole thing were well concealed," says Wolfgang Lambertz, who was still a child at the time and is now the mayor of the Cochem municipal association.

1962, then: For a year now, a wall has divided Germany into East and West. And the Cold War reaches a climax with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fear of nuclear escalation is omnipresent. And now these HOCHTIEF construction workers arrive every day, use big equipment from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and make so much noise that residents in the Moselle valley complain. It is a civil defence bunker, they learn when askedIn fact, up to 100 people could have survived here at depth for a fortnight - thanks to drinking water wells, diesel power generators, air filters and decontamination rooms against nuclear radiation. That was only half the truth. The rest was sworn to secrecy. The whole truth is known to Manfred Pöggel, who ran the training center, which was intended as a diversion, for 13 years and also lived in it.

Pöggel's secret mission began in 1964. "I was there for the first money transports from Frankfurt." Because his employer, the Bundesbank, was based in Frankfurt. And it was worried about its D-mark. In the event of hyperinflation, a replacement had to be found quickly. And that's why it sent selected employees like Pöggel on the trip to the Moselle. They packed the notes in boxes and sacks and hid them in the bunker. HOCHTIEF built a secret exit that still leads up into the forest today. The entrance for the money deliveries was disguised as a double garage.

"We simply did our job," says Peter Bamberg about the construction of the Bundesbank bunker. The 79-year-old was on the job as a locksmith (for HOCHTIEF) at the time and was there from the first blast to the last. "We only knew we were creating a bunker," he explains. "That's all we were interested in."

Two trucks moved the construction debris day and night. Peter Bamberg and his approximately 30 colleagues worked in two shifts. No work was allowed at night, not even blasting.

15 billion D-marks served as secret emergency currency - the "substitute series BBk II". The people in Cochem and the surrounding area did not learn about it. Even the police, knew nothing about the billions under their feet. The true purpose of the bunker remained secret. Only a few people knew about the treasure of billions, only three had the necessary keys. Pöggel was one of them. "We kept quiet," says Pöggel, "and didn't tell people anything."

Today the bunker is a museum and the training center serves as a hotel. The change in function became apparent in 1988, when Pöggel and a few colleagues removed the billions before they went into the shredder and burst into flames. Presumably because the "replacement series BBk II" was no longer forgery-proof enough. The removal of the billions - an adventure for Manfred Pöggel, who is 89 years old today. "With two colleagues, the other key bearers of the safes, I was there the whole time. We were all shaking a bit. If something had been missing, we would have been in quite a bit of trouble." It went well.