Uncovering Denmark's top secret nuclear bunker

A top secret atomic bunker has been opened to the public in Denmark. From being built to withstand nuclear bombs, it has turned into an incredible underground museum.

Nestled in the Rold Forest in northern Jutland, about 400 kilometers northwest of Copenhagen, lies the vast REGAN Vest bunker.

Secretly built in the 1960s during the height of Cold War tensions, it was once where the Danish government, and even the queen, would evacuate if nuclear war broke out.

The original plan was for Danish leaders to run the country from within this shelter, located 60 meters below ground. The existence of the bunker was kept secret for decades until it was revealed in 2012.

After years of preparation, it was opened to the public for the first time in February 2023 , this time as a museum.

Only 50,000 visitors are allowed in annually, with a small group limit of 10 people on a 90-minute guided tour that explores 2km of the labyrinthine bunker system, according to the BBC.

Uncovering Denmark's top secret nuclear bunker
The concrete door frame is weathered and has turned moss green. (Photo: Adrienne Murray Nielsen).

Under the towering forest, reporter Adrienne Murray Nielsen walks along a short path leading to the entrance to the bunker, which was once guarded by police officers armed with pistols and grenades.

The concrete door frame is weathered and has turned moss green. It looked so ordinary that the vast network of tunnels it concealed became even more astonishing.

“This is part of keeping it a secret,” said historian Bodil Frandsen, curator of the museum.

Entering the tunnel, Nielsen shared that she felt like entering a secret parallel universe.

“Listen up,” said Lars Christian Nørbach, director of the North Jutland Museum, as the door slammed shut, sending an echo down the 300m-long tunnel ahead.

The walk is only a few minutes, but Nielsen feels much longer as it follows the curving, grooved walls designed to slow the pressure wave of a nuclear explosion.

Uncovering Denmark's top secret nuclear bunker
Curved walls are designed to slow down the pressure waves of a nuclear explosion. (Photo: Adrienne Murray Nielsen).

Finally, they reached the heavy, airtight door that marked the beginning of the actual vault.

The first stop is the engine room – where the diesel generator will maintain the operation of the tunnel. Frandsen explains that once the doors are closed, sealed off from the outside world, there will be enough electricity, recycled air and other supplies for 10 days.

She likened it to a submarine but “on land”.

The Cold War was a period of major political and military tension between the former Soviet Union and Western powers, including the United States.

A NATO member since 1949, Denmark’s position at the mouth of the Baltic Sea is strategically important. But its proximity to the Iron Curtain also makes the country vulnerable, which is why Denmark has prepared for the worst.

Construction of the REGAN Vest tunnel began in 1963 and was completed five years later.

The anti-nuclear bunker was born, 5,500m2 wide, shaped like two large, interconnected rings, each ring divided into upper and lower floors, with more than 230 rooms that can accommodate about 350 people.

Most of these people will be ministers and civil servants – a lean part of the Danish government, tasked with running the country’s affairs in its darkest times – along with a few health workers, doctors and nurses. newspaper and a priest.

As he walked through a hallway, Nielsen was stunned to see the offices are still intact, still equipped with telephones, old-fashioned stationery, and communication rooms and small radio studios.

Much of the decor dates back to the 1960s-1970s, including dozens of original vintage chairs by renowned Danish designer Arne Jacobsen.

“It’s like another world here,” Nørbach commented. “The special thing is that this bunker is published, authentic. It’s like a time box.”

He explained other government bunkers still exist, but have either been refurbished or are not open to the public.

Thankfully, the nuclear scare didn’t happen and the REGAN Vest was only used for drills. However, it remained in standby mode until 2003.

Nine years later, the well-kept secret ended and followed by a nearly decade-long preparation to preserve the bunker as a museum.

Uncovering Denmark's top secret nuclear bunker
The antique equipment is still left in the bunker office. (Photo: Adrienne Murray Nielsen).

When Nielsen entered the bunker’s “Continuity Room,” military maps covered the walls, ready for meetings that never took place.

“If you look at the map… you see Denmark as a frontline country” at the time, Frandsen explains.

The Cold War was also a time of fear and paranoia, and preparedness was at a high level. From kindergarten basements to military fortresses, some 14,000 Cold War structures have been erected across Denmark.

“I can’t say more about that, because it’s still working and kept secret,” Frandsen said.

Along the circular corridor of the residential area in the basement, the stairs are painted in green, blue, yellow and orange.

Nielsen said she glimpsed a surreal life here. Simple rooms with bunk beds and helmets.

“This is the VIP room. There’s carpet on the floor,” announced Nørbach as they entered a more spacious bedroom with two single beds, a private bathroom and a small office.

These quarters may have been dedicated to Queen Margrethe. In fact, she visited once, and even approved the murals in her room, according to what Nielsen shared.

The underground journey then ends inside the cafeteria – where identical black lamps hang low on tables and photorealistic wallpaper depicts a forest scene.

After all, the fact that the cellar was able to remain hidden for half a century is most remarkable. Nielsen was curious to know what the locals thought of it.

“Everybody can’t wait to go down and see what it is,” Frandsen replied.

“Many of them say, ‘I knew about it,'” Nørbach said with a laugh. “But don’t trust them.”