The fascinating second lives of Swiss bunkers (one is a mushroom farm)

For a country that cherishes neutrality, Switzerland sure loves its military. It’s the biggest irony of a country trying to dodge involvement in war: To do so, they must fortify.

That military obsession, once nicknamed “bunker mania,” was full blown during World War II, when the Swiss built an intricate system of 8,000 bunkers and shelters to guard against Hitler. As soon as news spread that the Nazis had stormed and occupied Paris, workers began toiling around the clock to build bunkers underground and in the mountains, according The New York Times.

That was 75 years ago. The threat of imminent invasion has long since subsided. As dust collected on gun muzzles, the cost of maintenance bowed the national budget. In the 1990s, Switzerland began the process of declassifying the bunkers, and since then some have assumed fascinating second lives.

Some obviously became museums, but others have been used as cheese factories, mushroom farms, refugee housing and data centers. A handful have even been converted into lodging, including the acclaimed Null Stern Hotel, or Zero Star Hotel (Tagline: “The only star is you”) in the tiny town of Teufen. An overnight stay cost up to $25, and was described by one critic as having “alpine air and quiet mountain walks, with a pinch of Armageddon thrown in.”

Unlike the Null Stern Hotel, which is underground, some are hidden in plain sight. People long suspected something was off about the cotton-candy pink house near the small town of Gland—the lights were never on and no one ever visited. Turns out when the garage doors swing open, they reveal a 1.78-inch cannon and a gaggle of machine guns, according to Agence France-Presse. Inside, the bathroom features a hole from which grenades could be thrown. All this was strategically built to cut down a potential Nazi onslaught from over the Jura mountains. Other camouflaged bunkers were disguised as giant boulders or medieval castles.

The retirement of World War II-era bunkers is part of a larger shift for this country that hasn’t fought in an international conflict since the time of Napoleon. Although the Swiss vehemently rejected a proposal to scrap the draft in 2013, the size of the active reserve has shrunk to a quarter its previous size in the past 50 years. Even the beloved bicycle brigade has disbanded.

But around Switzerland, another form of bunker fever is alive and well. A law passed in 1978 requires any new structure, houses included, to have a bomb shelter. Nearly 40 years later, Switzerland has enough bunker space to provide for 114 percent of its population. So whether facing an avalanche or an apocalypse, the Swiss are all set.

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