The secret bunker that brings back Denmark’s Cold War fears

Hidden deep in northern Denmark's Rold Forest, a sprawling top secret nuclear bunker is opening to the public for the first time, shedding light on daily life during the Cold War.

The secret bunker that brings back Denmark’s Cold War fears
The entrance to the 'Reagan West' Cold War nuclear bunker in the Roldskoven forest in North Jutland. A secretive Cold War nuclear bunker, kept hidden in Northern Denmark for sixty years, is now seeing the light of day. The site is set to open as a museum and exhibit on February 13th 2023. Photo: James BROOKS / AFP

The underground shelter, where everything is still intact as in a time capsule, becomes a museum from Monday, amid revived fears in Europe of a nuclear conflict following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The bunker was built between 1963 and 1968 at NATO’s insistence, following Soviet nuclear tests and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Dubbed “Regan West”, it was designed to house the Danish government and the sitting monarch in the event of nuclear war.

Nestled beneath trees, 60 metres under a chalk hill, it was meant to be “the last bastion” of democracy in Denmark, museum director Lars Christian Norbach told AFP.

Located near North Jutland city Aalborg and almost 400 kilometres from Copenhagen, the bunker was set up to house Danish authorities for 30 days.

“The H-bomb totally altered the situation about how you could react to a nuclear attack”, museum curator and historian Bodil Frandsen told AFP.

“The bunkers you already had could in no way withstand the blast from that. So you had to do something new”, she said.

The survival of the government in the event of a nuclear disaster was essential to the nation’s sovereignty, she noted.

“As long as you could have a government here that could claim control of at least some part of the country, and you have a government still rooted in Denmark, then Denmark, as a sovereign democratic state, was still alive”, Frandsen explained.

Never used, the bunker was taken out of service in 2003 and first revealed to the world in 2012.

Walking through the long, arched corridors, visitors see the basic bedroom intended for the monarch, the cafeteria, the government conference room and 60s-style decor in a dimly-lit lounge.

“It’s a time capsule of papers, pencils, everything is where it was left”, Norbach said.

An exhibit also outlines the main events during the period, with everyday objects on display.

Museum visitors will walk two kilometres during the 90-minute tour, and still only see about 40 percent of it.

“This is a very important place in terms of showing younger people… how anxious people actually were during the Cold War,” Frandsen said.

And now, heightened tensions between Russia and the West have made the topic all-too relevant again.

“The Cold War has gained actuality again, and that’s what we are saying in the museum”, Norbach added.

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IN PICTURES: Northern Lights over Denmark

An unusually active solar wind and clear skies meant that the Northern Lights could be seen across swathes of Denmark on Monday night.

IN PICTURES: Northern Lights over Denmark

Many Danes rushed to the northern coasts of Jutland and Zealand to catch a rare appearance of the phenomenon in Denmark. 

The Northern Lights seen from Hornbæk Beach. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

“For us to see the northern lights in Denmark, the solar wind must be more active than usual”, Pagh Nielsen, a physicist who works with weather models at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), said on the agency’s website.

The Northern Lights seen from Hornbæk Beach. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

“That way, there are more electric particles that penetrate the magnetic field and hit the Earth’s atmosphere,” he said.

The Northern Lights seen from Hornbæk Beach. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The Northern Lights are not usually visible in Denmark more than once or twice per year. They are regularly visible in northern Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland.

Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix