Underground hideouts: Nazis, RAF and Hamas – they all swear by the earth depot. A short story

There are not many cultural techniques that squirrels, dogs and humans have in common - except: digging holes in the ground.

Underground hideouts: Nazis, RAF and Hamas – they all swear by the earth depot. A short story

There are not many cultural techniques that squirrels, dogs and humans have in common - except: digging holes in the ground. Squirrels dig thousands of hiding places every year for nuts, cones and berries. Most of them will never be found again. Dogs almost exclusively bury bones, while humans bury almost everything: precious metals, treasure maps, other people (mostly dead ones).

Underground hiding places are popular with criminals and terrorists so that their activities remain undetected for as long as possible. It's just stupid when, like squirrels, they forget their own hiding places. As in the case of the suspected Hamas fighters who have now been arrested. According to the federal prosecutor's office, one of the defendants has been involved for almost a year in locating an earth depot with weapons in Europe that Hamas had previously set up there.

In archeology, everything that is hoarded underground (and will eventually be unearthed) has its own name: deposit finds. Over the millennia, a lot has accumulated at our feet, even if it is not always visible, and it becomes scary when the newspaper talks about mushroom pickers and forest walkers who find the buried remains of unnaturally deceased people in the wilderness.

It's not always about corpses, often enough about cool secret agent stuff or weapons. In the last six years alone, half a dozen earth depots were discovered across Germany in which Kalashnikovs, ammunition or barrels of chemicals for making bombs were stowed:

In 2017, a special detachment of the Brandenburg police stormed a Reich citizens' property in Rietz-Neuendorf and found masses of ammunition, an Imperial war flag and an ID card from the Empire of Prussia that never existed in an earth depot.

In 2016, the police found a cache of materials for building Molotov cocktails, bullets and claw feet buried by coal opponents in the Hambach Forest.

Also in 2016, an arms trafficking ring on the Darknet was exposed. They hid their goods in a forest at the Cologne-Ost motorway junction: including Polish MPs and old Luger pistols.

At the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, walkers discovered two underground hiding places within a short period of time. Near Hagen am Teutoburg Forest (Lower Saxony), a meticulously constructed hole in the ground was found in which an AK47 wrapped in foil and 1,430 cartridges were stored. Shortly before, forest workers south of Hamburg came across a plastic bin containing writings and bomb-making instructions from the "Revolutionary Cells", a left-wing extremist terrorist group from the 1970s.

Their terrorist colleagues from the Red Army Faction have been particularly busy working on the ground. They covered the country with countless holes and thus organized their fight against the Federal Republic. The underground hiding places had coded names such as "Altes Matsch" (near Gravenbruch), "Neues He Dep" (near Aschaffenburg), "Artist" (near Marburg) or "5-room apartment" (near Heidelberg).

Thanks to a mushroom collector's discovery in the early 1980s (or a tip from RAF terrorist Verena Becker), the police were able to decipher the location of the depots and all they had to do was lie in wait for the people they were looking for. In November 1982, south of Frankfurt, the leading RAF figures Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Adelheid Schulz came into her network. A little later also Christian Klar.

In the months that followed, officials dug up hiding place after hiding place. What were found were rifles and pistols, cash from bank robberies, fake IDs and, once, a tape recording of an "interrogation" of the employer president Hanns Martin Schleyer, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1977. The weapon with which he was shot was buried just like the murder weapon of banker Jürgen Pontos. Although many RAF terrorists have now served their sentences and are willing to provide information, it is unclear how many of their holes in the ground still exist undiscovered in German forests.

The Cold War and the Nazis also left their mark on the earth: in 2020, the open-cast brown coal mine in the Hambacher Forest uncovered an agent radio in an airtight aluminum container with Cyrillic characters. According to the Military Counterintelligence Service, something like this was used by the Soviet secret service GRU or the GDR State Security.

One of the most famous and valuable earth deposits was probably in the Bavarian Alps. When Nazi rule was coming to an end in the spring of 1945, the Reichsbank leadership wanted to keep as much assets as possible "safe" from the advancing Allies. Parts of the gold reserves are hidden in a potash mine in Thuringia, bags with more gold and foreign currency (including 2.3 million US dollars) are buried at Klausenkopf near Walchensee, northeast of Garmisch-Patenkirchen. Throughout the area, mountain troops had hidden the remaining assets of the empire and turned them into one treasure chest.

To this day, it is not entirely clear where the Nazi treasure was hidden, whether it has completely resurfaced and who has eaten it over the years. But the secrets hidden in plain sight have always fascinated people - regardless of whether the good guys or the bad guys are behind them. And in the best stories, looking for them is better than finding them.

Sources: BKA on Facebook, "Faz", "Die Welt", DPA, Deutschlandfunk, "Spiegel", "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "Berliner Zeitung", AFP