Dale Hufford was on a flight from his hometown in Baltimore to visit his longtime friend Mike Peters for the Christmas period in Lobetal, Germany. Mike had told him about a pair of mysterious “pipes” that were protruding from the ground in a secret wooded area near his home and Dale, fancying himself quite the Urban Explorer, could not wait to see them for himself. Mike had grown up in the house in the small village and had recounted stories of his forest adventures, but he had never dared to explore the pipes himself. As the plane took Dale closer to his destination, he was suddenly filled with excitement and fear, but how could he have known that his descent into the woods and deep underground would spiral into an amazing tale that included buried treasure, and eventually a run-in with the law?
Dale, even after the long flight, could barely contain his enthusiasm to finally be there. After the cursory small talk, he got right to the point of making plans to inspect the site. Mike went on to explain to Dale that he suspected that the pipes were part of something deep underground, and there were signs all around the area that were indicative of some sort of structure, hidden beneath the forest floor. He had played in the area as a child but had been expressly forbidden to get too close. As they were engrossed in packing supplies for the hike and possible overnight stay, they were blissfully unaware that they were laying the foundations for their lives to change in unimaginable ways.
The forest was not far, and Mike knew the path well from years of walking it. There were no signposts, but he managed to find the trail among the silent trees. It was eerily quiet as they entered the forest, and the morning had stretched into the afternoon. Mike had warned Dale that they needed to get an early start, but Dale’s feet were itching for adventure and he could not wait for the following morning. Finally, they had arrived. The two enormous pipes stood, sentinel and silent, looming in the murky afternoon. They protruded from the ground, their metal stark against the forest backdrop. A shiver went through Dale’s spine at the sight of the foreboding twin metal soldiers... guarding what? What secrets were hiding beneath? – They would soon find out.
After circling for about 100 meters from the strange metal periscopes, they spotted the concrete entrance -- a dark rectangular hole that was sunk into the ground at an angle. It was hidden by a grassy mound of overgrowth and dead leaves and covered with a wooden lid. With boyish excitement, the pair got to work removing the lid with a crowbar and peered inside. “Aaaaarghhh!” Mike shouted in alarm, as a black cloud of flies buzzed up into their faces. There were stairs leading down, and there was an old iron gate barring entrance. A sign menacingly warned “Betreten Verboten”. They mustered all their courage, took a deep breath, and slowly walked inside.
The lock on the gate was broken, so Dale and Mike pushed it open and started to walk down the stairs. Soon, the darkness engulfed them, and Dale fumbled for his flashlight. When he flicked it on, he was greeted with an endless hallway. The smell was dank and foul, and the silence was deafening – All Dale could hear was the thump of his own heart and their careful footsteps, echoing off the walls and down into the dark. Dale checked his phone for the time and was irked to see the signal bar on zero. They had been warned by locals that there were rumors of live munitions on the site, and they had no way of calling for help, so they proceeded very, very cautiously.
The corridor seemed to go on forever until they reached a junction. Mike said that they should avoid taking any unnecessary turns to avoid becoming lost. Dale shuddered at the thought of being underground in the concrete labyrinth, wandering for hours with no way out. So, without another word, they walked straight on. Then, something on the floor caught Dale’s eye -- something green and shiny. As they neared, they saw what it was. It was a plastic bag from a local supermarket. Mike grew uneasy. Who knew who -- or what -- would be waiting for them further on, down in the dark?
Suddenly, the long corridor turned sharply. Mike and Dale were breathing heavily, and the echo of their exhalations that rose back to their ears sounded like a flat and inhuman hiss. They must be miles underground now, and the claustrophobia, suddenly unbearable, clawed at them in the dark. The dank smell grew stronger here, and the corridor had widened. Dale thought he heard a girl’s laugh from the distance and stopped abruptly, with his hand on Mike’s chest. They both listened intently and made out a faint sound. Drip...Drip.
There were marks on the wall that looked like someone had punched at it with a hammer at random intervals. Dale didn’t know why, but the thought of someone down here, swinging a hammer in the dark, deep underground in a forgotten bunker made his skin crawl. He had a sudden urge to turn back and run, but it was too late to go back now. With a sigh, they rounded the corner...hoping that it would be a dead end. Then they would have the excuse they needed to end the terrifying descent and run back to the entrance, mission accomplished. Alas, it was no dead end.
There was a rusted yellow door that had been ripped savagely from its hinges and cast aside, revealing a narrow doorway of blackness. The immense door looked like the door to a vault and had Cyrillic writing stenciled onto it in blood-red ink. But who had done such a thing? And how? Dale’s mind traveled to every horror story he had ever heard, now let loose and filled with a new life now that he was underground with darkness all around him. What awaited them behind the doorway?
The smell started to intensify, sulfurous and cloying. Sewerage and rot. Dale and Mike passed through the doorway, gagging. Dale’s strained mind couldn’t help but remember that the smell of rotten eggs in any of the silly books he had read meant that denizens of the underworld were close by. But he didn’t believe any of that, did he? This environment was ripe for his imagination to run riot, so he tried to keep it in check. He had to have his wits about him for the very real threat they were about to face.
They suddenly came to another corridor, and Mike slipped, sending waves of stagnant water to the far side, lapping at the heavy walls. He screamed, and his wild flashlight beam revealed a dark silhouette of someone crouching on the far wall for a split second before it plummeted into the water, as he scrambled frantically to get out. Dale swung his flashlight blindly in the direction that he had seen the figure. But it was gone.
Mike, finally free, ran back in a blind panic and took cover behind Dale. This room was completely flooded. To Dale’s dismay, he noticed that the walls were made of heavy lead. The water, now disturbed, rocked eerily back and forth, releasing unseen clouds of gas. They hadn’t expected to find these silent and watery rooms and hadn’t brought respirators. The air was growing thick, and the fright left them reeling.
The pair had unwittingly stumbled upon the secret back entranceway into the subterranean depths of Lager Koralle, built in 1939 during World War II as a naval intelligence school, but soon after the German Naval High Command moved in and transformed it into their U-Boat headquarters. It was here, in the middle of the forest and away from prying eyes that the rockets were stored, silently aimed at Berlin. The subterranean entrance was little-known, even to the locals, and tales of live munitions had ensured that errant teens and curious children stayed away. What mysteries would the pair find there, waiting quietly in the ruins and decay?
Our intrepid urban explorers were rattled by what they had seen. The silence and the sensation of being cut off from the world was taking its toll on their senses. They had spent what must have been hours in the dark now, and it was surely night up above, in the world of fresh air and natural light that now seemed like a distant memory. Was there someone down there in the dark with them, or had it been a trick of the light? – Either way, they had to get out. Visions of a gibbering maniac, crouching alone in the flooded room in the dark was enough to make them run. So run they did.
With one flashlight and their own panicked footsteps for company, they tried to trace their way back through the black labyrinth. Their breaths rasped in their throats, and when they pulled in lungfuls of the stagnant air, it was apparent that the amount of oxygen was dwindling. Spots and sparks started to appear in Dale’s peripheral vision, and these transformed into the shimmering, psychedelic waves of an aural migraine. His brain was starting to become oxygen deprived, and his blood pressure was rising. Mike was experiencing it, too. His heart was pounding with an irregular thump that rattled through his chest, and his legs felt like lead as they pumped him towards the exit.
Suddenly, Dale stopped mid-run and shone his flashlight on a puddle of dark water, straight ahead. He was sure they were going in the direction that they had come... but he couldn’t tell anymore. Navigational senses were useless below ground, with only a flashlight to guide the way through the tunnels that all looked the same. They were lost and his heart sank. Then, he saw something wink in the corner of the waterlogged room -- A glint that caught the light and bounced into his retina. Feeling delirious now, and with all reason escaping him, Dale shakily started to wade to where he thought he saw it. Mike saw Dale’s intentions and moved to stop him, but he was too weak to protest. Sliding down the doorway, he sat on the damp ground and watched helplessly.
Dale slid into the fetid water until he was knee-deep. It was icy cold, with little pockets of warmer water that swirled around him as he moved forward. Holding the flashlight in his teeth, he purposefully splashed to the far corner, where there was a pile of rubble that rose jaggedly from the surface. There it was again -- Something winking back at him from the murky water. He made his way over and plunged his hands in and felt along the bottom with his freezing fingers. They closed on something flat and solid with rounded edges, with engravings on one side. He slipped it into his pocket and waded back to Mike, who was slumped on the far side of the room.
With the jolt of the cold water clearing his head, Dale started to organize his thoughts logically. They were lost, so they must have taken a turn at a junction further along, and the flooded rooms had been further down the long corridor, on a level that was lower by a step. His instincts told him to move in a westerly direction and try to find the junction where they had taken the wrong turn. So they backtracked until they could no longer hear the dripping of the water, and the smell of sulfur started to diminish. Suddenly, they saw the yellow door lying on its side in the doorway and knew they were close. Hope flooded their hearts when they turned and finally reached the long corridor. With visions of escape, they furiously ran on and didn't stop until they saw the dim light of the entrance in the distance.
Hurrying up the steps and bursting from the bunker, Dale and Mike rested their hands on their knees and doubled forward, taking huge gulps of the fresh air. It was night, and they could see the stars shining faintly through the trees. There were the backpacks that they had left at the entrance, and they were so relieved to see the familiar bags that they almost cried. They lay down on the dead leaves to catch their breath. That’s when Dale remembered his prize that he had found. Dale pulled the object from his pocket and shone the flashlight onto it to take a closer look. It was heavy, and etched on it were some nondescript numbers that read 999,9. Then it hit him. What he was holding in his hand was a 500g bar of pure gold. He couldn’t believe his eyes! How long had it been down there for, in the forgotten bunker, lying in the rotten water for him to find it?
Unbeknownst to Dale, there was a search going on in the area for WWII-era gold, and the rumors had sent one particular treasure hunter into a frenzy. Hans Glueck was a 76-year-old expert on a WWII treasure, and he was convinced that he had finally located the exact place where it was hidden. His suspicions were only confirmed when a teenager had found a gold bar that was similar in appearance to the one that Dale had found while she was swimming in a lake near her home. She handed it into the police, but a six-month investigation and search for the gold bar’s rightful owner had been fruitless. The girl was permitted to keep it.
The Irish Sun
Glueck’s search for WWII treasure had consumed his life, and with his trusty metal detector, he had carefully combed the world for the hoard of gold, diamonds, and artworks that were never recovered after the war. His quest was a strange one, and his story is full of twists and turns. According to Glueck, in the last days of the war, Chief Heinrich Himmler was ordered to empty the Berlin Reichsbank of its loot and send it on a train towards the Alps but was intercepted by advancing Russians. He was then arrested on May 12th in 1945, and 76 kilograms of gold was recovered from where he had hidden them in his beetroot patch. But this was only a fraction of what the train had been carrying, and the remaining treasure has yet to be recovered.
Glueck was giving an interview to Bavaria TV in 1995 about his various treasure hunts, and afterward, he was contacted by an anonymous man who gave him a map that he said he might find “interesting”. The map turned out to have belonged to an SS officer and had been hidden in the lining of his coat.
Glueck followed the cryptic coordinates on the map, and they led him to Arrach 15 times, but still, he returned empty-handed. Until one day in Autumn, it all came to him and he was “electrified”. He found an undisclosed area where the numbers on the map – 600, 900, and 750 – matched the location which he found by using a Geomagnetometer, which measures the earth’s magnetic field. He had found something momentous underground.
The Treasure hunter was spurred on by the find of the gold bar by the teenager in a lake, and made moves to excavate in an undisclosed wooded area, but was denied by the landowner. While searching for treasure is permitted by Bavarian law, digging requires permission.
Could Dale have found a piece of the treasure that had somehow made its way into the WWII bunker? Perhaps it had been carried there by the water that had flooded it, or maybe there was more hidden in its depths -- waiting for any soul who was brave enough to travel the forgotten labyrinth… through the noxious gas, lead, live munitions, and treacherous water-filled caverns.
As Dale was examining his lucky find, he was disturbed from his reverie by a disembodied light traveling through the woods. It flickered through the trees, like Will ‘O The Wisp – A strange sight here, far away from the village. At first, he thought his eyes were playing more tricks on him, but after a few seconds of it growing closer, the truth dawned on him all at once. He roused Mike, who had been speechless with anxiety since they had come to the surface, and told him that they needed to move. There was barking and growling, and it was growing nearer by the second.
Urban Explorers run the risk of being caught by authorities, as the abandoned places that they are inexorably drawn to are often located on private property or are unsafe -- trespassers are often prosecuted. That was half the fun. Dale knew that the police had gotten whiff of the two and their intentions, probably from the locals that they had spoken to about the site. He cursed as he hefted his heavy backpack onto his shoulders and mustered every ounce of energy to run once again. Mike followed him doggedly, as they gave the policeman a wide berth and circled back once again to the path that would lead them home.
Jonnie Turpie Pictures
Finally, Mike’s house came into view in the moonlight, promising warmth and food and a soft bed where the pair could recoup from their harrowing ordeal. Staggering into the entranceway, they tossed their heavy packs aside and went to their respective rooms. Dale lay in bed that night with visions of forgotten gold and treasures running through his mind as he thumbed his precious find. Then he fell asleep and had a long, endless nightmare of stretching underground corridors and the echoing voices of all the long-gone people who had inhabited the bunker decades before.
Dale was thrilled with his find, but Mike was insistent that he hand it into the authorities. Dale soon realized that he had no choice. He handed it in with a heavy heart and explained that he had found it in the forest, omitting that he and Mike had trespassed and explored the abandoned bunker in the woods. Dieter Fisher, the policeman, was amazed. His eyes had grown wide with surprise when they presented him with the gleaming bar of gold. He turned it over and over in his hands, exclaiming in disbelief, and immediately made a call.
After a few days, he heard back from Officer Fisher. The bar had been meticulously examined and was indeed 500g of the purest gold. But how much was it worth? – experts estimated a value of a staggering $18,000! – as with the teenage girl who had found a similar bar, he had to wait to see if the owner could be found before he could claim it as his own. The bar’s identification number had been defaced, however, making a determination of its origins difficult.
Dale, with his first taste of treasure fresh in his mind, wanted desperately to return to the underground bunker, but Mike was having none of it. What if there had really been someone living down there, doing who-knows-what in the dark? Mike shuddered as he recalled the crouching shadow he had seen down in the flooded room. It was not safe, and they had been incredibly foolish to even attempt such an excursion. They were inexperienced Urban Explorers at best, and could easily have been overwhelmed by the dangerous gasses that they had disturbed in the water and succumbed to oxygen deprivation. They could have fallen and sustained injuries, with nobody to help them deep underground. The dangers were endless. That's when Dale decided to watch the footage that he had taken with a Go-Pro recording device instead.
On closer inspection, and briefly for a split-second, he was able to make out the silhouette that they had seen, but the light was extremely poor, and it could very well have just been a trick of the light, bouncing off the water and off the sodden walls. But the gold was very real. He hoped fervently that the owner would not be located. The unexpected windfall would solve all his money troubles, and he had been struggling of late. Watching the recording again though, he noticed something strange.
Just at the point where he had thought that he had heard a little girl laughing, the image becomes grainy and blurred. There were no other anomalies on the recording, so he thought it was odd. And then he heard it: An unmistakable but faint tinkle of laughter. His scalp started to prickle, and chills went down his spine. He said nothing of it to Mike, but that was the moment when he decided that he would not descend down into the bunker again, into the cold concrete and lead underground, into the labyrinthine corridors and buried secrets. Not for any amount of gold in the world.
Who knows what’s hidden in the depths of the forgotten bunker, lying in wait for some brave soul to snatch it up. But who is brave enough to travel past the silent twin pipes guarding their secrets? Down into the forgotten labyrinth and the ruins of time, armed with fortitude and a flashlight, and perhaps a close friend… down through the stifling darkness and stench, through the noxious gas, lead, and live munitions?