WWII-era bomb detonated in downtown Munich

Another unexploded Allied bomb from World War II was discovered in Germany on Monday, but unlike some of the earlier examples which were removed and defused without difficulty, this one was destined to play a more dramatic role.

The 550-pound US bomb was found during construction work at the site of the late, lamented Schwabinger 7, a post-war dive bar known as the “darkest bar in the world” which was demolished last year to howls of protest from people who wished to preserve its grungy charm as characteristic of an increasingly bygone Munich, replaced by gentrified soullessness. Fortunately for last year’s demolition crew, the bomb was buried three feet deep, so they never encountered it. The workers digging the foundations of the new office building going up at the site, on the other hand, found it.

Authorities attempted to defuse the bomb on the spot but had trouble with the chemical delay-action detonator, a mechanism that was used in only 10% of bombs, but because it had a bad habit of not working appears in a disproportionate number of unexploded bombs. Finally they gave up trying to defuse it and decided to explode it inside. Even a controlled explosion is dangerous in the densely populated center of Munich, so 2,500 people in the area around the bomb were evacuated and cars removed. Streets were blocked off, three subway stations closed and people further out were asked not to leave their homes.

Bales of hay and thousands of sandbags were stacked around the bomb to help absorb the explosive shock, and then, just before 10:00 PM on Tuesday night, this happened:


The strength of the explosion shattered surrounding windows. Some of the hay drifted up to rooftops and set them on fire. Firefighters were on alert and were able to put them out promptly with only minor damage. No people were injured.

Experts say that the undiscovered bombs in Germany become more dangerous with each passing year. Last year, a former bomb disposal chief told SPIEGEL ONLINE that “unexploded bombs are becoming more dangerous by the day through material fatigue as a result of ageing and through erosion of safety elements in the trigger mechanisms.”

Bombs are found so often in Germany — thousands a year, an average of 15 a day — that most of the time the removals don’t even make the news. Only the really big ones do, or the rare ones that put on a sound and light show like the above.

Germany isn’t the only country affected. Also on Tuesday, a massive 1.5-ton German mortar bomb from the 1944 bombardment of Warsaw was found by construction workers underground in the Polish capital. Three thousand people were evacuated from the area, and the bomb was defused and removed without incident. On Wednesday a section of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport was closed after a suspected Allied bomb from World War II was found near the main terminal.