The Castle Church of Haigerloch (Schloss Kirche) sits on a high hill overlooking the city. It is about 500 metres above the valley of River Eyach. But right under its foundations, a cellar was built to house the German Nuclear Programme. As Allied bombers flew over Berlin strafing the city, the Nuclear Research Unit of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics in Berlin decided to shift to a safer locality and built a cellar in an incomplete railway tunnel under the castle at Haigerloch. It was a warm rectangular room with rough rocky walls, and separated from the rest of the tunnel by a solid wooden door. Here for a short period between the end of 1944 to April 1945, German scientists worked on their Experiment B 8,attempting to trigger off a chain reaction by neutron bombing of uranium blocks. They had no inettion of making the atomic bomb at this stage, though Dr. Otto Hann the Nobel Prize winner had already discovered Nuclear Fission in 1938-39.
The American forces under Colonle Pash were ordered to blow up the cellar and wipe out all traces of German Nuclear Research in their Operation Alsos. A priest from the Castle Church invited Colonel Pash to visit the church with its exqusite Baroque interior. He convinced the Colonel that blowing up the cellar would destroy this beautiful ancient church. The priest’s diplomacy worked. The Americans limited their destruction only to the aluminum casing of the reactor, though the cellar its self was totally dismantled.
In May 1980, when a part of Haigerloch was being modernized, it was decided to turn the cellar into an Atomic Museum. It was reconstructed exactly on the pattern of the cellar and workshops as they looked, before the Americans took over. The experimental table of Otto Hann, the Geiger-Muller counter, the heavy water vessels, the reactor with 664 uranium blocks suspended from its lid, are some of the exhibits. Even the aluminum casing destroyed by the Americans is on display. A guide explains to visitors the functions conducted at each table, and the principle of chain reaction during nuclear fission
The Atomic Cellar Museum is a place where one can learn about the pre-war Nuclear Research of Germany. It is closed between December and February.
By Eva Bell