Photographers' Blog

A night in a bunker

Ilmenau, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

One Saturday morning I began to time travel for 16 hours to a place in eastern Germany, traveling to the time of the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), to the time of two countries and two armies. To the bunker museum at Rennsteighoehe, in the middle of the Thueringer forest. It is owned by the “Waldhotel Rennsteighoehe”, which offers a β€˜reality event’ weekend, to sleep one night in a bunker built by the ministry for national security MfS, wear a NVA (Nationale Volksarmee or National People’s Army) uniform and be treated like a former DDR soldier for the night.

I arrived in the middle of the forest with 14 others taking part in this reality event. First, everybody had to choose trousers, jackets, belts and caps. A gas mask was essential. Then a man, who looked like a major, appeared with a frightening look in his eyes and scolded us with severe words, exhorting us to find the bunker some 30 kms (18 miles) away. So we walked with our luggage through the forest. We were happy to find the bunker after only 100 meters (yards). At a closed gate a man, who had the look of a former NVA officer, welcomed us with no warm words. Rather he gave commands like in former times.

GALLERY: INSIDE A GERMAN BUNKER

At that moment I remembered my first meeting with the NVA. I visited friends in Berlin in 1986 and had to use the 200 km (124 miles) transit motorway through the former DDR. At the customs inspection I waited for many hours; don’t do anything, stay calm, don’t smile, be serious. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, there was the moment NVA soldiers had to control me. I was in fear. They looked into my eyes, asked me where I wanted to go, how long would I stay there, what was the reason, was I smuggling something? They went away for 10 minutes with my pass. When they returned they uttered no words, inspected the car and my baggage inside and out. It took around 15 minutes and then I was on my way to Berlin. They found nothing.

Now there were 14 people who paid for this encounter. The officer opened the bunker and walked us to the dormitory. Everybody had to prepare their own small and uncomfortable bed. The women were then told to cut potatoes for a salad and the male soldiers had to stand guard at the entrance. One soldier had to prepare the barbecue. At that moment I was happy that the dinner was not an old soup but rather a specialty of the region, Thueringer Bartwurst.

The major and officers began to tell us stories about the bunker and its history. Marco, one of the dressed officers, was a NVA soldier when the Berlin wall came down in early November 1989 and he had to work as a soldier without days off until the middle of December.

Montana’s fading cowboy culture

By Jim Urquhart

“It’s been a wild ride. Thank you.”

And with that Renee and Kail Mantle closed a chapter of American history. On Sunday the husband and wife team held the closing ceremonies to end the last of 11 horse drives they have completed with their company, Montana Horses, after racing over 300 horses through the western outpost of Three Forks, Montana.

The duo, a redheaded former theater major preparing for law school and a tanned wrangler who is a former rodeo champion, have been operating Montana Horses off a plot of land north of town since 1995 when they started with just 14 head of horses. Recently the plot of land has grown to 500 acres where they lease hundreds of horses, each one of which Kail and Renee know by name, to dude ranches and trail ride companies throughout the west and in many national parks. The Mantle family has a long tradition of supplying and tending to horses, leasing horses in various western states since 1964.

Last year the pair announced that they plan to begin selling the horses in their herd. According to Renee many of them will be purchased by their leasing clients. While the herd is being reduced they have added about 300 beef cattle to their land. The Mantles also plan to sell their ranch next to the Missouri River and possibly sail the world.