Friday, August 5, 2011

Love Bunkers

When I was going through JMAS and preparing for this adventure, spouses were strongly encouraged to undertake a cultural study project of their new, if temporary, homes.  Like the nerdy academic I am, I undertook this project with great gusto and put together a spiffy Powerpoint presentation that highlighted the history and culture of Albania.  It was during my research that I first came across references to "bunkers" and was immediately intrigued.

The introduction of these pillbox shaped concrete structures was the brainchild of Enver Hoxha, the longtime Albanian dictator who ushered the country into her decades long period of self-imposed isolationism.  Fearing a foreign invasion- this was, after all the heart of the Cold War- Hoxha had bunkers built throughout Albania.  They were constructed in urban centers and in the countryside, in the mountains and even on beaches.  Over 700,000 one-man concrete bunkers were built at an astounding expense to such a poverty stricken country.  According to a popular story, (I've seen it referenced in several different locations so I'm not sure if it is the truth or an urban bunker-legend), the engineer who designed the bunkers once sat in one while an artillery tank rolled overhead so he could prove the strength of his design.

My first bunker spotting
The Cold War is long over and Albania has emerged from isolationism, but evidence of bunkers still exists.  This is to be expected since these concrete structures were built to withstand all forms of potential destruction, both natural and man made.  Some people have gotten pretty innovative with bunkers turning them into planters, guest "houses", and Albania's own form of public art.  In a country where men and women continue to live at home with their parents until they are married, the bunkers are said to be the location for lovers' trysts.

Bunker hidden in the center of Tirana
You can imagine my excitement when I spotted my first "real live" bunker last week.  We were heading to Kruja for the day and Glenn was navigating our way up a winding mountain road when I spotted one along the roadside.  Of course I made him stop so I could take a picture.  Shortly after this first sighting I saw my second bunker, on a busy Tirana street corner near Mother Theresa Square.  I had walked by the location several times but never noticed it.  I am quickly realizing that these bunkers are truly hiding in plain sight.

Now that I've had my first real taste of bunker spotting, I'm making it my mission to keep track of all of the bunkers I see over the next two years.  I doubt I'll be able to see all 700,000 of them but I'm sure going to try.

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