Enver Hoxha was as paranoid a dictator as they come. During his forty-year reign over Albania, in addition to generously dishing out death sentences and long prison terms for anyone who opposed him, he organized the building of more than 700,000 bunkers, or one for every four inhabitants in his country. Dubbed the “bunkerisation” program, the shelters were finally abandoned after Communism’s collapse.
The bunkers were never used since the military threat Hoxha imagined never arrived, and their construction drained Albania’s economy and diverted resources away from other, more pressing needs, such as road and housing improvement. On average, there are 24 bunkers for every square kilometer in Albania. Most of these unsightly concrete mushrooms still mar the landscape today, from mountain tops to cities to beaches.
Most bunkers are wasting away into the landscape, but some are used as shelters for animals or the homeless, or as kitschy cafes. Reportedly, their most common use now is sheltering amorous young Albanians looking for some privacy. Wired describes the problem:
Today, Albanian authorities are at a loss for what to do. The reinforced concrete domes are as difficult to repurpose as they are to destroy. Tourists are fascinated by the bunkers strewn like confetti across scenery, but for locals they’re a largely uninteresting, if obstructive, part of the landscape.
Besides being an eyesore, the bunkers really do pose problems for people. Expatica reports:
At least five holidaymakers, including two children and a 25-year-old woman, drowned last summer in whirlpools created by streams around the bunkers which are covered by slime, cracked and damaged by erosion.
In 2009, the government set out to take some action against the bunkers, recruiting old tanks to blow the ugly domes to smithereens. But things did not go as smoothly as planned—after two weeks only seven had been dealt with. Locals, too, usually fail at attempts to rid their land of the things. Expatica:
Some Albanians have tried to remove them on their own, but their efforts usually end in vain, leaving them resigned to living with the structures they refer to as “mushrooms.”
Some have converted them into sheds, toilets or even “zero-star hotels” for lovers, as they sometimes call the bunkers.
For curious tourists, however, some bunkers now serve as youth hostels. According to the BBC, a couple entrepreneurial students have set out to convert bunkers across the country into unique abodes for travels. If the project manages to be a success, the team said they’ll charge about 8 euros per night for the privilege of sleeping in a genuine Albanian bunker.
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