Home » Business » Bunkers To Business: How Abandoned Communist Bunkers Are Being Repurposed In Albania

Bunkers To Business: How Abandoned Communist Bunkers Are Being Repurposed In Albania

Littering the Albanian countryside and mountain valleys are hundreds of thousands of little concrete bunkers. These bunkers – bunkerët, were built from the 1960s to the 1980s, during the communist government of Enver Hoxha. Albania had a tumultuous post-war history, alienating all of its potential allies over three decades – first the Yugoslavs, then Soviets, then finally the People’s Republic of China in a series of diplomatic and ideological schisms. Fearing invasion from Yugoslavia, Greece, NATO and even his former ally the Soviet Union, Hoxha was convinced that instead of relying on the partisan tactics that liberated Albania in WWII, he needed to hold the entire country simultaneously. Thus, Hoxha embarked on the policy of “bunkerization” (bunkerizimit) that saw the construction of hundreds of thousands of bunkers across the country. The premise was that, rather than relying on a professional army, every Albanian would take up arms and fortify in their nearest bunker in the event of invasion. But of course, the invasion never came and the cost of constructing the bunkers was a drain on Albania’s resources, both in material goods and the hours needed to plan, construct, and train for the use of bunkers.

The bunkers were abandoned following the end of the communist state, and many are now derelict. But owing to their abundance, many Albanians have found them to be convenient real estate over the decades. Keq Marku Djetroshan – a tattoo artist, has turned a bunker in Shkoder into a tattoo parlour. Located 8km from the Montenegrin border, during the summer clients come from the Adriatic and beyond to visit. ‘I have people come from all over the place. I had one guy today from England,’ he said. For Keq, this odd defence policy has worked out conveniently.

‘I like (my bunker)’ he says, ‘It’s near my house and I can go whenever I want.’

Many bunkers have become part of inner-city playgrounds; becoming pizzerias, bars and even hostels. Their use has led to interest from developers and designers in Albania and abroad. Saimir Kristo, Professor of Architectural Design and the Vice-Dean of POLIS University in Tirana was part of the design team on the ambitious “Bed & Bunker” project.

A research project between POLIS University and FH-Mainz in Germany, “Bed & Bunker” saw professors and students from both institutions working to re-design and re-purpose existing bunkers into bed and breakfast hostels for tourists.

‘Albania is a beautiful country… (and) the bunkers can serve by accommodating tourists. It can host many different functions such as a small museum or exhibition space. The possibilities are limitless,’ says Saimir.