It is said that there is a catfish in the Walchensee, a huge catfish. He could flood all of Munich with a flap. To appease him, the people of Munich threw a gold ring – made of the gold of the Isar – into the lake once a year. This is one of the legends about Lake Walchensee. Research diver Florian Huber follows them when he is visiting his old home. He has already discovered a lot. The most recent object of his attention is a one-man bunker from World War II.
Huber hadn’t known there was such a thing: a one-man bunker. But the archaeologist knows today that tens of thousands of them are said to have existed in Germany during the Second World War. Most, however, were destroyed, or, as in this case, sunk in the lake.
It was February 2020, the Walchensee was around four degrees. „It was cold,“ Huber recalls, for a day that was rather unspectacular. The underwater archaeologist lives in Kiel and examines sunken cities and ships in the world’s oceans. The Lenggrieser is still connected to the Walchensee. When he visits the old homeland, he jumps in with friends.
It was the same on that sunny winter day when he set out on the pedal to the north of the lake. „I had a hint from a buddy that something shines through in the water,“ says Huber. Local media subsequently reported that he made this discovery with a ZDF camera team. It wasn’t that spectacular, says Huber. And yet: what he and a friend found in the water fascinate him.
„Like a concrete telephone booth with an entrance door,“ there was a bunker. Without a floor and without a lid, but the hatch still open – and so small that only one person could fit in it. Certainly, other divers had already glided past it. He hadn’t spotted him. But: „I’m an archaeologist, I’m researching the whole thing.“
Huber, therefore, suspects that the Walchensee bunker – 3.2 tons heavy, 2.36 meters high, manufactured by the Dywidag company near Dresden – should protect the inlet structure of the Walchensee power plant. Through a lock at the inlet, the water flows into the mountain gallery to plunge into the Kochelsee on the other side, 200 meters below. Huber suspects that if the intake structure had been destroyed, the power plant could no longer have supplied electricity.
With 16 square kilometers, the Walchensee is one of the largest alpine lakes in Germany, and it is high, higher than Munich, at 800 meters. This is probably the reason why the people of Munich were afraid of being flooded centuries ago.
In the center of the state capital is a small baroque church, built around 1715: the Holy Trinity Church. According to legend, a special stone is built into their walls – „of course nobody knows where,“ says Huber. If this stone were pulled out, it is said, „then the Walchensee would break, at the thinnest point on the Kesselberg, and then Munich and the Oberland would be flooded“. Huber adds with a smile: „All of the churches in Munich were destroyed in World War II. The only one that was not destroyed is – strangely, or interestingly enough – the Holy Trinity Church.“
Huber came into contact with the Walchensee sagas in his childhood. „You couldn’t throw stones into the water because you would startle the catfish,“ he recalls. These stories are „why I keep checking what is really down there“.
However, Huber considers it unlikely to find the huge gold rings that are said to have been sacrificed in the middle of the lake every year in the 18th century. Many myths have a true core. But even if the rings were there – they would be buried under sediment. „You would have to dive into the deepest part of the lake and see if there was a gold ring down there,“ he says. And the Walchensee is deep. „One of the deepest lakes in Germany.“ 190 meters.
„We dive 80, 90 meters, which is about twice what a scuba diver does,“ says the underwater archaeologist. Five years ago, he was in Jago, Germany’s only manned research submarine, in his native Walchensee. „We didn’t find anything there,“ says Huber. But that didn’t mean anything. „The lake is big.“ And some things have already been discovered in it.
There are, for example, the cars from the 1950s and 1960s, including a VW convertible and a Ford Taunus. Maybe they were secretly disposed of in the lake, maybe they were accidents. In the eastern part of the lake, there are aircraft parts from a British Lancaster bomber from World War II. Huber has researched its history.
It is tragic. His crew, seven men, bombed Munich in the Second World War. When their plane was hit, they turned south. They probably wanted to make an emergency landing on the smooth surface of Walchensee and failed. The burning machine, the excitement of war, „those were young men, 20, 21 years old,“ Huber reconstructs. Large parts of the plane were recovered „because the metal value was high“, but part was still in the lake.
The oldest finds of the Walchensee are wooden posts, which probably belonged to the fishing facility of the Benediktbeuern monastery. They are 500 years old. In winter, when the water level was lowered by a few meters, they protruded from the lake, says Huber. „This is how exciting things come to light,“ says the Lenggrieser, small finds.
„But it’s just interesting in terms of local history, and since I’m interested in our history …“ When he was 13, Huber dived for the first time, that was on vacation in Mauritius. „It’s like a time capsule,“ he says of diving. „It is cold, you have little time, it is uncomfortable – but you get paid.“ Bringing the stories up from the depths is the beauty of it.
Huber likes to compare his work with that of a „crime scene“ commissioner. „Only our crime scene is 100, 500 or 5000 years old.“ As for his latest Walchensee crime scene, Huber actually got a hint that speaks for his bunker theory: there were similar protective structures at Kochelsee as well. This is confirmed by two photos that were sent to Huber. „That’s why I can imagine, even if I can’t prove it yet, that this thing was at the top of the infeed.“ He can only prove this if photos from this time of the power plant can be found, or a contemporary witness.
How the bunker then disappeared into the lake is still unclear. Huber heard that he only disappeared into the water after the war. „It could have been a stupid boy trick,“ the researcher speculates that the answer is certainly not earth-shattering.
What is exciting, however, is the sum of the curiosities that gathered in the Walchensee. „No matter where we archaeologists go, you can find things,“ says Huber. And adds: „Now it was a one-man bunker. And if I dive in autumn, I might still find a 500-year-old boat.“ He started writing a book about Lake Walchensee. It should be ready in 2022.