Bunker Archaeology: The WW2 buildings of Leros, through the lens of Ingrid Susan Janusch

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos © Ingrid Susan Janusch, used by permission

Leros island in Greece has been an important Italian naval base and saw action during the Battle for Leros in 1943.

Several buildings, bunkers and other fortifications dating back to World War 2, still survive to this day, unfortunately though, little has been done over the last decades to preserve them.

The San Marko barracks of the Italians at Tourtouras, a magnificent example of architecture.
The San Marco barracks of the Italians at Tourtouras, a magnificent example of architecture.

Left to the elements and even turned into sheep sheds or stockyards, those magnificent constructions, which tell a story of the turbulent past, are slowly decaying and falling apart.

It is undoubtedly a missed opportunity for the local communities, as such bunkers and WW2 related buildings, could attract tourists from all over the world, if they were properly preserved.

Goats
Goats are the sole inhabitants of the WW2 buildings. Modern graffiti on the concrete walls add to the dereliction of the constructions.

www.ww2wrecks.com has contacted Ms. Ingrid Susan Janusch from Vienna, Austria, who has shot some wonderful photos of Leros, to find out more on her project.

How did you decide to visit Leros?

View from a bunker at Apitiki
View from a bunker at Apitiki

In September 2017 I wanted to visit the island of Patmos. I had not heard of Leros, but I thought it would be a good vantage point for a trip to Patmos.

Sheep and goats roam in the very same buildings soldiers used during World War 2
Sheep and goats roam in the very same buildings soldiers used during World War 2

I was so taken with Leros, with its remoteness, tranquility and beautiful architecture, that I never left during my holiday and I decided to return the following spring.

A view inside San Marco barracks
A view inside San Marco barracks, used as sheep sheds by the locals.

What has captured your interest in the areas you visited?
Architecture and urban planning interest me, not only for aesthetic reasons but also as the visual representation of political power and the realization of socio-economic and cultural circumstances.

One of the WW2 frescoes n the wall, painted by soldiers with an artistic eye
One of the WW2 frescoes on the wall, painted by soldiers with an artistic eye and a humorous approach.

The period that interests me most is the first half of the 20th century. Therefore, I thought Lakki, which was planned and designed by architects of the Italian occupying force, would be the perfect motif.

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Bruegel’s paintings were an inspiration for the unnamed soldier who decorated the walls.

Preparing my trip, I learnt more about the battle of Leros and read Mark Mazower’s account of the Nazi occupation of Greece.

On the first evening on Leros I went to the book presentation of Julie Peakman’s “Hitler’s Island War – The Men Who Fought for Leros”.

Abandoned bunkers
Abandoned bunkers

All this shifted my immediate interest to old military architecture and infrastructure on Leros.

I visited most of the abandoned army buildings of the Italian occupation, of World War 2, and of the post-war period.

The view is spectacular
The view is spectacular from the observation post, offering a vantage point over the Aegean Sea.

I started taking pictures of Apitiki, which seems to have been constructed or at least modified by the Greek army after the war, but has also been abandoned. It was an unknown world, that I had discovered and I became addicted at once.

Entrance
Entrance to one of the WW2 fortifications

Your photos demonstrate these bunkers and other fortified areas, as they are now, what would be the ideal thing for you, to see them preserved?

Personally, I enjoyed them as they were and I believe it would have been – not a less interesting, but – a less adventurous experience for me, had they been restored and turned into official monuments intended to attract tourists.

A view of the observation post on Apitiki
A view of the observation post on Apitiki

Being able to enjoy the solitude was an important part of my experience. And I like the fact that the sheep and goats are the occupants of these buildings today.

Several of these buildings were used by the Greek army, after WW2 was over.
Several of these buildings were used by the Greek army, after WW2 was over.

On the other hand, it would be a shame if these buildings and structures deteriorated further. I believe exemplary WW2 buildings should be preserved to remind people that war is real.

These – and other monuments – can do this even better than museums, which cannot show items in their geographical context or setting. Nor can a museum convey the special atmosphere of a building in its original surroundings.

View of the listening wall, which looks like a science fiction construction
View of the listening wall, which looks like a science fiction construction

Ideally, these monuments should be preserved as they are now, but not restored.

I find the preservation of the acoustic (or listening) wall ideal, as it prevents further deterioration, but still leaves room for imagination.

The listening wall has been preserved and offers a unique glimpse into the past
The listening wall has been preserved and offers a unique glimpse into the past

Buildings that are restored to their original state often give the impression of a newly constructed building and seem artificial or mock like a film set.

The preservation of the listening wall is very interesting as an architectural exercise
The preservation of the listening wall is very interesting as an architectural exercise

It is tempting to restore them, but it would mean getting rid of modifications that were made during the following years and decades – changes that happened because of the course the war took:

A broken padlock, an open door to the past
A broken padlock, an open door to the past

When the German army occupied Leros, they took over the Italian buildings.

They added murals, for instance: Some bear witness to propaganda, some to satire, some just show an interest in art.

Debris of the past, fragments of History, scattered on the floor
Debris of the past, fragments of History, scattered on the floor

Discussions about what to keep and what to remove are challenging in regard to inhuman regimes, but this discourse is important and more constructive than pretending Nazism and fascism never existed.

How many memories, how many forgotten voices of the past haunt this empty room?
How many memories, how many forgotten voices of the past haunt this empty room?

The appropriation by the people of Leros is equally interesting and valuable to me. Some photos of these changes are among my favourites.

Mrs. Janusch walked around the many WW2 buildings and shot photos from interesting angles, like this one
Ms. Janusch walked around the many WW2 buildings and shot photos from interesting angles, like this one

Restoration would mean removing the graffiti and the names and messages the locals have been leaving on the walls.

Do you think people would be interested to visit those WW2 monuments?

Absolutely.

I am certain it would interest anybody wanting to find out more about history and architecture. It is enlightening to see the actual theatre of war.

Bunker
Concrete and earth, a combination of Nature and man.

These places are very unique and also very surprising, they are unlike anything I have seen before: Italian army buildings designed to imitate Roman villas.

One, on the slope of Mount Tourtouras, must seem like something not of this world for the unsuspecting hiker.

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Each construction adds to the History of Leros

Not only does it look like it was carved out of the mountain side, but somebody, probably one or several Wehrmacht soldiers, covered the walls with paintings in different styles and with different topics.

There are two large copies of Pieter Bruegel paintings, “The Peasants’ Wedding” and the right half of the painting “Peasant Dance”.

There are also two large-scale satirical drawings, and one comic strip starring a dog, whose episodes cover different walls in a passage.

They are all full of sexual connotations and wishful thinking, at least when it comes to the number and the looks of the depicted women.

Goats are too busy to admire the beautiful woman painted on the wall
Goats are too busy to admire the beautiful woman painted on the wall

The walls of some buildings on Mount Patela are decorated with painted “wallpaper”, which was very popular in the early 20th century. It gives these huge army buildings a bizarrely domestic atmosphere.

The paint was applied with a patterned roller, sometimes a second pattern in a different colour was stencilled over it.

On Mount Patela there are also two earth covered bunkers that remind me of a Mycenaean tholos or beehive tomb. They also have long and narrow entrance passages similar to the “dromoi” of these tombs.

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Architecture is very interesting, as an aspect of WW2 fortifications

I am sure tourists would be particularly excited about the acoustic wall. It is perhaps the most unique building on Leros – both scientifically and historically interesting.

The beauty of the geometric structure might also attract tourists interested in architecture.

"In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated." August Sander
“In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.”
August Sander

What are your interests and what do you want to demonstrate?
In general, I am interested in visual manifestations of the human condition – in particular, in the examination of the use of architecture and infrastructure.

The walls tell their own story
The walls tell their own story

I like to believe that my photos have captured the beauty of peace. They show peace as the absence of war:

An unused, decaying army building set in a serene landscape becomes an image of hope.

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“Posti di com […]  avvistamenti”

 CHECK THE WEBSITE AND INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT OF MS. JANUSCH AT THE FOLLOWING LINKS:

 

WEBSITE

 

INSTAGRAM