Mushrooms of Concrete

Albanian Communist Party Chief Enver Hoxha ran the country for 41 years, from 1944 to 1985. Over this period, the dictator left an indelible impression on the poorest country in Europe. Although he saw to it that electricity was available throughout Albania as early as 1967, he also isolated the country from the rest of the world. Hoxha was in constant fear of attack from outside and so he had 750,000 bunkers built at strategic locations, which still dot the landscape. Against the backdrop of these deserted mushroom-shaped bunkers, elderly Albanians tell of their interminable work on them and the many sacrifices they made before going on to train in them: bunkers of various sizes, connecting corridors, subterranean complexes – all waiting for an enemy that never came. The concrete constructions scar the Albanian countryside, a permanent reminder of this “crime against ourselves.” But to a younger generation they are not solely a bitter reminder, for they also offer an opportunity for a better future. The concrete mushrooms are being used as commercial space, nightclubs, storage facilities and high-end restaurants. They are displayed to tourists with pride: “The bunkers are our cathedrals.”

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