A multimedia historical exhibition in the Underground Town of “Osówka”
Projekt Multimedia in Poland has carried out an extraordinary project requiring sensitivity to the suffering of Nazi victims, the protection of hibernating bats, and installation in extreme conditions. The Underground Town of Osówka in Lower Silesia, Poland was a part of a Nazi project under codename of Riese, the construction of which began at the end of 1943. The purpose of the facility still remains unclear, with sensationalist or downright incredible tales passed around about it. Most historians agree that the Riese was mostly meant to be an underground town with a secret industrial facility – a weapons factory that, if completed, could potentially make the Second World War last a few weeks or even months longer. The construction of the site employed inmates from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and prisoners of war, as well as high-level specialists from all over Europe. In early 1945, due to the advancing offensive of the Red Army together with Polish forces, works were interrupted after a year and a half. Germans sent the prisoners, employees and some of the machines away and concealed the underground site. The empty adits (horizontally mined entrances) stood spooky, but at the same time provided an exploration site for brave individuals looking for treasures and gold. In the mid-1990s the underground site was secured and renovated, having been available to tourists and for teaching about World War II ever since. Until the renovation works, the site only featured information boards hanging on the walls plus exhibits lying on the ground or on makeshift podiums: weapons found underground, soldiers’ helmets or elements of mining equipment. The history of Riese was only told by tour guides walking the visitors around the raw tunnels. To make the site more attractive, a decision was made to create a multimedia exhibition. For this purpose, the Commune of Głuszyca secured 1.5 million zloties (more than 300,000 Euros) of EU funding. The exhibition modernisation and expansion project was intended to diversify and enrich the touring route while maintaining respect for the underground complex itself and its history. Works were conducted under difficult ambient conditions: a constant high humidity of 90% and low temperature of about 8 degrees Celsius. On top of that, the underground climate made it necessary to protect every device from humidity. Creating a multimedia exhibition in a place like Osówka was a challenge. Similar sites struggle with multiple problems: malfunctioning equipment due to a non-electronics-friendly environment, steaming display cabinets with exhibits inside not being visible, not to mention frequent critiques from specialists, enthusiasts or visitors who will catch every inconsistency or contradiction with the facts. The tunnels of the Riese complex, however, had many more hindrances awaiting. Watch out for bats! The first challenge turned out to be nature – the NATURA 2000 programme to be exact. The Osówka underground is where bats stay and hibernate from October to April, and they are protected in Poland. Therefore, all works could only be performed during the six months when the animals are not around the site. On top of that, all solutions used on the exhibition stations had to be the subject of consultations with chiropterologists (academic specialists in bats) to make sure that they would take the specifics of the nightly creatures’ life into account and not disturb their peace in any way when they hibernate. The exhibition had to meet applicable standards on sound, heat emission and light intensity. It turned out to be impossible to use a holographic mesh at one of the stations because those animals that only rely on echolocation to move around dark tunnels could potentially get tangled in it. Due to the vital role they play in the ecosystem, and a documentary plays to familiarise visitors with the lives of these useful creatures. A projection is displayed using an Optoma ZU510Te projector on a dual-surface screen suspended in the air on cables. Cautious, not entertaining Projekt Multimedia, as general contractor, was involved in implementing the entirety of the exhibition systems together with the content. When creating the content, it was necessary to remain particularly tactful and cautious. That’s because the site used to be a place of hard slave labour that would often cost the prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp their health or life. This made it necessary to design the exhibition in a serious, reflection-provoking manner, and not an entertaining one. What is more, due to the lack of any historical documentation for the Riese complex, many consultations with historians were necessary to recreate the available historical facts as faithfully as possible. Stylish, LED-backlit display cabinets Tours of the site start with a guard post located in a narrow corridor where an exhibit cabinet was incorporated into an existing niche which was 171 cm wide x 190 cm tall and 100 cm deep. The cabinet is finished with panels made of Corten steel that fit the mood of the environment perfectly. Located inside are replicas: Nazi-stylized crates, ammunition, weapon and grenades. Adam Ferency Hologram Upon leaving the guard post, visitors are greeted with a hologram of the Polish actor Adam Ferency, explaining how World War II started, which countries were involved and how it came to pass that kilometres of underground corridors were dug in the rock of the mountains and finally the purpose of such large-scale secret construction at the Riese complex. The life-sized virtual character is displayed on holographic fabric. At the same time, a nearby monitor displays archival video footage from World War II, with subtitles in two languages. Mapping the complex Riese is a site of six underground complexes that together make up this mysterious undertaking. A seventh complex is considered to be the Książ castle. In total, about nine kilometres of excavations were found with a total area of 25,000 square meters. To show the magnitude of the Nazi undertaking, a scale model of the area’s topography was prepared, with additional space to display translations into different languages, using a mapping technique to display historical maps, complete with the locations of individual objects and plans of the underground corridors. Artefacts Around Osówka, many guns were found that had been left behind by withdrawing German soldiers. The rusty weapons are displayed in a display cabinet sized 310 cm wide 190 cm tall and 45 cm deep, made of steel profiles, finished with panels made of Corten steel. Inside, waterproof LED lighting was used. Conditions adequate for storing exhibits are provided by a system of dehumidifiers and heaters. The back wall is made of a dibond sheet with a print of sketches of the guns displayed in the cabinet. Water trail Tourists have several touring routes to choose from, one of which is termed the extreme route. Its main point is a water crossing, located underground in a tunnel where water is as deep as one metre at its lowest point. That’s where the tourists hop into an old metal boat and reach the dry part of corridors in it. Then they walk about a dozen metres down a dark, water-filled passageway. To cross that route, it is necessary to walk on top of pieces of wood and rocks while holding on to a thick rope along the ceiling, watching out not to get shoes wet at the same time. Installed on the route of this crossing is underground lighting, based on a DMX controller that enables the activation of seven different effects. The additional attractions are a specially prepared backlit artwork imitating a sunken truck and a sunken boat with chests full of gold. Virtual elevator Located in the Osówka underground is an off-limits shaft of approximately 60 metres in height that leads all the way to the surface. It’s where a mixed passenger/freight elevator was meant to be located. A multimedia projection makes it possible to see the shaft from the inside and feel as if the visitor is riding an elevator to the surface inside of it. The content combines a vertical projection that shows images of riding an elevator up the shaft and a horizontal one that allows for virtual touring of the part of the site located on the surface. Holograms of the concentration camp prisoners Nazi Germans were the architects and the supervisors of the Riese project, but they weren’t actually the ones building this network of underground adits. The true builders were the forced labourers, prisoners of war and inmates of concentration camps, who were mostly sent already thinking they would be murdered when construction was complete. It is estimated that at least 13,000 people were sent to the camps on the construction site. All were Jewish, mostly transported straight from Auschwitz, where they were deemed fit to work on the unloading platform. The prisoners were kept in makeshift shacks in the forest, with the camps suffering from food shortages, illnesses running wild, exhausted prisoners constantly forced to work beyond their strength, and a terrifying death toll. In total, about 5,000 people working on the construction site of Riese lost their lives. This story is presented through holograms of prisoners wearing striped uniforms. Exhausted, they carry large boulders and load them into a cart used to transport the haul to the surface. Then a movie is played that shows the martyrdom of the prisoners, with subtitles added in two languages. The scenery is complemented by a replica of a metal rail cart used in the Riese complex. Virtual workers on scaffolding The local terrain wasn’t convenient to Nazis. Standing on their way were incredibly difficult geological conditions. Similar facilities in other parts of the Third Reich were dug in easy to process sandstone. The Owl Mountains, on the other hand, mostly consist of hard and difficult to dig through gneiss rocks. Which made digging underground passageways an incredibly hard work. This station provides an imitation of realistic workers working on a scenic scaffolding that faithfully recreates the original scaffoldings of the World War II era. The visuals are displayed using an Optoma projector. The projection is displayed directly on the rocks using a mapping effect. Vehicular cherry on top In one of the underground halls, an exhibit is devoted to the vehicles used during World War II in Lower Silesia. This station consists of thirteen exposition modules made of a steel structure and Corten panels. The artworks of German and Soviet vehicles are printed on LED-backlit lightboxes. The cherry on top of this station is a beautiful operational replica of a VW KdF typ 82 Kubelwagen, built specifically for this exhibition, with built-in LED lighting in place of the original lamps. Light and sound display A lot of items were found in the Osówka underground that were left behind by prisoners working there. Those include shovels, pickaxes, lamps, electrical equipment, and even bowls and cutlery. All those elements were displayed on modular podiums and highlighted with spotlights hooked to a PXM controller, which in turn is hooked to proprietary Raspberry Pi software that allows for sequential playback of sounds and backlighting of adequate exhibits Weapon and equipment exhibition A display cabinet sized 310 cm wide, 190 cm tall and 45 cm deep, made of steel profiles, finished with panels made of Corten steel, is used to display weapons and military equipment. Inside, waterproof LED lighting was used. Conditions adequate for storing exhibits are provided by a system of dehumidifiers and heaters. The back wall is made of a dibond sheet. Located next to the cabinet is an eye-catching 3D picture of German soldiers withdrawing from Poland. The image was divided into 4 selective plans (layers). Each of them is printed onto a 3×2 m polycarbonate sheet. It gives the picture a spatial effect. Ending with a bang Before the Red Army arrived, plenty of underground structures were destroyed, or at least the tunnels leading to them were blown up. A scene of German soldiers setting up explosives was therefore arranged through a projection on a screen. The truck and the German soldiers were mapped in actual sizes.

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