Secrets of Celle Neues Rathaus

During the cold war, soldiers stationed on an army base in Germany found themselves at the mercy of sinister and terrifying paranormal activity. Events were said to be so frightening that some of the men apparently committed suicide. Was there a dark history surrounding the base and could it reveal the secrets of Celle Neues Rathaus?

It was April 1945 and the forces of Wehrmacht, under the command of Adolf Hitler were in a full-scaleretreat across Germany as the Western Allies pushed East into the Fatherland. German soldiers were surrendering in their thousands, a humiliating end for a military machine which had once out-gunned and outmatched the forces of any other nation.

On 10th April, the US 84th Infantry division crossed the Weser River and captured Hanover. A city which had been bombed almost into oblivion by allied air raids, resulting in 90% of the city centre being reduced to rubble, so there was little to no resistance when US ground forces arrived. The war had been long, its end overdue and the over-extended, under-resourced German soldiers had had enough. Their morale had collapsed along with the buildings around them.

The surrounding townships soon followed suit, raising the white flag as soon as allied armour rolled into view. One of these towns – sitting 20 miles north-east of Hanover – was Celle, a small, unassuming settlement of around 40,000 people, but one which was well known for housing one of the largest free-standing brick built structures in Europe at the time; its Neues Rathaus.

Celle New Town Hall

Neues Rathaus simply translates to “New Town Hall” and nearly every single German town and city has one. There is nothing special or unusual about its name, but there is something special and definitely unusual about this Rathaus in particular. And whilst this story is famous amongst the British and German soldiers who took up residence there during the cold war, it is relatively unknown to the wider world.

The town of Celle surrendered on 12th April 1945. As with Hanover, there was no resistance from German forces and certainly not from any of the civilians residing in the bombed-out buildings. The town hall had miraculously escaped the bombing campaign relatively unscathed and, being the gargantuan structure that it was, seemed the perfect place to house occupying troops and form some sort of temporary administration. It had, after all, served as a barracks for German troops and had even housed an SS battalion.

The building itself had five floors above ground and five floors below, but what US forces quickly realised after taking control of the Rathaus was that they could not access the lower levels; they had been completely flooded with water. This immediately piqued the interest of the commanding officer as he could see no reason for the SS to have gone to such effort, unless they were trying to hide something. Over the next few days, he would make a determined effort to ascertain exactly what the Germans had attempted to cover up. And the events that followed would become known in military circles as the legend of Celle Neues Rathaus.

The navy divers

On the 15th April, at the special request of Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, commander of the 84th infantry division, three US Navy divers arrived in Celle with the intention of reconnoitring the submerged depths of the building. It was a daunting prospect for any diver, let alone these men, who were some of the best trained in the world. Swimming down into a maze of confined rooms and corridors in pitch black darkness would be enough to unnerve even the hardiest of men. Due to the obvious dangers, each diver was tethered by a line to the surface and sent down at different entry points.

What took place over the next half hour is not fully understood, but what is known is that two of the divers never made it back to the surface. Their tethers were retrieved, but not their bodies. The third diver, however, did resurface, apparently raving like a lunatic. When he finally came to his senses after a couple of hours, he reported seeing strange symbols and pentagrams etched into the walls and floors of some of the rooms on the first two levels.

On the third level down, he said that in the darkness he had seen mutilated corpses strapped into chairs. He reported that they were in a horrifying state, some had their abdomens ripped wide open or all of their limbs removed and others had had goat’s heads attached to their bodies in place of their own. Whilst this was terrifying enough, he spoke in whispered tones about how he had seen them moving, as if they were still alive. This had caused him to panic and swim back to the surface. He said a dark, cloudy mass had chased him through the water.

By all accounts, this man was never the same again and was discharged from the Navy shortly afterwards. The commanding officer was reluctant to investigate further as he did not wish to put more lives at risk. In any case, time was running short as Celle was in the British Zone of Occupation and British forces would soon be arriving to relieve the Americans. The building was handed over to the British Army on 21st April and the basements sealed over with concrete shortly thereafter.

The sound of jack-boots

During the Cold War, Celle became a very important garrison town, staging a sizeable contingent of NATO forces. The town hall was converted into a permanent army barracks and housed regiments from the British and German militaries. The stories regarding the flooded lower levels and the fate of the US Navy divers were rife during this period and many believed them to be nothing more than Urban Legends. But no one could get away from the fact that access to the basement floors was indeed restricted. It was obvious that most stairwells leading down into the lower levels had been hastily filled in with concrete, as the tops of bannisters or hand rails could be seen protruding from the floor. The question was; why?

Paranormal phenomena in and around the barracks were commonplace. An infantryman by the name of Stephen Daily reported that on his first night in the building as a new recruit, he saw silhouettes of people walking back and forth outside his window. He didn’t think much of this at the time, as soldiers would have been on patrol, until he realised the next morning that his window was actually seven feet above the ground on the outside of the building.

Daily served four years in Celle during the 1980s and he experienced all kinds of strange goings-on, such as hearing jack-boots marching on the parade grounds and through hallways even though half of the camp was on leave and no parades were taking place. There were instances of people hearing voices conversing in German in locked and empty rooms. A sergeant-major was utterly stupefied in the early hours of one morning when he witnessed a column of German Panzer tanks pass him by in complete and utter silence.

Odd occurrences at Celle Neues Rathaus

The strangeness didn’t end there. A young private by the name of Martin Fox woke one night to find that the ceiling of his bedroom was only inches away from his face. At first, he thought it was his roommates playing a prank, but when he realised his bed was actually floating several feet above the floor, he screamed out and both he and the bed came crashing down, waking his sleeping comrades. Other soldiers reported having their rooms vandalised even though they had been locked and secured in intervening times, and no one else had been in there. Some even saw dark shadowy figures standing at the ends of their beds and in hallways.

Most unsettling was the unusually high rate of suicides amongst the men stationed at the Rathaus. There were certain rooms on the upper levels, which were said to have had pentagrams etched into the floors and walls and legend has it that many recruits ended up taking their own lives shortly after spending the night in them on a dare. A large number of soldiers were also discharged on medical grounds after undergoing psychological evaluations. Many of them had become deeply depressed during their tour of duty and officials felt they could be a danger to themselves and others if they remained in active service.

The general feeling throughout the ranks inhabiting the base was that a dark, oppressive atmosphere hung over the town in general. After all, Bergen is a suburbial district of Celle and this is, of course, where the infamous Belsen concentration camp was situated. In fact, many Jewish prisoners were transported by rail into the town centre before being despatched to Belsen thereafter. And although Celle was captured during the war without a single bullet being fired, it was no less a scene of unwavering tragedy; a place where thousands upon thousands of innocent people lost their lives in an untimely and barbaric manner.

Could the very knowledge of this have had a negative effect on the men’s moods and behaviours? And if so, why did this dark cloud seem to hang specifically over the Rathaus?

Connections to The Occult

The rumours around camp were intriguing, to say the least. It is no secret that the Nazi Regime and in particular, Heinrich Himmler, had a deep-seated interest in the occult. It is thought that the Third Reich was looking to harness untold powers in order to tip the fortunes of war in their favour…

For instance, there are tales of German troops making expeditions to Antarctica to locate hidden entrances to the so-called Hollow Earth, which would supposedly lead them to a dormant race of giants. Other rumours suggest that the Spear of Destiny was stolen from a museum in Vienna to aid in the summoning of dark forces and that German Naval commanders employed the use of dowsing in an attempt to locate British submarines and merchant vessels. Hitler himself was no stranger to paranormal experiences as he had recorded such instances in his private journals many times. But what does all this have to do with the Rathaus in Celle?

The study of witchcraft was high up on the agenda for the German elite and the Rathaus was said to be one of many sites across the country where the SS carried out such research and even experimentation on human subjects, in this case, Jewish prisoners from Belsen. There were rumours that the SS were summoning dark and sinister forces in the rooms situated on the lower levels and that prisoners were being horribly mutilated in order for their bodies to become more accepting of demonic possession. The building itself is said to have occult symbolism running all the way through it, from the way it is laid out to the very smallest of details, such as the shapes of concrete tie rods and decorative architecture. Many believe the Rathaus served as an antenna or gateway, which amplified the effects of such practices.

Reanimation

A German soldier who had been stationed there during the cold war years had an interesting and somewhat bizarre story to tell. Posting anonymously on an internet forum back in 2009, he recalled how his father had told him that the SS had been attempting to bring soldiers back from the dead, allowing demonic entities to possess the deceased and use their bodies as vessels. His father went on to describe how attempts in doing this had been successful, but that these reanimated corpses apparently had no sense of honour or loyalty and that research in this area was abruptly halted.

Connections to the occult are further reinforced by the supposed etchings of pentagrams and particularly the accounts of the third diver who reported seeing people with goat’s heads strapped into chairs whilst exploring the basements. That is, of course, if the story regarding the US Navy divers is to be believed. One would have to question exactly what was down there in those cold, dark depths and what had been responsible for taking the lives of two of the men. Could it have been something paranormal or even supernatural? Or was it something altogether more rational, such as the fact that it was a dangerous assignment to begin with, that two of the divers became trapped and that the third worked himself up into a panic as a result of the dark and confined spaces?

Truth or urban legend?

Of course, we must also ask whether the diving incident even happened at all. Reading this story back, one has to admit that it has all the hallmarks of an urban legend, all the clichés of fabrication, perhaps concocted to frighten new recruits. There is no doubt that the Rathaus in Celle does have floors below ground which are inaccessible and have been covered over with concrete. Whether they are – or were – flooded is another matter.

After all, how practical would it have been to fill the equivalent volume of a football stadium with water? Surely gutting the building with fire would have been a far quicker and easier method of destroying any evidence of whatever had been going on there? Unless the SS were not trying to hide evidence, but instead to quarantine whatever abominations they had created down there. The likelihood is that we’ll never know for sure.

In summary

What is less easy to explain, however, is the sheer amount of paranormal activity that soldiers experienced whilst on the base. There are far too many accounts – even from higher ranks – to dismiss this altogether. If you are lucky enough to speak to any British or German soldier stationed here during the cold war, you’ll more than likely find that they believe there was definitely something evil and twisted about the Rathaus. This likely supports the idea that something sinister was going on in the maze of dark halls and rooms of its lower levels at some point during in its history. Whether it had connections to the occult or otherwise is up for debate.

In any case, British and German forces vacated the premises entirely in 2012 and the building was re-purposed as originally intended; to embody the seat of local government. Parts of it have also been converted into a hotel, which has seen glowing reviews from visitors on various travel websites. That said, guests still report – even to this day – strange goings on and the ever-present sound of jack-boots echoing through the halls. It seems the secrets of Celle Neues Rathause live on…

AUTHOR: Richard While
DATE: August 2018