No bunker in Germany has made the headlines in recent years like this one: the cyber bunker in Traben-Trarbach on the Moselle, which was exposed a good four years ago as an illegal data center for criminal transactions worth millions on the Darknet. The operators of the bunker were convicted in one of the country’s largest trials against cybercrime – their machinations are also the subject of a 100-minute documentary on Netflix. And the bunker system? Today it is still largely as it was at the time of the spectacular attack over five levels.

“I’ve already received a few inquiries. Some of them are very strange,” says the mayor of the idyllic town, Patrice Langer (SPD). A Dutchman wanted to store cheese there, another interested party wanted to use the shelter as a wine depot. Other ideas that struck Langer included a back-up for a bank in Frankfurt, an open-plan disco and a bunker hotel, he says. But he doesn’t take any action because the 13-hectare site now belongs to the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

The Cyberbunker gang operated hundreds of servers through which almost 250,000 crimes were carried out – drug deals, data theft, computer attacks and counterfeit money transactions. It advertised itself as a “bulletproof hoster” that was safe from police and governments. In the end, the gang was exposed – and at the end of 2021, the seven men and one woman were convicted by the Trier regional court for membership in a criminal organization. They received prison sentences ranging from one year suspended to five years and nine months.

The state of Rhineland-Palatinate has owned the facility since September. The property with the approximately 5,500 square meter bunker is owned by the State Tax Office, says Senior Public Prosecutor Jörg Angerer, who heads the State Cybercrime Central Office in Rhineland-Palatinate at the Koblenz Public Prosecutor’s Office. The public prosecutor’s office confiscated the bunker facility in October 2019, and the country has now confiscated it.

How things will continue there remains to be seen. “A specific subsequent use has not yet been determined at this point in time,” says the spokeswoman for the state office, Wiebke Girolstein. The office offered the bunker facility to the public sector: discussions were underway with the Federal Real Estate Agency, among others. But a sale to private individuals is also possible. “The future buyer will then decide on the specific subsequent use.”

We are currently taking a detailed overview of the entire property with bunker and two above-ground buildings. Some of those two buildings are in serious need of renovation and cannot be used in their current condition. There is still no final assessment of the bunker and no sales price yet. In the short term, there are maintenance measures – for example to prevent groundwater from entering or to keep unwanted guests away.

The Bundeswehr Office for Geoinformation used to be located in the underground protective structure, which lies on the Mont Royal ridge above Traben-Trarbach. “That was the unit that advised the Bundeswehr on all scientific issues,” says Mayor Langer, who used to work there himself. Processed data, including information about the weather at the locations, was then sent from there to the associations, including abroad. The office ended at the end of 2012. And at the end of 2013, the ringleader of the cyber bunker gang bought the old Bundeswehr bunker for 450,000 euros.

The Dutchman gradually built up the cyber bunker. When the gang was attacked in September 2019, 650 police forces from Germany arrived with the support of special units such as GSG 9: They found 886 physical and virtual computers. Darknet operators who used the center were also targeted: around 150 arrest warrants were executed worldwide in the following proceedings, says senior public prosecutor Angerer.

For the mayor of the town with a population of almost 6,000, one thing is clear: he would like to have an authority that would move in again, like the Bundeswehr had at the time with 345 positions. Also because of income tax. “Since I left office, I’ve been missing a good half a million euros from the city coffers every year,” says Langer. And he also has an idea: “There has been a lot of criminal activity up there for years. What would it be like if the federal or state governments set up an agency there that fights against cybercrime? That would have a lot of appeal.”