* Guests handed army clothes, gas masks
* Man in uniform barks orders
* Guests say stay opens eyes to how E. German regime worked
By Ina Fassbender
SUHL, Germany, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Buried in the forests of Thuringia lies a Cold War bunker offering guests an experience they won’t soon forget: a spartan night as a soldier in the former communist East Germany’s People’s Army.
Don’t expect mini-bars, spa services and a warm welcome from staff.
Guests are handed People’s Army trousers, jackets, belts, caps and a gas mask while a man in a major’s uniform barks orders to march through the fir trees with luggage and find the bunker.
The Waldhotel Rennsteighoehe, which runs 16-hour “reality experience” packages, says it gives guests just what they want.
“Demand is strong. It is light-hearted and not meant to be too serious but people come to experience history and that is what they get,” said Manuel Ebert, who works at the hotel.
After making their own bunk beds, women peel and chop potatoes for supper while men stand guard and prepare a barbecue where spicy local sausages are roasted.
The tourist soldiers are allowed to enjoy a treat after dark - beer, vodka and east German sparkling wine called Rotkaeppchen.
The bunker, whose entrance is concealed by a hut with army tanks parked outside, was built in the 1970s and run by the dreaded Stasi secret police, who imprisoned thousands of citizens they deemed to be opponents of the state.
Its purpose was to enable a military elite to run a command centre in the event of an attack, and to survive after most of the local population was wiped out.
Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand grenades, decontamination showers and oxygen supplies are on display in the bunker to increase the feeling of authenticity.
Guests are of all ages - from 18 to 75 years old. Many received vouchers for their trip as a gift from friends or family, but they say the experience is an eye-opener as well as fun.
Hans-George Tiede, 66, who described his visit with his two sons as “thought-provoking”, said he had lived under communism and was a conscript in the People’s Army in 1972-3.
“It made me think, once I found out that such constructions were built in the east back then. How much money was thrown at a handful of people so they might live 14 days longer?” he said.
“It brought home how manipulated people were and can be.” (Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michael Roddy and Barry Moody)