Nina and Torsten Römer, curators of Project Paradise, open the door and lead the way deeper into the earth along a narrow concrete passageway to a Nazi-era bunker. During World War II, Berlin's huddled masses sheltered here as Allied bombs flattened their city. Until Nov. 2, you're more likely to bump into Hitler, as played by a Russian actor, begging for forgiveness; or a snake handler with a boa constrictor that's meant to represent the serpent in Eden. This may be an unlikely setting for an art show, particularly one that's supposed to celebrate heaven, but don't tell that to Torsten Römer. "The tension between a place so burdened with history and a spiritual subject such as paradise is just so fitting," he says.
The Alexanderplatz bunker was Berlin's largest civilian air-raid shelter, built to accommodate 3,000 people in 55 rooms. It now houses 200 performance and installation artists from around the world, whose work includes rooms containing a depiction of Dante's vision of heaven, a reconstructed department store complete with sales staff to greet visitors, and an Adam-and-Eve tableau featuring an apple tree—and that boa.
After Alexanderplatz, the Römers will take the Paradise Project to underground sites in Prague, Stockholm, Moscow and other European cities with subterranean shelters. Heaven may be coming soon to a bunker near you.