The Berlin Tunnel Project is a collaborative project of three artists who develop installations and related events in response to a declassified, redacted Cold War CIA document. The project was initiated by the Museum of Matches, a one-room Cold War museum, that periodically invites artists to respond to Cold War documents. The Berlin Tunnel document includes a detailed description, photographs, maps and diagrams of a tunnel that was dug from West to East Berlin in 1954 in order to tap into Soviet phone cables.

The Berlin Tunnel Project collaborating artists have Cold War backgrounds in the three countries involved in the tunnel episode: Sasha Chavchavadze (United States), Tatiana Istomina (Soviet Union), Barbara Westermann (Germany). The project will develop a series of installations and related events that respond to the visually evocative Cold War document. The first collaborative work by the three artists will be installed from January 28th – February 25th at Proteus Gowanus in Brooklyn. The Berlin Tunnel project translates history into visual forms as it evokes the Cold War and its legacy. The project utilizes ambiguous images of connection, disconnection, symmetry and disjunction that were pervasive throughout Cold War history.


The Berlin Tunnel


In 1954 the CIA began to dig a tunnel from West Berlin to East Berlin for the purposes of tapping into Soviet phone cables. The completed tunnel took a year to construct and was 1,476 feet long. 3,100 tons of soil were removed and the tunnel was lined with 125 tons of steel. The KGB, however, had been informed of the project from the start by a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) named George Blake. Most likely the KGB did not reveal that they knew about the tunnel to protect their mole. In April 1956 the KGB “discovered” the tunnel and released the information to the world press. American newspapers generally marveled that the CIA was capable of such a remarkable clandestine maneuver. Russian press referred to this operation as a great success of Soviet intelligence.

This document, released by the CIA after being redacted can be found on the web by googling “Berlin Tunnel.” It describes in fascinating detail the history of the project from its inception to its completion, including intelligence derived from the project and articles in the American press after the tunnel was revealed to the public.



Links to the artists' personal webpages:

Sasha Chavchavadze

Barbara Westermann

Tatiana Istomina