Vogelsang – Soviet Nuclear Base in the GDR

‘The lost city of Vogelsang’ – this is the complete name often attributed to this former Soviet installation built under Stalin’s rule in 1952, located about 35 miles north of Berlin in the former territory of the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR, or DDR in German). Actually, the base was among the first three of the kind in size, housing about 15.000 Soviet troops of several tank and riflery divisions, service staff and their families – much more residents than the majority of ‘normal’ cities in the region.

In the case of Vogelsang, two facts add to the usual grim aura of a deserted Soviet base.

Firstly, it was never much publicized among the locals, being large enough to contain all services needed by the troops and their families – it was basically a ‘secret base’. The trees now invading all free areas between the skeletons of the remaining buildings were not there until the early Nineties, when Russian troops left the former territory of the GDR – during 1994. Yet even when it was active, the place was hidden from the eyes of those passing by, thanks to the very rich vegetation. Its very location, pretty far away from everything, surely helped in shrouding it into secrecy.

Secondarily, at least in one instance in recent history, in the years of Khrushchev, of the latest Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, this place was used for the deployment of an arsenal of strategic missiles pointing to European targets, reportedly in Britain. Much confusion exists about dates and many details are missing – the deployment was so secret that even the government of the GDR didn’t know about it, so the existence of the base and its role are a somewhat ‘inconvenient reminder’ of the recent past for Germany. Today this base is still really hard to spot.

Anyway, I visited the site in late August 2016 and took the following photographs. There is still much left to see. I give also some basic info for getting to this site on your own.

Getting there and moving around

The village of Vogelsang can be reached by car from downtown Berlin in about 1 h 30 min – the road distance is about 40 miles, but a substantial part of the itinerary follows local roads, resulting in a pretty long time needed. Be careful when pointing your nav, for there are several towns named ‘Vogelsang’ in Germany. This one is in Brandenburg, located north of Berlin, along the road 109. The closest major town is Zehdenick, a few miles to the south of Vogelsang on the same road 109.

As usual with military bases, there is a railway track reaching Vogelsang, and getting there by train is of course possible. During my stay I heard the whistle of various trains passing there – even though I noticed only a very small station and nobody around, so possibly there’s no ticketing service. I noticed the scheduled time for arriving by train from Berlin is identical to that needed moving with a car. If you don’t want to be forced to stick to timetables, I suggest going by car.

Once there, I parked my car on the grass close to the only crossroad in town – where the 109 is crossed by Burgwaller Strasse. I parked behind the info table – there is obviously no info on the base, just about ‘regular’ nature trails in the area. Nobody complained about me parking there and I found my car intact about six hours later…

Burgwaller Strasse crosses the railway and heads straight into the ‘operational zone’. Please note that soon after crossing the railway a) the road is not paved any more, b) there are prohibition signs about vehicle traffic, so you can’t go further with a car.

For moving around you will need an electronic map and possibly a GPS, cause the site is huge, and the area is covered with trees and vegetation, and many former roads are not visible any more, so getting lost is pretty easy. Moreover, from Google maps you can’t spot much from above, because of the trees. This makes a GPS + map of the site very important for the particular case of this site, differently from other bases.

I used my iPhone and it worked perfectly. Just install the free Ulmon app (app website here) and download the offline Brandenburg map – this provides an incredible detail. Furthermore, there is a strong Internet signal over most of the base – strangely enough, the area is well covered. Until most recently there used to be a Google map of the site, with many pinpointed locations, prepared by an anonymous enthusiast. I used it extensively for preparing the exploration and once on site. Unfortunately, this is offline now. I am trying to prepare a map of the site now, but it is not that easy, also because I didn’t tour it in its entirety. For now I’ve modified the post to delete the broken map link… I apologize if you spot references to this ‘ghost map’ in the rest of the post, I’m currently working on an alternate version.

Anyway, if you don’t want to depend on the Internet once there, you can pinpoint the places you are more interested in on the offline Ulmon map before going – I did also this as a backup, cause I didn’t know whether Internet would be working.

I suggest not to overlook this point. Thinking back, I would have hardly made it without a cell phone with a GPS + map. You have to walk in the trees quite a bit before reaching any buildings. The trees hide everything and you can easily get disoriented – wasting much time moving around. Everything is solved with a GPS and a good map.

I spent almost 6 hours touring the place, and I just concentrated on the southern part of it, electing not to reach the launch pads closer to the village of Beutel. I walked approximately 11 miles standing to my iPhone, so be ready to walk. Even though there are no great physical barriers for moving around, the place is really abandoned and vegetation is wild. Probably you will need to walk in nettles and brambles at some point, so choose your clothes and shoes carefully.

On the plus side, you will see much wildlife!

Many interesting sights are outdoor, some are indoor. As usual, all abandoned buildings, except perhaps the nuclear storage bunkers that are very sturdy, must be considered dangerous. You should observe through the windows or enter at your own risk.

Sights

Missile Launch Pad

This is the southernmost, isolated launch pad on the site. You can see a concrete platform at the level of the ground about 20 feet long, with metal holding points. It was used to anchor missile-carrying trucks before tilting the missile canister vertical and preparing for launch. It is believed that the missile system was the R5 ‘Pobeda’, NATO codename SS-3 ‘Shyster’. The relatively small range of this missile is in support of a deployment in a region so close to the border with european NATO Countries.

The road leading to the missile pad and from there to the main complex of the base today is barely visible.

Entertainment Quarters

Two main buildings here, a movie theatre and a clubhouse.

The theatre is still in good shape. Some of the original lights and traces of the performance program board can be seen outside.

The road leading to the front entrance is still visible, but the façade is not imposing any more, for trees are now hiding it.

Signs and propaganda posters in Cyrillic alphabet and with photos can be spotted here and all around the base.

The café, with an original banner in Cyrillic, can be spotted to the left of the theatre.

Some kitchen furniture and gear can be still spotted around.

Between these buildings you can find an incredible mural with Lenin and other symbols and portraits.

School for Children

This is rather creepy – even the curtains are still in place on some windows…! On the ground floor you can access a small gym.

Much of the heating system – made in Germany – is still in place.

On the first floor some very interesting murals can be easily spotted, together with traces of a small theatre and special classrooms for language teaching and other purposes.

Soldiers Sports Ground

This has been turned into a corn field. Something of the original tribunes still stay, with original decoration made from parts of machinery I guess.

Soldiers Gym

Very creepy! Gym apparel, subscription forms, record boards and gym gear still around…

To the back you can spot a former Turkish bath with no roof and trees in it.

Soldiers Barracks

There are pretty many buildings of the same kind aligned along a still visible concrete paved road between the school and the training center. Many of these buildings look like being close to collapsing. Some interesting halls and various items can be found in some of them.

Soldiers Canteens & Training Center

There are various canteens and entertainment centers scattered on the territory of the base.

Some nice murals in pure Russian naïve style can be found in some of them. Some of the halls are very very large.

Among the most notable features in Vogelsang, a peculiar tank simulator and a small but very deep pool, for training purposes, can still be found in a dedicated training building.

Unfortunately the door appears to be blocked by a collapsed roof or something, but you can reach or at least see the features of interest through broken windows.

Mural of Soviet Triumphs & Soviet Soldier

This is an incredible mural, about 60 feet long, with various symbolic scenes – army power, technology and agriculture, family and helpful society and housing for everybody.

A collection of Soviet emblems follows. This mural contributes greatly to the uniqueness of Vogelsang in the panorama of Soviet bases!

Turning your head 90 degrees to the right from this mural, you will see an artistically pleasant giant head of soldier, embossed on the side of a building.

Close by, it is possible to find scant remains of other propaganda gears, like a three-steps stand for speaking, a board for a mural, now totally fallen and not visible, and another stand in the shape of a Red Banner flag made in concrete. Unique!

Mirage Mural

A painted portrait of a Mirage 2000 can be spotted on the back of a fence wall not far north from the mural of the Soviet triumphs, close to a watchtower. A data sheet in cyrillic alphabet is painted besides, and another aircraft is visible on another part of the wall.

Pretty curious about the choice of the Mirage, among all ‘enemy aircraft’ of Western powers. May be this was just the beginning of a gallery of portraits?

Bunkers for Nuclear Warheads

These are located to the south-west of the base, pretty far from the living quarters and training centers and closer to the limit fence of the base and to the road and railway.

Two bunkers can still be seen. They are very large and covered with land and vegetation. They have security gates at both ends. On one end, there are cranes probably for moving the nuclear warheads between trucks and the bunker. On the other end there is a small service building.

The ventilation system is huge, with large openings, valves and extensive piping.

At the time of my visit one of the two bunkers could be entered with no difficulty by the back gate. The thickness of the gate is impressive. Inside there are multiple interconnected cellars running along the main axis of the bunker, separated by walls and gates. Approaching the other end, where the entry gate to the crane area is blocked closed, there are rooms and ventilation control gears.

The inside of the bunker is very dark, but surprisingly it is far less wet than expected. Probably at least the construction layers for climate control are still working properly.

Scattered around the bunkers are some guard turrets overseeing the area, as well as protected entrances to some subterranean passages. In front of the blocked entrance of the bunker you can walk in, there is a mystery wall of ceramic brick, whose function I can’t guess.

Warning: in the area between the two bunkers I almost stepped on much dangerous debris, like pieces of rusty barbed wire and similar items. Carefully watch your step.

North of the bunkers a large garage for trucks can be found.

Cutting from the bunkers directly south to the road going back to the village, you cross the former perimeter of the base. From the inside you cross a wall, two lines of poles with traces of barbed wire, and a ditch. Thinking back, mines might have been buried between the two lines of barbed wire…

Approaching the railway track an unusual parking can be spotted, where only the lights are still in place. Totally disproportioned to the size of the town, it was probably connected with the military base, and is now deserted.

Final Comments

You can’t see anything unusual at a glance when passing by the very small village of Vogelsang. To say it all, you can hardly spot the village itself – a handful of small houses along the main road.

This would be good for urban explorers and war historians, as it should protect what remains from writers and other spoilers. Paradoxically, it is not protecting the site from disappearing at a quick pace, as the German government is reportedly promoting reforestation in the area, and buildings are being demolished little by little.

It is a pity, for this former base is rich of examples of Soviet ‘art’ and of other very rare artifacts, which after all are now part of history, and perhaps should deserve more consideration.

Anyway, as of August 2016, you can see from the description above that there is still much left to see. Only it’s hard to say whether this condition is going to last long.

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