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As pointed out in other posts on the topic – here and here -, the territory belonging to the German Democratic Republic (‘GDR’, or ‘DDR’ in German) was densely populated with military bases of all kinds, including tank bases, logistic bases and airbases. This was the result of two powerful Armies coexisting within the borders of the communist DDR – the local East-German Army and the Soviet ‘Red Army’.
Looking at a map of the Country, the density of airbases is particularly striking. Due to the strategic significance suggested by its very position in central Europe, right on the border with ‘the West’, the DDR was attributed a privileged status by the Soviet government in terms of military equipment. The number of Soviet troops stationed here was in the order of the hundreds of thousands, meaning that on most bases also housing and services for Soviet soldiers and their families had to be built in large numbers.
After the German reunification, the end of the Soviet Union and the retirement of Russian – ex-Soviet – troops by the mid-Nineties, all the bases – mostly stripped of any transportable stuff, which was withdrawn to Russia – were returned to Federal Germany. This resulted in a surplus of military hardware for the German government, which soon started a lengthy plan to convert, refurbish or demolish most of the newly acquired facilities.
Consequently, some of the former bases are now commercial airports, whereas most of them had the airside areas converted into solar powerplants. In most cases, only part of the former installations have been converted to non-military use, and huge ghost hangars, depots and housing can still be found in the premises of these airbases. What remains is sometimes of great interest for war historians and urban explorers as well – especially those bases where communist memorials with writing in cyrillic alphabet can be found, and stand out as vivid memories of a recent past, when everything was very different from now in central Europe.
Similarly to other ones on this website, this post covers with photographs and some info two Soviet airbases – Rangsdorf and Brand – visited in April 2017, and what remains of three more – Brandis, Nohra and Köthen – visited in 2023. Where in the premises of the first two much hardware could be checked out (at least as of 2017), the latter (as of 2023) have been almost completely wiped out, or left to the elements and to the spoilers to the point that only few or very damaged relics remain.
To provide some sort of ‘then and now’ comparison, I included a few pics from the wonderful book Rote Plätze – Russische Militärflugplatze Deutschland 1945-1994 by Lutz Freundt and Stefan Buttner, for which I don’t own the copyright. I recently grabbed a copy of this wonderful, out-of-print book, published in 2007 by a now defunct publisher in Berlin (AeroLit), and distributed only locally. This book is now very difficult to find, and basically a collectible item. Consequently, the price was indecent, but the maps, photos and info therein are really worth the financial effort!
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Getting there and moving around
The former airbase in Rangsdorf can be found on the outskirts of Berlin, actually less than 8 miles south of Schönefeld Airport. It can be reached very quickly from the highway N.10, taking through the village of Rangsdorf and reaching its the south-western corner, where a small lake with sport activities and a group of new ‘American style’ houses is being built and partially completed – the land were the new houses are standing was once part of the base.
To be honest, I had some difficulties finding a parking place, because the area is densely populated and much looked after, and most parking lots are privately owned. I finally elected to park ahead of a small kindergarten, which at the time of my visit was already closed.
What remains of the base is totally abandoned, and you will likely find sheep in the former areas of operations. When preparing your exploration, just have a look a the Google map of the site to plan your moves ahead. There are a few remaining huge hangars and service buildings to explore, and they are all in the northern part of the former airfield. The original fence with lines of barbed wire and concrete posts is still standing, but there are many spots where it is cut and broken, so getting in is not difficult at all.
Notwithstanding that you can easily access the base, the populated area around is a potential threat, for entering the buildings is formally forbidden – there is also a firefighters station close to the northern section of the fence, and you could be easily spotted from outside when you are in. So I suggest being careful in your movements.
The military airbase in Rangsdorf dates back from the years of WWII and the Nazi regime, when it was a major base for transportation of high-ranking military staff traveling by plane. It was from here that Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the key-character in the failed attempt to murder Adolf Hitler in July 1944, took off to reach the Wolf’s Lair in what is now eastern Poland.
When the airport fell into Soviet hands, it was soon converted into a helicopter base, due to the inappropriate size of the airfield for the standards of the jet age, and the constraints put on its development by the surrounding villages. It used to be a very active helicopter transport base until the collapse of the Wall. In the years preceding the withdrawal of the Soviet/Russian troops the place became famous as ‘The Dump’ – the Soviet helicopter fleet was rationalised, and many rotorcrafts met the scrapman here.
Approaching from the west of the complex the fenced perimeter is very irregular, and when coming in I passed at least four lines of barbed wire while walking along a straight line! Many original lamps along the fences are still in place.
What seems to be a large air raid shelter, or possibly a reinforced communication bunker can be found before reaching the hangars. It is really big and isolated, with traces of wiring on one side.
Among the traces from the Soviet ‘Dump’ there are some aircraft-style seats, possibly from a big helicopter, several winches and some electric motors.
The two-winged building facing the grass-invaded former apron includes the control tower in the middle, and two lateral hangars. The assembly is a nice example of Nazi military design. The wooden doors and roof confirm the old age of the construction. Nonetheless, these hangars have been used also by the Soviets, as witnessed by the more modern ventilation system and traces of technical schemes and gear inside.
From the top floor of the old control tower it is possible to appreciate the original size of the airfield. As you can see from older pictures, only the northernmost part of the field was converted for helicopter operations. The helicopter platforms can be easily spotted, albeit half-covered by grass in the area ahead of the tower.
To the west of this main hangar there is a mysterious buildings with almost no windows and two pinnacles, which seem to be large twin funnels. I did not explore this thoroughly inside, as the building appeared to be in an especially bad and dangerous condition.
The next large hangar to the east is much bigger than the one with the tower. The construction is again pretty old, I guess again from the Thirties. Inside it is possible to find traces of mottos in big characters in cyrillic alphabet all along the wall. In older times, a famous panel with an ‘artistic’ hammer and sickle was hanging from one of the walls. This is unfortunately gone, only a barely visible trace remaining in place.
On one side of this big hangar a smaller service building can be found. Again, the intended function of this part of the complex is not immediately clear. I found traces of a huge table of chemical elements in Russian, like can be found in schools… but I don’t think they had a school right besides a hangar!
Even more to the east, close to the outer wall of the base and to a still active railway, there are two more hangars. The smaller one with wooden doors is very damaged inside, whereas the one to the north is apparently more recent in construction, but it is closed. My exploration accelerated a bit from here, as I noticed activity in the houses nearby outside the fence of the base, a watchdog started barking, and I feared to be spotted! Luckily this happened almost at the end of the exploration program…
Close to some communist-style housing, refurbished and still in use to the north of the airfield, I found a piece of wall, probably belonging to the original outer wall of the base, with celebrative writings in cyrillic – possibly names of sport teams from Soviet times.
All in all, I would say this base has the relevant advantage it was not converted to a power plant or something else, so it is poorly guarded and not totally off-limits – at least the open air grounds. It is also close to Berlin, easy to reach in a short time, and compact in size, so you won’t need to walk much, and visiting may take less time than with other former bases – about 2 hours for me, taking all the pictures. On the other hand, the populated neighborhood of Rangsdorf makes interception by the locals more likely. While not particularly rich of communist remains, the buildings in the base are still mostly in place, so visiting can be satisfactory also for photographers interested in architecture.
Getting there and moving around
The area of the former big airbase of Brand is associated to a fairly well-known attraction of our days – Tropical Island. This amusement park, which is officially indicated as an attraction even on highway N.13, connecting Berlin to Cottbus and the border with Poland, was built inside a colossal, modern hangar, designed for airships around the year 2000. This can be spotted from quite afar.
A large area of the former airbase is – from a viewpoint of urban exploration – compromised. The former runway has been turned into a huge parking area, whereas a luxury tropical-themed resort with bungalows and camping lots for mobile homes has been built in the western part of the airport. Most taxiways have been either recycled as alleys in the park, or literally removed. Some of the many aircraft shelters of this once prominent attack base have been converted to host other forms of business, ranging from restaurants to hay storages.
All the part connected with leisure business, which corresponds to everything north of Tropical-Islands-Allee – also named road L711 and going east from highway N.13 to the near village of Krausnick, where a small memorial to the Soviet actions in WWII can be found – is actively guarded by private guards, with their own small modern barracks close to the gate of the complex, and moving around by car.
In striking contrast with this, shrouded in the vegetation to the south of the same road, roughly cross the street with respect to the entrance to the Tropical Island complex, it is possible to find a conspicuous amount of Soviet relics, basically unguarded. All accesses to the roads going south is physically interdicted to cars, so parking may be not obvious in the immediate vicinity of the entrance to the park. I suggest going past the gate along L711 and driving towards Krausnick to find an unofficial but safe parking spot between the roadside and the limit of the forest, away from suspicious eyes.
Another part of great interest for war historians include the storage for nuclear warheads, typical to Brand and other few bases in the GDR. This is rather distant – about 1.8 miles southeast – from the airport area and Soviet housing. The original connection road – not accessible by car – is straight and very long, with little to offer in terms of relics. For exploring that part of the site I suggest driving to Krausnick from Tropical Island, and taking the L71 pointing southwest towards the village of Schönwalde. The road runs deep in the trees, and at some point it comes about .6 mile to the site of interest. You may park on the roadside, on one of the many service roads used by woodcutters and reach the place with a quick walk following one of those trails.
Take your time studying the area in advance on Google Maps, and choose what option best suits your needs.
You may also have a look at aerial pictures of the base, taken during a special flight over the area, described in this report.
Before being turned into a civil airport and then into an amusement park, Brand was one of the largest Soviet bases in the GDR, with flocks of MiG-21, 23, 27 stationing here, as well as Sukhoi Su-15 and even Su-27 in the final years of operation. Most notably, the base was selected already in the 1960s for storing air-launched nuclear warheads – together with Finsterwalde and Rechlin/Lärz (see this post). This led to the construction of a purpose-built reinforced storage bunker, which can still be seen. As pointed out before, there are two main focus areas in a visit to this installation.
The first is the ghost town for the troops once stationed here, and for their families. This is incredibly close to Tropical Island, but the contrast between the aura of these two places couldn’t be more striking!
There are residential buildings from various Soviet models, mostly three-four storeys buildings possibly from the Fifties-Sixties, but also some more imposing pre-fabricated buildings possibly dating from as recently as the Eighties.
Walking alone in this once lively village, with traces of playgrounds, mailboxes, lamps along walkways now invaded by vegetation, and even a swimming pool with some dead water in it, was for me one of the weirdest and creepiest experiences ever!
Unfortunately, from the pics you can’t feel the unreal silence where the place was immersed – the only sounds were those of the wind blowing in the trees and of some door slamming somewhere within the buildings… you would expect a zombie, some ghost troopers or a mutant monster coming out to meet you at every time!
Most of the buildings are in relatively good overall condition, but almost nothing survives of the interior of the apartments – which may collapse at every time and should not be accessed. By looking closely at some tires in a playground you can spot cyrillic characters on them – maybe they come from a consumed nose wheel of a MiG? The lamps are of the usual model commonly found in Soviet bases.
To the west of the residential area there is a similarly extensive zone with a great number of possibly former barracks or technical buildings. Almost all of them have been half-demolished by destroying the roof – I think this was made in purpose, for literally all buildings in this part have encountered the same fate. The style of these buildings suggests they are older than most of the housing. This is confirmed by comparing historical photographs of the base from above.
Among the most prominent buildings in the area, it is possible to find a former school, with an imposing façade of classical inspiration.
To the back of the school building a small gym can be found. The roof has collapsed – or it was demolished – long ago, so that some trees are growing inside – no more basketball here!
A highlight of the exploration in this area is a huge mosaic wall with the head of Lenin. This item is a bit of a mystery, cause it’s hard to imagine it was originally placed where it is standing today – there is no architectural ‘frame’ supporting the monument nor a backstage completing it – it looks like a decorated floor, but placed in a vertical position!
Anyway, the sight is of course very uncommon, and I would say unique in the panorama of communist-themed art in the former GDR.
Close by the ghost town, three aircraft shelters remain to the south of the road marking the ideal border with the ‘Tropical Island domain’. These can be accessed and explored. Among other particular features, it is possible to spot the rusty engine for opening the gates of one of them. These shelters could host aircraft up to the size of a MiG-23/27.
The second part of interest in Brand is the bunker for nuclear warheads. As stated above, this was built really far to the southeast from the housing and from the airport, differently from the other two bases in the GDR where similar bunkers were built (see this post). A straight connection road links the two portions of the base.
Traces of the further line of inner fence built around this area can be found today. The good quality tarmac of the roads have survived to this day.
The bunker is not accessible, the main gate blocked with a pile of land. Nonetheless, it is still visible and fairly well-preserved – even the camouflage above the front door – as you can see from a comparison with a photo from when the bunker was being used.
On the crane-supporting structures ahead of the entrance you can find traces of cyrillic writings.
There is a truck-loading dock nearby and several larger and smaller service buildings and garages. On some of the walls you can find ‘unofficial’ writing in cyrillic alphabet.
In both parts of the base I didn’t meet a single person during my exploration, which lasted about 3.5-4 hours in total, including the time for transfer from a trailhead to the other. When I visited, Tropical Island was closed for the season, with many people going in and out for maintenance. There were also tourists with mobile-homes and caravans, and guards with their cars. Anyway, during the exploration of the Soviet housing, which is really close to Tropical Island, I didn’t see a person, and as pointed out the place was unnaturally silent! The part of the nuclear warhead bunker is also very remote, and more obviously I didn’t come across anybody.
All in all, even though a substantial part of Brand has been converted into something else, what remains here is a great fun to visit, with tons of photo opportunities, a very intense ‘Soviet-ghost aura’ and much to see also for curious war historians. The countryside is pleasant and even though some walking is required, the place is nice to walk and very enjoyable. And if you feel tired, you can always decide to switch off your camera and enter Tropical Island for a relaxing rest-of-the-day!
Getting there and moving around
The base was located immediately south of the homonym village, itself 10 miles southwest of the larger and famous town of Dessau. The entire premises of the former large Soviet base of Köthen have been converted for housing or into industrial facilities, currently run by several companies. The former airside of the base with the runway has been covered by a huge field of solar cells. As a result, visiting as tourists is strictly speaking not possible.
Possibly the only exception – in theory – is the southernmost hangar, which bears traces of the original camouflage, and the prominent portraits of Lenin, Marx and Engels on its side. The hangar is in the hands of a private energy-related company. The area around is fenced. I simply drove in as a visitor, from the road through the open gate, on the company premises all the way to the building. Access is from road K2074, roughly .4 miles south of the crossing with road 185, to the right when going south.
I asked for permission to a worker, and he cordially allowed me to move around a bit and take pictures outside of the building. Then I met another individual, possibly the village idiot having some time in the open air – surely not a worker, he was in shorts and accompanied by a little girl, very weird in a place like that! – who intimated me to leave, with some impolite and intimidating gesture also on the menu. Preferring not to start a litigation and attract attention from the workers, I left, with the pictures I had taken up to that moment. With a better luck, exploring this part of the former base should be easy and more rewarding. However, since moving around at will is clearly not possible on private grounds, the visit may be of just a few minutes in any case, making for an ideal quick detour for those passing by.
The Soviet base of Köthen was once a prominent part of the arsenal, hosting for long decades during the Cold War Soviet flying groups almost every type of MiG fighter, from MiG-15 down to MiG-29. The base was complemented with modern reinforced aircraft shelters since the 1960s, and a multi-purpose Granit-type bunker was erected later, for employment as a storage for munitions.
The only part of the former premises of this once large base which is today partly preserved and (theoretically, see directions above) visible is one of the main hangars. The construction, flanked by two low-rise towers, shows the actual origin of the facility, which dates to the years of the Third Reich. Actually, the area was busy with flying activities since even earlier (1920s).
The hangar is relatively low in height, with sliding doors closing it to the front, and painted in a brown-greenish camo coat. Inside, today a huge pile of manure can be found, arguably employed for some chemical process (the company holding the building runs an energy-related business).
The most interesting sight is represented by two medallions, with pretty unusual portraits of Lenin, Marx and Engels, in black over a white background. Besides the portrait of Lenin, to the left of the front door of the hangar, an inscription in Russian quoting a thought of Lenin on the army can be found as well.
The medallions, inscriptions and camouflage appear rather well kept. Even a small plaque with a German translation of the inscription can be found.
This witnesses an interesting example of a welcome and uncommon preservation effort, making a short visit to this facility interesting at least for the more committed Cold War historian.
Getting there and moving around
The former Soviet helicopter base of Nohra used to take a sizable area both to the north and south of road 7, connecting Weimar to Erfurt. However, the base was accurately eradicated, and virtually no trace of it (except what remains of a half demolished helicopter hangar) can be seen to the north of the road. The territory has been returned to agriculture or taken over by industrial facilities, therefore even the original general appearance of the base is impossible to retrace.
Similarly, the area to the south of road 7 has been cleared of almost every trace from its aeronautical past. The only relics, described in the paragraph below, can be found along Pappenallee, which runs parallel to road 7, and can be accessed from its western end from road 85.
Along Pappenallee the old entrance to the pre-existent Third Reich base, in the typical style of the 1930s, can be clearly spotted. Today, a bed & breakfast operates this gate building, which was employed also by the Soviets. Going through would give direct access to the perspective leading to the second highlight of the place, a preserved statue of Lenin. However, going through is not possible. The staute can be reached walking along the road parting to the south of Pappenallee, from a little west from the bed & breakfast. You can leave your car close to the gate buildings, away from the road, and walk along this trail. The statue is in the focus of a perspective, and hard to miss.
Going there is not unlawful, there are no prohibition sign and no fence, plus the statue is clearly preserved.
The area around the statue has been completely reforested, so no dangerous building are to be found in the area. Since some walk is involved, a visit to this site may take about 30 minutes.
The base of Nohra was established back in WWI, and was potentiated by the Third Reich Luftwaffe from 1936 onwards. By the end of WWII, it was captured by US forces, who had to hand it over to the Soviets in July, following post-war agreements.
It was then potentiated into one of the largest helicopter bases of the Soviets in the GDR, with virtually every type of Mil helicopter being flown from here over the years, including the mighty Mil-24 over the last two decades of the Cold War.
Today, as noted in the previous paragraph, the former airbase has been completely and accurately wiped out, so that its very existence could not be suspected by unaware subjects driving along the busy roads between Erfurt and Weimar.
Curiously, two small preserved portions indeed exist, making for an interesting detour when visiting the area.
The original gate buildings of the old Luftwaffe military installation can be clearly spotted along the road. The style shows the typical features and elegance of German architecture from pre-WWII period – totally incompatible with the generally shabby appearance of Soviet architectures from the post-war period.
The original gate facility is today privately owned. However, when open, the gate between the two wings of the facility allow to spot a statue of Lenin, placed to the far end of an alley departing from the gate.
Luckily, access to the statue is possible with a short walk (see paragraph with directions above). The statue today is basically in a small forest of trees, and its location appears quite inexplicable. However, getting closer to it and moving around, traces of painted signs on a small network of asphalt roads witness the existence of a populated area once around its location. Clearly, with all buildings demolished and tall trees in their place, the scenery is not any more typical for a statue of Lenin…
Interestingly, the statue has been actively preserved – an unusual sight in the GDR panorama. The communist leader is portrayed in its typical appearance, moving forward in a proactive attitude. To the back of the statue, a curtain wall painted in crimson is likely part of the original installation.
The quality of the statue appears pretty good, when zooming on it.
All in all, despite the complete disappearance of Nohra, this preserved fragment represents an important trace of a significant chapter in the history of this area, otherwise irreversibly released into oblivion.
Getting there and moving around
Brandis is located about 10 miles west of Leipzig city center, immediately west of the homonym village.
Differently from most former Soviet bases in the GDR, what remains of Brandis – i.e. what was not taken over by solar cells and private companies – has been left free to explore for the general public. Therefore, access to the few buildings still standing on site – which include some big old hangars, as well as technical buildings, housing and more – is possible in many ways and from many directions.
This was not my own choice, but in hindsight, the most convenient way to access the premises is getting as close as possible to the buildings in the northern part of the base and park your car, then moving around by foot. A choice for parking is where Am Alten Flugplatz changes name into Falkenallee. Car access to the latter is impeded, but you can park by the obstacles put in place, and move by foot from there.
All accessible buildings are located to the north and northwest of the base. Its original premises, including the runway area and taxiways, are now mostly taken over by solar cells. For the rest they are crossed by public roads, making the perception of the original limits of the base and its original design not so evident.
The very poor condition of most buildings will not appeal much to war historians, possibly more to urban explorers. However, since the base is sizable, the time for a thorough exploration is at least 2 hours after having parked.
The base of Brandis has a complex history, as usual dating back to the Third Reich era. It was selected for the deployment of the rocket-powered Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet, and from 1944, thanks to the direct railway connection, an ambitious program for the final assembly and operation of this interceptor was started. The war ended with the defeat of Germany before the conversion was completed. Buildings from the Luftwaffe era include at least three big hangars with a wooden door, a control tower, some official buildings, and apparently a number of smaller technical buildings.
The Soviets employed the place mostly for early jets and later (from the 1960s) for transport and attack helicopters. However, from the 1970s the base was potentiated significantly (including the addition of housing and service buildings for the families of the Soviet troops), and became active with Su-25, which were stationed here until the then-Russian military left the facility in 1992. Apparently – and unusually – no reinforced aircraft shelters were ever built by the Soviets in Brandis, preferring laterally-reinforced open-air parking bays and a large open apron (the latter similar to Sperenberg, see here).
As noted above (paragraph on directions), most of the base is gone today, with a huge solar plant having covered most of the former airside, including the runway and the huge area south of it, formerly employed for helicopter operations. Furthermore, some private companies now occupy part of the area between the hangars and the tower.
Therefore, the focus of a visit is in the hangars and tower (immediately north of the former runway), the technical buildings to the west, and the housing and service buildings along the northern perimeter.
The old hangars are three. The one to the northwest of the former airside is home to a big inscription in Russian, mentioning the 28th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Also some other inscriptions can be seen on the southern wall, barely emerging from the graffiti layer.
Apparently, in this hangar early jet drones were stationed by the Soviets in the late 1980s.
The central hangar is bigger. Its original wooden front door is pretty well preserved. Inside, the main hall is sided by technical rooms along the solid walls. Some of them are easier to access from outside through the broken windows!
Close to this hangar, a few yards to the west, is the old control tower. Despite heavily stricken by writers and spoilers, this building is an interesting example of architecture from the Third Reich era.
Behind this main hangar and close to the tower, it is possible to retrace original internal roads of the base, thanks to the lights and the now overgrown hedges once framing them. Not far north from this area, major housing from the 1970s can be found.
In the same area, a mystery building with a curved ceiling – a technical building of some sort – offers some relics like Soviet boots and damaged clothes.
Again close to the hangar, some pipelines and some exhausted tires can be found. The labels of the latter clearly bear Russian markings.
A last big hangar can be found somewhat further east. The wooden door, left partly open, has been penetrated by the vegetation, creating an unusual scenery.
An interesting sight in this hangar is an original ‘No smoking’ writing in German. This is apparently in a Third Reich era font, and may be a fascinating witness of the original tenancy of the airbase. Needless to say, the inscription now barely emerges from a thick coat of meaningless ‘works of art’…
The housing and service buildings along the northern perimeter of the base clearly date from different ages. The gigantic facade of some of the houses clearly betray a post-1970 building approach.
Unfortunately, all these buildings are in very poor conditions, just the walls and stairs remain, and they are literally covered in graffiti. Thanks to the severe spoiling action carried out by the writers, the ghost aura of former Soviet bases is hard to feel here – everything looks more like a rotting poor neighborhood of a big town.
To the west of the base, possibly an old railway or truck-loading facility can be found, maybe from the Third Reich era.
Close by, an array of smaller technical buildings, apparently garages, reveal some interesting writing in old-German characters. Also these buildings are possibly from the Luftwaffe tenancy of the airbase.
Finally, a highlight of the visit is what appears to be an old school building. Here an incredible mural of a Soviet soldier honoring the Red Banner, the flag of the USSR, can be found in the hall on top of the stairs.
A little bit of respect has been shown by the usual writers, who massively attacked all the rest of this building similar to all others. Thus this fragment of the original Soviet decoration of the airbase is still surviving. Besides the soldier are other troops, with interesting facial appearances, resembling some different ethnicity from within the USSR. Also some writing in Russian is visible in the background.
Other naive paintings can be found around this building, including 18th century characters, a few trees, and other cartoon characters, today not recognizable. Most of these innocent paintings however have been targeted by spoilers.
Along the external perimeter of the base, now not obvious to retrace, some rusty parts of the original high-security fence can still be found.