Soviet Airbases in the GDR – Second Chapter

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR

Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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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Russian – ex-Soviet – troops by the mid-Nineties, all the bases – mostly stripped of any transportable stuff, which was withdrawn to Russia – were returned to Federal Germany.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.

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!

Peenemünde Army Research Facility

Peenemünde is broadly known for having hosted the first ever large-scale research center and test ground for military rockets, missiles, flying bombs and innovative ordnance and weaponry in the world. The small town of Peenemünde is located on the island of Usedom, a nice, almost flat island on the shore of the Baltic sea, on the border between today’s Germany and Poland – ‘Peene’ is a river having its mouth (‘münde’ in German, from which the name of the place) where Usedom island is.

History – in brief

The Peenemünde site was a creäture of the administration of the Nazi regime in the late Thirties. It grew rapidly to a considerable size especially for the time. The site included an electric power plant, later used after the closure of the research center for supplying energy to the East German power grid, an airport, later converted into an air base and operated by the Air Force of East Germany, a sea port, a series of technical facilities for testing and producing all that was needed to assemble rockets, their systems and engines, as well as for preparing propellants.

There were also several launch pads for missiles and flying bombs, and last but not least, scattered over a broad area, housing for thousands of people, which included high-ranking technicians and people from academia – there was also an advanced wind tunnel -, military/SS personnel, as well as factory workers, including many prisoners of the regime.

The site was so large that a dedicated local railway was built and operated to allow people commuting, modeled on the urban railway of Berlin. The railway network was the third in size in Germany, following Berlin and Hamburg.

This enormous installation was directed by Wehrner von Braun, later to become a technical leader in the US research efforts in the field of rocketry, and a central character in the race for space opposite the Soviets.

Peenemünde was never an operative launch site – it was far too distant from potential targets in Britain for the limited range of flying weapons of those days – but due to its primary relevance as a testing and production site of the v1 flying bombs and later of the v2 missiles, the site became a designated target of very intense bombing raids.

The Peenemünde complex was severely hit in a series of air attacks launched by the Allied British and US air forces in the summer of 1943. After that, production was moved in forced labor camps in central Germany – Mittelbau/Dora being probably the most in-famous – whereas only research and testing was still conducted in Peenemünde, with plans to move progressively more and more equipment to other destinations scattered over the territory of the Third Reich, for which construction was started in the last years of WWII.

The Soviets captured what remained of the complex in Peenemünde at the very end of WWII in May 1945. By common agreement, the Allied put an end to rocket research in Germany, the Soviets materially blowing up every technical building still standing in the area, with the exception of the power plant, the airport and a few others. Parts of the machinery in the powerplant as well as almost all railway tracks were reportedly transferred to the Soviet Union.

Since then, the air base of the East German Air Force has been developed in more instances, adding aircraft shelters, a tower and other technical buildings that are still standing – the airport is today open to general aviation. The power plant was updated over the years by the Communist regime, becoming one of the most polluting plants in Germany, whereas the former launch pads and the area once occupied by technical buildings were rapidly reclaimed by nature.

The following photos were taken during a visit to the site in April 2016.



After 1989 and the German reunification, the power plant was soon closed, and a museum (Historical Technical Museum, website here) on the history of the Peenemünde site, recognized worldwide as the cradle of modern rocketry, was opened in it.

Among the few buildings of the Nazi era still standing today, the building of the ticket and book shop of this museum used to be a bunker for governing the power plant also in case of an air raid.

There are three main exhibitions in the museum. The open air exhibition, on the ground of the power plant, is composed of an original v1 launching ramp moved here from France, with a v1 flying bomb assembled from original pieces, a reconstructed v2 rocket, and a local train from the original local railway system.

In the photos it is possible to see the launch system of the v1, which was pushed to its take-off speed by a piston moving in a pipe underneath the bomb, in the body of the ramp. Mostly similar to modern acceleration systems on aircraft carriers, except for the piston was moved as an effect of a chemical reaction involving hydrogen peroxide, and not water steam as it’s most typical for aircraft carriers.

The second and third exhibitions are hosted in the building of the power plant – itself a significant example of industrial architecture from the days of the Nazi regime – and describe the history of the army research center and of the powerplant. The first of these two is the ‘central piece’ of the complex, no visit of Peenemünde is complete without a look at this exhibition.

In the photographs it is possible to see some of the artifacts in the exhibition about rocketry in Peenemünde. It is possible to appreciate the advanced technologies tested here already in those early years, including high pressure mixing of liquid propellants, graphite deflectors for thrust vectoring, inertial navigation systems, turbopumps for pumping the propellant into the combustion chamber at the correct rate. There are also original signs from the area.

Scaled mockups of all items tested in Peenemünde, much more numerous than the v1 and v2, add to the show, together with models of the former launch pads. Especially launch pad ‘VII’, used for the v2 rocket, was so well designed that it was adopted also in the US after the war as a blueprint for their own designs.

A visit to the complex of the power plant may easily take 2 h 30 min for an interested subject.

Former test grounds and launch pads

The launch pads were placed closer to the airport, very close to the northeastern shore of the island, to the north of the village of Peenemünde. Today, this broad ‘ghost area’ is partly fenced, surely not accessible with private vehicles, possibly accessible by foot. It is a kind of natural preserve, with much wildlife around.

The best way to explore this area, without getting lost in the trees and with a chance to spot what is still in place, is going with a society offering guided tours of the site, named ‘Historische Rundfahrt Peenemünde’ (website here). As of 2016 there are tours offered in German three times a day on a regular basis, but it is possible to arrange tours in English upon request at your preferred time – this was my only option as I don’t know much German. In my case, it turned out I was the only visitor on that tour, so I had the guide – a gentleman speaking a very good English, and with an incredible knowledge of many technical matters – all for me for the duration of the whole 3 h 15 min tour. You move mostly with a minivan, so apart from the bumpy road the visit is very comfortable.

The tour starts by the airport of Peenemünde, and you are soon driven into the site. With the help of a digital map, the guide will show where you are standing with respect to the buildings and installations that were originally there. You can see from the photos that Soviets took their job very seriously, so that very little remains of the original structures. You can recognize the original plan of the site mainly by the asphalted roads still in place today – albeit covered in dust.

The most prominent sight in the complex is surely launch pad ‘VII’, once used for the v2. It is possible to spot the containment banks all around the launch site. The concrete flame deflector is still in place, filled with rainwater. The walls of the deflector were water-cooled to resist the extreme heat of the rocket exhaust at takeoff. The water pump occupied a part of the lateral banks, together with measuring equipment and a sheltered observation deck. Still standing is a water nozzle used by firefighters in the – likely – event of fires due to malfunctions in the launching process.

A stone celebrates the launching of the first v2 missile from this site.

The rocket used to be moved to the launching position – above the flame deflector – with a special trolley. Multiple silos were placed around a common track made of concrete, built outside the perimeter of the containment banks. The trolley, loaded on a sliding platform, could move along the concrete track. The missile was collected from the assembly silo, the platform moved along the concrete track to reach the head of a short metal railway track where the trolley could be pushed to reach the flame deflector, in the middle of the containment banks – see the photo of the model above. Like the flame deflector, the concrete guide is still standing today, filled with rain water.

Other interesting sights of the visit are the experimental launch ramps of the v1, placed to the northernmost part of the island, right behind the beach. A first experimental ramp (type 1) was totally made of concrete, and was clearly not adopted for operational use, being too difficult to build and manage. Other two ramps, not so different from one another, were the first examples of types 2 and 3.

Type 3 was adopted operationally and deployed to the coasts of France and Belgium. Inert concrete warheads used in test flights can be seen in the photos, left from the age of testing.

You can see here that all ramps pointed directly to the Baltic sea. Telemetry towers were installed on the neighbor islands of Oie and Ruegen for tracking the experimental flights and taking measurements. Two such towers that are still standing today can be spotted from here in the distance, you can see them in the photos.

Before leaving, having shown a great interest for the topic of aeronautics, I was given the opportunity to tour an incredible exhibition of weapons, systems and artifacts from the area they are putting together in a small farm surviving from the days of WWII – where rabbits were bred for feeding the staff and for making fur for airmen. As of May 2016 this was not yet open to the public.

Among the artifacts you can see in the pictures from this exhibition, TV-guided bombs, experimental solid propellant rockets, a piloted v1 and tons of other incredible items. This shows once more that many technologies later become widespread had been tested here much before they started to be massively used. Also preserved are some parts of aircraft downed during the raids of 1943.

Maybe after finishing with the tour it is interesting to have a brief look to the airport, where the control tower possibly from the Nazi era and some aircraft shelters are still standing. The place can’t be walked freely for it’s still an active GA airport, but part of the former base is being used as a testing track for sport cars and can be approached safely.