Forst Zinna – A Soviet Ghost Base in Germany

The area of Jüterbog, about one hour driving south of downtown Berlin, boasts a long military tradition since well before the Cold War. Yet the most astonishing density of military installations in this region was reached in the years of the Third Reich, and later in the decades of Soviet occupation, lasting until the early 1990s.

Many chapters of this website are devoted to the subject of Soviet occupation in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR), with portraits of many military bases over its former territory (see for instance this chapter, and links therein). These either belonged to the NVA, the armed forces of the GDR, or the Red Army of the Soviet Union, which retained a significant military presence in the GDR all along the Cold War, despite this country being formally independent.

This chapter deals with one of such military bases, Forst Zinna. This base stands out in the East German panoram, due to the intriguing history of the place on one side, but also thanks to the plenty of interesting sights you may find there (as of mid-2019) – whereas many other similar abandoned installations have been wiped out by local governments, sometimes to be converted into something else.

The large military base at Forst Zinna was founded at the dawn of the Third Reich in the mid-1930s, and named after the führer, Adolf Hitler. The core was constituted by a set of solid multi-storey buildings, aligned along at least four parallel rows about a third of a mile in length, built in a typical old-German style. These hosted barracks and training rooms, used by an artillery and transportation school. There were also many service buildings, like canteens, sport and administration facilities. The base was operated by the Wehrmacht until the end of WWII, when the region was conquered by the Red Army. Thanks to its design, featuring large halls and common spaces, it was selected immediately after WWII to host an academy for future German functionaries of the yet-to-be-founded GDR (or DDR, the German acronym for the GDR).

The place was decorated and refurbished reflecting the style of the new communist owners and the cultural paradigms enforced by Stalin. Just before the latter’s death, in February 1953 the academy was transferred, and Forst Zinna was handed over to the Soviet army. They further enlarged the base, adding storage areas, small farms for food production, technical buildings, plus over the years some new housing.

The end of the story is similar to many military areas in the GDR. The Soviets finally left, the bases were too many for reunified Germany in a post-Cold War scenario, so most of them were either demolished, converted or forgotten. Forst Zinna has been largely demolished, but some of the buildings, built before the end of WWII, are reportedly registered as landmarks. The whole area is sitting in the wild vegetation and is not really looked after, but much is still there and makes for a mysterious memento of past vicissitudes Germany managed to survive. To the war historian and urbex fanatic as well, Forst Zinna has really much in store.

Photographs in this post were collected during two long visits in July and August 2019.

Sights

The base occupies a roughly square area, with a side about .8 miles long. For making the description easier, its premises can be divided into four ideal sectors.

The barracks area to the southwest, where you also find an easy access to the base, is populated with the oldest buildings, erected well before WWII. These comprise living quarters, school-like buildings, canteens, administration buildings, at least one gym, a theater, an open-air movie theater, a prison, and more. There are also a couple of clearly distinguishable Soviet-built apartment buildings, much more recent and taller than their neighbors.

To the north of the base you can find a sizable area which likely hosted a huge deposit for vehicles, as well as other technical facilities. Here demolition works have stricken hard, and today only a few buildings are still in place. Yet these include what appears as a centralized power/hot water supply plant, as well as large services for the troops, which make for interesting pictures.

In the third sector to the northeast, a large U-shaped technical building hosts a unique room with Soviet memorabilia. In this area you can find also a swimming pool, a football field with nice Soviet murals, and much dumped military material. Also here demolition works must have been carried out at an early post-Soviet stage, as vegetation has already grown over the debris.

Finally, to the west of the perimeter but next to it, you can find a ghost monument from soviet times.

You can find aerial pictures of the Forst Zinna base in this chapter.

Southwestern Area – Most of the Barracks and Older Buildings

Accessing the base via the southwestern corner, you immediately meet the the first original buildings from the pre-WWII period. They are painted in a nice dark yellow.

From the pics you can appreciate the length of the blocks in this part of the base. Among other spectral items, former notice-boards for activities in the base, like the movie theater, or for the latest news.

The perimeter is marked by a concrete wall running very close to one of the rows of buildings. The walls appear decorated with didactic explanations of something technical.

Entering the buildings, you may find tons of derelict memorabilia items, including hand-written registers, book covers, etc., all in Russian. Something in no shortage in the base is surely restrooms! There are really many.

The actual function of the buildings needs to be guessed, but some must have been used as schools – or even kindergartens – at least in Soviet times, when modern housing was added to the base also for the families of the troops. This theory maybe supported by the type of decoration you sometimes find in these buildings.

Walking in some of the taller yellow buildings, likely hosting also some living areas in the years of operation, you soon perceive the style is clearly pre-Soviet – too elaborated for USSR standard, and typically German. The age of the buildings can be judged also by the heating system, based on tiled stoves fed with coal. Traces of coal can still be seen in the corridors, where the stoves were loaded!

The stairs are particularly nice in style. You are not encouraged to climb upstairs, especially in those buildings were the roof is leaking. Under the roof you can appreciate the wooden structure supporting the external tiles.

Some rooms of these buildings used to host other services, like for instance a – likely – tailor, or uniform shop, as you can see from the furniture and from the explanatory sign.

Close to the southwestern corner of the base you can find two twin apartment buildings in a typical shabby Soviet style, possibly dating to the 1970s.