German and Soviet Military Traces in Jüterbog

The area around Jüterbog, about 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Berlin by car, has enjoyed a long military tradition, dating from the years of the Kaiser and WWI, through the Third Reich and all the more than four decades of the Cold War, until the departure of the Soviet Army in the early 1990s.

Almost for the entire duration of the 20th century, the area has been scattered with barracks, immense training grounds, shooting ranges, officer’s houses, army administration buildings, technical depots, airports and military academies.

The town of Jüterbog is actually much older than the 20th century, but the Soviets, who grew to a much greater population than the Germans in town after 1945, did not pay much attention to this nice medieval town. Following their withdrawal and the end of all military operations around, the town center received substantial money for restoration from the Government of reunified Germany, and the result is really remarkable – Jüterbog is today possibly one of the most lively and nice-looking centers in the region, with medieval towers, gates and churches, hotels, restaurants and bright-painted houses all around.

However, one hundred years of military activities in this province could not be wiped out at once, and despite nature is now invading the old army premises after operations ceased, to a careful eye the heritage of the German and Soviet Armies stationed there can be spotted quite easily, immediately out the lovely historical town.

Perhaps the most prominent witnesses of the past activities are the old flight academy, installed in the Third Reich years and later employed also by the Soviets, who got control of the area after they arrived in 1945, and kept it even after the foundation of the GDR and the corresponding Armed Forces (i.e. the Nationale Volksarmee, or NVA). The flight academy is today a listed building, despite in a state of partial disrepair. Another example is the big airbase of Jüterbog/Altes Lager, which went on operating as an NVA and Soviet airbase until the very end of the Cold War, and is now being used as a sport airfield, a kart circuit track, an event venue and a solar power plant.

Both these two items are covered in another chapter.

In the following report, more locations in and around Jüterbog are pinpointed, photographed during two visits, partly guided by the knowledgeable Dr. Reiner Helling, in the Summer seasons of 2021 and 2022.

Heading to Berlin or the former GDR? Looking for traces of the Cold War open for a visit?

A Travel Guide to COLD WAR SITES in EAST GERMANY

DON'T LEAVE IT AT HOME! AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK or KINDLE from your national Amazon store!
amazon.com | amazon.de | amazon.co.uk
amazon.it | amazon.fr | amazon.co.jp

Sights

The material in this post covers ‘Shelter Albrecht’, a one-of-a-kind private collection of items from WWII and especially from Soviet times, more views of the former airfield of Altes Lager, with a Granit bunker still in very good conditions, an abandoned military hospital with evident traces of Soviet operations, a Soviet cemetery, and a few more items, silent and overlooked witnesses of a recently bygone era.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Shelter Albrecht

The airbase of Jüterbog/Altes Lager was selected by the Soviets for further development with the arrival of jets in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and grew to be a prominent attack aircraft and helicopter base in the territory of the GDR. Now reduced in size to the point that some taxiways have been turned into public roads, some of the incredibly many aircraft shelters originally in place in the peripheral parts of the base – mostly AU-16 – have been wiped out. However, a set of two to the east of the runway have been spared this fate, and have been redeemed by a private business. One has been turned into a venue for events, whereas the other has been employed to showcase a great collection of WWII and Cold War memorabilia. Actually, the two hangars are located inside a somewhat larger perimeter, with an original technical building and room for even more exhibits.

A first impressive sight is the original Soviet scheme of the base. Similar signs were typically put close to the gate of any Soviet base (as seen for instance here in Ribnitz/Damgarten), and with their Russian writings today they witness the Soviet tenancy of the base.

On the apron, an original military version of the ubiquitous Trabant, in army green color, is on display together with a field kitchen and a gigantic roadwork machine. The latter is Russian made, with tank tracks, and powered by a 12-cylinder Diesel engine.

A Mil Mi-2 helicopter, which for some hard-to-imagine reason had ended up on the Adriatic coast of Italy in a private collection, where it sat almost derelict, has been brought back to the other side of the Iron Curtain, and restored in a camo coat and placed in a prominent position. Not far, a wing from an old Lavochin La-5 Soviet aircraft can be found.

Still on the open air exhibition are a decorated panel once gracing a Soviet hospital – possibly the one described later (here) – and another celebrating the Warsaw Pact. But the exhibits are really countless, and include propaganda posters, and canisters for ordnance.

To the side of the main exhibition hangar, in the area of an interred fuel tank once serving the base, is an incredible set of Soviet panels, originally from this or other Soviet bases around. These panels are partly decoration/celebration signs, with portraits of Soviet soldiers and emblems.

Other are technically-themed, with explanations concerning driving habits and rules, hand-to-hand combat, and more. Similar items, including fake targets for assault training, can be found for instance in Forst Zinna, an abandoned Soviet base not far from Jüterbog (covered here).

Also part of the collection is a rare mural, apparently retracing the push to the west of a Soviet division (?) during the Great Patriotic War.

Inside, the aircraft shelter is stuffed with interesting memorabilia. From WWII, exhibits include remains of downed aircraft, including damaged engines, propellers and canopies. Among them are remains of an Avro Lancaster, a Focke-Wulf 190, a Junkers Ju-87 and the canopy of a pretty rare training (two-seats) version of the Messerschmitt Bf-109.

Four large scale models cover as many interesting sights around. The first is the former flight academy of the Third Reich (mentioned above and covered here), north of the Altes Lager airbase premises. Also on display are books and furniture originally from the library of the academy.

A second model portrays the entire area between the academy (north) and the airfield (south), including the latter. This area, now largely shrouded in the trees and partially in private hands, used to host technical installations and even factories connected with warfare business – all linked by an extensive network of roads and railways.

Another model is that of two airship hangars from the years of German tenancy. These had to be really huge, but are today completely gone. Among the factories in place in the area, were those for supplying gas for the airships.

Finally, a fourth scale model represents the older airfield of Jüterbog/Damm. The latter is not far from Altes Lager, and is today in private hands for some cattle breeding business. It features very peculiar concrete hangars, an interesting specimen of Third Reich construction engineering. Some aerial pictures can be found here. That airfield was not selected for further development by the Soviets, due to the limited potential for runway lengthening, in turn due to the proximity with Jüterbog town.

Soviet-related items on display range from painted tables, originally gracing the walls of the base, to technical signs in Russian, to a full array of personal and military items, all belonging to the Soviet staff stationed in Jüterbog. These include an interesting overall map of the Soviet airfields on GDR territory, with basic technical data.

Among the highlights, an official printed portrait of Stalin, and one of Brezhnev in a military uniform, parachutes and parts from attack aircraft, many direction signs and instructional panels for low-ranking military staff. Also very interesting is a radar scope with the three air corridors to West-Berlin and the position of Altes Lager printed on it!

Of special interest for aircraft enthusiasts are many pictures from the days of operation of the airbase, with many exotic Soviet aircraft seen landing, departing or taxiing around.

Other panels tells about the presence of rocket forces in the area of Jüterbog – in particular the 27th R.Br. of the NVA. They operated the SCUD-B system.

Back outside, the exhibition is completed by an original monument from Altes Lager, often employed as a background for official ceremonies, and more personal memorabilia of the owner of the museum, formerly serving within a tank division of the NVA.

Reconstructed shops and schools are on display, with much original furniture and everyday items of Soviet make.

Getting there and Visiting

The place is really worth a visit for everybody interested in memorabilia items from Soviet times, or for those looking for tangible traces of the military past of Jüterbog. The location is easy to reach by car, with a convenient internal parking. The address is Niedergörsdorfer Allee 4, 14913 Niedergörsdorf, Germany.

An updated official website with opening times is apparently not available. However, Mr. Helmut Stark, the owner of the place, may be contacted beforehand (in German only) to inquire about opening times and plan a visit – try Googling his name and that of the site for updated contacts. The place is regularly open at least in the weekends in the warm season. A visit to this site will be likely with Mr. Stark following you and giving explanations in German. This will take about 45 minutes.

Granit Bunker and Hangars in Jüterbog/Altes Lager

Some views of the Altes Lager airbase are provided in this chapter, and some aerial views can be seen here. The huge, flat-top hangars date from the Third Reich era, and similarly the control tower with its annexes. Some of the hangars were reportedly dismounted by the Soviets and taken to the Soviet Union soon after the end of WWII.

Besides all the aircraft shelters scattered all around the runway, a relevant and pretty secluded Soviet addition north of the airfield is a Soviet Granit-type bunker. This type of bunker was among the lightest in Soviet inventory, and could serve multiple purposes, e.g. storing movable radar trucks, tanks, other machinery, or weapons. Actually, its presence on an airfield may suggest the purpose of storing special air-dropped weapons, maybe tactical nuclear, high-explosive or chemical ordnance.

Bunkers of Granit-type are possibly the most frequent special constructions in former Soviet bases (see for instance here or here), but the one in Jüterbog is interesting since it is very well conserved, and its massive metal doors are still perfectly in place, providing a nice impression of how this technical item should have looked like in the days of operation.

Getting there and Visiting

The airport of Altes Lager is today pretty busy, with several companies having taken over much of its original premises now open for business. Multiple access points are available, and chances of looking inside the original installations are many. Given the still exceptional state of conservation of the Granit bunker, in order to protect this rare historical artifact from the impressive hordes of catatonic idiot spoilers and writers out there, no indication is provided on its exact location.

Military Hospital

Among the buildings now shrouded by the overgrown vegetation in the area between Jüterbog/Altes Lager airfield and the town of Jüterbog is a sizable military hospital. Totally invisible from the road, the hospital is basically made of a single, building featuring three long interconnected rows.

It is made of the typical German dark-red brick, a design which is way too elegant for Soviet occupants. The arrangement of the facade and the nice railings suggest a construction date from the years of the Kaiser and the German Empire, maybe early 20th century.

However, the years of Soviet use are witnessed by a big mural, portraying Lenin with some Soviet soldiers in the background, with a black and yellow striped ribbon and a red star, emblems of the Red Army.

To the more careful eye, a few graffiti in Russian can be found here and there, with a date as usual.

The aura is very silent and mysterious, and as such, this location is a mecca for urban explorers. Actually, the only noise came from a fast spinning ventilation fan in a window frame! This was pushed by an air stream however, not likely by a motor…

Some more buildings complete this complex, and original GDR-style lamps can still be seen around – the tall trees now surrounding the building were likely not in place when the hospital was closed, presumably in the early 1990s.

Getting there and Moving around

Not difficult to find in the trees between Jüterbog and the airfield of Altes Lager, there is no clear interdiction sign to access this complex from behind, yet vibration sensors planted in the ground can be spotted around, and some security cars can be seen sometimes parked on the main road. A walk around the hospital is not especially dangerous nor difficult, and may take about 25 minutes taking all the pictures. The building is architecturally nice and possibly listed. Yet it is in partial disrepair and largely sealed, and getting in is obviously not advisable.

Soviet Cemetery

The only relic of the years of Soviet occupation which is immediately visible to the general public in Jüterbog is the Soviet military cemetery. This is located to the back of the Liebfrauenkirche, in the historical center of Jüterbog.

Actually, a monumental part, with railings embellished with hammer and sickle emblems and a monument with writings in German and Russian to the back, is detached from the church yard.

However, possibly in later times, the limited space available in the lot originally planned for the monument meant some graves were dug right in the church graveyard, side by side – but not mixed – with German graves.

Getting there and Visiting

The exact address is Am Dammtor, 14913 Jüterbog, Germany. The place is well-kept, being part of the historical city center of Jüterbog. Parking opportunities all around on the street. A visit may take 10 minutes.

Railway Yard, School and Command Building

The town of Jüterbog acted as a ‘local capital’ for the many Soviet troops and their families scattered in the corresponding district. The hospital (see above) was not the only large installation in place. A district school was also installed, which served not only the very town of Jüterbog – with a Russian-speaking population of more than 70.000, greater than the German nationals – but also the residing Soviet population of smaller technical installations in the area. A notable example is the impressive nuclear depot in Stolzenhain (see here), where a dedicated staff and their families occupied four residential blocks now gone. Their children reportedly attended school in Jüterbog.

The school is today largely abandoned, and a quick tour around reveals typical Soviet decorations in the large sporting hall.

The school building is geographically close to the railway station. The latter had a passenger terminal dedicated to the Soviet population, which was completely segregated from the German one.

Furthermore, the railway in Jüterbog had also a primary logistic function, connected with the military activities going on in the area. Besides transporting tanks, vehicles and other material, also nuclear warheads arrived by rail from Belarus or Ukraine (both in the USSR at the time), for storage in the Stolzenhain Monolith-type bunkers (see here). A special railway track with a dead end in the trees featured a special interchange platform, allowing to move the sensitive warheads in their controlled canisters to trucks, and by road to Stolzenhain – usually at night. Since warheads were also sent back for maintenance or overhaul, the transport operated also in the opposite direction.

Very close to the railway station and the school is also a large grassy area, surrounded by a nice, old-style metal fence. This area is that of an older training ground, dating to the years of the Kaiser. A command building, now in disrepair, betrays the same origin, featuring decorations in a typical old-German style.

Getting there and Moving around

The school can be found in Jüterbog here. Cross the street from the school, the old training grounds and command building are immediately spotted. Walking north past the command building, you get access to a pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, with a nice view of the station. An exploration of the railway tracks has to be considered extremely dangerous, since the railway line there is today a high-speed one, with bullet-fast trains appearing in just seconds. A walk around this spot in Jüterbog may take 15 minutes. Parking opportunities ahead of the command building.

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR
ALL in ONE BOOK!

Soviet Ghosts in Germany

GRAB IT in PAPERBACK or KINDLE from your national Amazon store!
amazon.com | amazon.de | amazon.co.uk
amazon.it | amazon.fr | amazon.co.jp

The Border Forts of Czechoslovakia Against Nazi Germany

The Maginot line – a line of forts running along the French border with Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium – is a widely known example of military engineering from the inter-war period (see this chapter). The adopted construction technique, based on reinforced concrete pillboxes with walls several feet thick, half interred to decrease visibility from above, field cannons and anti-tank defensive guns, witnesses the great consideration given to tanks and aircraft as attack weapons.

Due to the fast movements typical to the new strategy of the German army since the beginning of WWII, the Maginot line is mainly remembered for having not been involved in any major action, and having being largely bypassed. As a matter of fact, the German opted for a bypass also because the line was in place, so it was not as ineffective as it is often thought.

What is possibly even less known is that similar defensive lines were built in earnest in other European countries, before and even during WWII, after the Maginot line had failed to stop the invading German army. The enormous Salpa line, built by Finland against the Soviet Union, was probably the last and most effective to be completed (see this chapter). The Stalin line, prepared by the Soviets against Germany in Belarus, is another example. Another country who invested much in this type of deterrent was Czechoslovakia.

To understand the drivers of the design of the huge line of forts envisaged by the Czechoslovakian government of the mid-1930s, one should take a look at a map of Europe from the time. After the defeat of WWI Germany had managed to keep significant parts of todays Poland. The border between Germany and Poland ran close to Gdansk – aka Danzig in German -, and the province of Lower Silesia with the town of Wroclav – Breslau in German – were undisputed German territory. This means that todays border between the Czech Republic and Poland used to be actually a border between Czechoslovakia and Germany in the years before WWII.

With the turmoil preceding the infamous Munich Agreement and Nazi Germany claiming the right to control ‘Sudetenland’ – a large part of the peripheral territories of todays Czech Republic – in 1937 the Czechoslovakian government quickly started the construction of a huge system of forts to protect the border.

The concept was pretty similar to that of the Maginot line, with extensive underground tunnels to shelter soldiers and ammos, facing to the surface with reinforced concrete bunkers with different purposes, including observation, artillery shelling with field cannons, mutual protection with short range anti-tank cannons, machine guns and grenade-throwing tubes. There were also bunkers for accessing the tunnel system with resupply. About 10’000 light fortifications were actually built, more than 200 heavy fortified positions and a handful of heavy artillery positions.

The geopolitical situation in Europe got worse quickly in 1938, with the annexation of Austria in spring and finally the Munich Agreement, which caused the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. As a result of this internationally approved de facto German invasion, the works on the defense line were halted by the Wehrmacht. A relevant part of the hard construction had been completed, but most of the bunkers were still unarmed or lacked some software – air filters, ammo supplies, everyday items for the troops, etc. – and were not serviceable.

Most of the ironworks, including especially all heavy-metal turrets, were salvaged by the Germans. Some of the cannons found their way to the Atlantic Wall. The most massive concrete bunkers were used to test new weapons. As a result, the majority of the most sizable structures are still today in a partly damaged shape.

Some of the bunkers came to life again in the 1970s, when re-founded Czechoslovakia, that time a satellite country of the USSR living under a repressive and hard communist dictatorship, started a low-paced conversion of some of the structures into nuclear shelters for top ranks of the military and political hierarchies.

Notwithstanding these incidents, todays Czech Republic is duly proud of the significant work which was carried out in the difficult late Thirties. Very much was done for the little time available, and the quality of the design and construction is remarkable. While most of the sites are open only rarely, there are some where you can step inside and enjoy an interesting visit. This chapter covers with photographs and text five larger fortified complexes along this anti-German defensive line, from a two-days visit taken in August 2018.

Map

The following map shows the highlights of each of the five sites listed in this chapter. Please zoom in for greater detail. For the Bouda fort I could not spot and pinpoint on the map all the pillboxes you can easily visit from the outside – this are covered by vegetation.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

Sights

Stachelberg

The Stachelberg site is located about three miles north of the small city of Trutnov. The fort should have consisted of a main entrance and peripheral shooting positions, some of them linked by underground tunnels, to defend the area of the Giant Mountains. Construction works were terminated much before completion, so the surface bunkers forming the ensemble are actually not connected. Yet the major installation, a bulky infantry positions with provision for anti-tank artillery, provides access to an extensive system of half-prepared tunnels, which gives you a clear picture of the size and capacity of the complex.

The site is open to the public, and the ticket office can be found right inside this huge major bunker. From the outside, the volume of this pillbox is particularly stunning. Also interesting are the anti-tank obstacles, which used to be placed along the border line and between the forts, to trap invading columns in a position where anti-tank guns could be most effective.

This multi-level bunker is also place for a little museum on the fortifications, mainly based on explicative panels and scaled models of weapons and of the entire bunker complex. It covers the history of the fortifications, and explains most technical features of their construction. There are no weapons or other software – they were either not installed before the construction works were stopped, or salvaged by the Germans.

The tunnels can be visited on a guided tour only, starting from inside the main bunker with a descent of several tens of feet along a flight of stairs, originally made at the time of construction. The tunnels unfold on the sides of a major, perfectly straight initial track. Some of the lateral halls, intended to store ammos as well as for sleeping the troops, are very large and close to completion, whereas others are just sketched.

The tunnels were dug in the rock with the help of explosives. The next step in the construction works would have been a layer of concrete from the pavement up to the ceiling of the tunnels. This is present today only close to the entry point, at the bottom of the access stairs.

There are at least other five smaller pillboxes which have been preserved to some extent in the Stachelberg complex. They are accessible with different timetables, and do not provide access to the underground – by design, some of them should have.

One of the pillboxes has been colored in a very bright camouflage. I could not find out whether this used to be the standard, but it looks pretty unusual and not really mimetic… There are also refurbished connecting trenches between the smaller bunkers.

The concrete base of a never built bunker can be found not far from the parking area.

Getting there and moving around

Getting close to the complex is really easy, the area is very scenic and a popular destination skiing, and for nature trail hiking in summer. There is a parking on road N.300 from where the museum-fort can be reached with an almost flat, 0.3 miles track.

The complex can be toured on the outside without restrictions. The main bunker has opening times, and the underground part can be toured only with a guide. The guide speaks Czech, but you are provided a leaflet with explanations in English, upon request. The tour takes about 30 minutes, and is offered on a regular basis, with several entries per day. They warn you about the inside temperature, but I found it pretty easy to bear with normal summer clothes. Website here, but you will need some Google translation to find the info you need.

Voda, Brezinka and Lom

These three forts are actually parts of the same system, built on the eastern end of the town of Nachod-Beloves, the major center in a local valley ending in Poland. Three items in the complex are typically accessible to the public.

The one closest to the town, on the bottom of the valley, is the Voda bunker. This is very convenient to reach, and is basically composed of a preserved typical infantry pillbox with provision for machine guns. The bunker has been painted in a credible camouflage. On one end it is possible to note the damage inflicted by the Germans, when they took out the metal observation turret. This kind of treatment – and damage – can be observed on a great many bunkers of the line.

Inside, the bunker has been turned into a local museum on the armed forces. There were border guards operating in the area, involved in skirmishes before and after the end of the war. The weapons originally intended for the fort are not in place, but there is an interesting collection of weapons, uniforms, motorcycles and other gear from the army corps operating around there over the years.

The Brezinka fort is possibly one of the most famous of the entire defensive line. The reason for that is that it was recently restored to look like it should have looked, if only it was completed back in the late Thirties. In the restoration process, weapons and system parts from other locations in todays Czech Republic were brought to the Brezinka site.