Bunker Kossa – A Preserved Cold War Military Bunker in the GDR

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

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The history of the underground installation in Kossa-Söllichau begins in the 1930s under Hitler’s rule.

In 1935, an affiliated company of the German chemicals giant WASAG, named Deutsche Sprengchemie Moschwig and devoted to the mass production of explosives for warfare use, had a new plant built in the rather uninhabited forest area between Leipzig and Wittenberg.

The plant, codenamed ‘Beech’ (or ‘Buche’ in German), was updated over the years and turned into a major production center for several models of shells and high-explosive charges. A primary contractor of the German Army, the company also held relevant patents, including one for hollow charge grenades.

By the end of WWII in April 1945, when the area fell under Soviet control and production was halted, the plant counted 3.600 employees, and had a production capacity of around 600.000 ammunitions per month. It had been provided with a dedicated road and railway connection, and built mostly underground, with several concrete bunkers surfacing from the grassy terrain around.

Following the Potsdam agreement (July 1945), the area was completely flattened by the hand of the Soviets, similar to some other production facilities in Germany. Demolition had been completed by the end of 1947. Following that, the area remained silent for more than a decade.

By the early 1960s, with the Cold War and rearmament in full swing, the the Nationale Volksarmee, or NVA – the short name of the Armed Forces of the GDR – had been long established as an ally of the Red Army. The latter was physically present in Germany with a huge number of troops and war material, having taken over many of the former German bases from WWII (see here or here for instance). However, the GDR clearly had its own Armed Forces, which actually could count on high-quality war material, typically either manufactured in Germany or supplied by the USSR. More and more locations – especially the most secluded and easy to hide – got surrounded by fences, and ended under the control of the NVA for many different purposes.

Deployed on the border with the West, and considered a reliable and well-trained partner by the Red Army, the NVA was included in the war plans conceived in Moscow, intended to unfold in the event of an open war with the neighbor NATO Countries. The NVA had two larger military districts, south of Berlin (III) and north of Berlin (V). In case of war, district III would give birth to a 3rd Army of mixed GDR/USSR forces, to quickly push towards the south-west into Federal Germany (heading to Koblenz), and from there to the Atlantic coast, to be reached in a matter of a few days.

The headquarter of the 3rd Army was in the so-called ‘Mosel’ bunker, an underground command facility near the town of Zwickau, today converted for an alternate use and not visible at all.

An alternate control site, which was also primarily involved in drills and training, was built in the area of the former ‘Beech’ installation, and took the name of ‘Bunkeranlage’ (i.e. bunker installation) Kossa-Söllichau. This site was prepared in the years 1976-79, and consisted mainly of 5 large interred bunkers on the same premises, capable of resisting to tactical nuclear blasts, with up-to-date systems for communication, and an ability to replicate war situations, so as to carry out realistic and complicated tactical simulations and drills. The staff was typically of 400.

Similar to the majority of military assets in Germany – and especially within the super-militarized ex-GDR – Kossa was incorporated in the Armed Forces of reunified Germany (1990), but was soon declared surplus, deactivated and handed over for civilian use.

A society of enthusiasts is today running this former facility, keeping it open for visitors on a regular basis. What makes Kossa an exceptional destination for both the general public and the most committed war tourist as well is the great state of conservation of the entire facility. As it can be seen in the following photographs, taken in Summer 2022, inside the bunkers it is possible to see not only the original structure, but most of the original communication systems, paneling, signs, furniture, lamps, toilets, lighting, wallpaper, etc. making the place a very vivid testimony of the Cold War years.

All in all, this is one of the best surviving specimens of bunkerized NVA sites, and definitely worth a visit for a rich in detail full immersion in the military technology and history of the Cold War years.

Sights

A visit to the Kossa site will start walking past the original inner gateway to the bunkerized part of the complex. The original wall going all around the entire military area has been partly removed, allowing to get direct access to the ‘core’ of the installation by car. Traces of the electrified fence running all around this inner part of the complex are still standing. The entrance to a bunker for the guards can be seen in this area, but this cannot be visited.

The core of the complex with the military bunkers is aligned along a single, mostly straight technical road, built with large concrete slabs. The road track today is the same as in the original pre-WWII complex, and for this reason, it was not camouflaged. Other buildings in the complex, an even the connection roads departing from the main one, are painted in camo coat, for deception in case of overflight by plane or satellite.

The ticket office today is hosted in a large technical building by the entrance. In this area there used to be canteens and other services.

Past the entrance to the bunker area, it is possible to visit five bunkers, which will be listed next.

Computer Bunker

Four out of five bunkers (the exception being the intelligence bunker, see later) are built around the same blueprint. They have a single entrance door, deceived under a small wooden hut. Access to the bunker is via a security and decontamination path. At first you see a big camera at the level of your face, and an intercom panel, all for identification. Next follows a sequence of tight doors, at a close distance from one another, producing three small tight compartments.

In case of nuclear/chemical contamination, faced in wartime, in the first compartment you could take an anti-poison kit, EP-68. Exemplars of this are still in place. In the next compartment you had to throw away all your clothes and belongings, which were put through a hatch to the side. In a third small compartment, you found a shower – a central passage in the decontamination process, even in case of exposition to nuclear events.

Through a last tight door, you could finally enter the clean area of the bunker. Here regular toilets and showers can be found, before going down one level, to the technical part.

Back then, there used to be three levels of air sealing. No air sealing, in regular, no-war/no-drill conditions, meant the decontamination procedure was not activated, and the bunker was ventilated with fresh air. In sealing conditions, typically at war but not under direct attack, the bunker was tight closed, and air was pumped from the outside through huge filtering canisters, purpose designed to stop both smoke and other gases, or poisonous chemicals. On the third level of air sealing, corresponding to an emergency condition (e.g. a direct attack), no air was pumped from the outside, and special filters capturing carbon dioxide allowed to carry on for a limited amount of time – reportedly a shorter time than granted by food or water storage.

Filters for the air conditioning system (sealing level 2) and for adsorbing carbon dioxide (sealing level 3) were made in the USSR. Those for carbon dioxide are scattered around the bunkers, and feature a rather vintage Soviet look, with a prominent five pointed star on top. The label carry the assembly year, in most cases the early 1970s.

Once downstairs, you can appreciate the construction of the bunker lower level, based on prefabricated concrete frames. The bunkers in Kossa were capable of resisting blasts typically from smaller tactical devices, and were ranked at the fifth strength level (level ‘E’), the first level being the strongest.

Here a few rooms are still perfectly preserved with computers, of which the most impressive is a mainframe AP-3, working with magnetic tape. The GDR could boast a top-notch electronic industry within the Eastern Bloc, and all consoles and electronics in Kossa bear local labels.

The purpose of the computers, deemed so relevant to create a bunker specifically for them, was the fast elaboration of all information from the war theater. The latter was both local and global, since thanks to the links reaching the site through the intelligence bunker (see later), information of any kind could be elaborated, allowing the constant updating of operation maps, and the monitoring of all war assets. In drills, the computation capacity of the the system allowed to simulate events, thus forming the core of war-game operations.

A small part of the same bunker, a kind of mezzanine, was designed as a small hospital – all exhibits are original here as well.

More items on display in this area include original dosimeters and gear for checking radiation levels – either GDR- or USSR-made. In the connecting corridors are an intercom and an alarm horn – just examples of the perfectly preserved material on display.

Command Bunker

The command bunker shares the general arrangement with the computer bunker. A full anti-chemical/biological warfare suit is displayed by the entrance, ahead of the decontamination facilities. This type of suit should be worn over regular garments, and made for a very uncomfortable, ultra-warm and suffocating top layer, which reportedly caused extreme sweating.

The focus here is a control room, with a large table and an operation map, as well as connections through several lines to the relevant information networks. On one side of the control room are desks for telephone operators. On another, watches and chronographs. Also interesting are two TV-scopes, which allowed to plot useful information especially in case of drills.

Examples of maps for military drills are scattered all around. Since war plans were all variations on the same theme – a quick attack pushing to the west – all corresponding maps feature this type of planned motion, from within the borders of the GDR to the FRG. The name of the drills can be seen clearly stated on the maps – for instance ‘Grenzschicht – 81’ from 1981.

Other rooms on the underground level feature very interesting examples of machinery for translating information to/from paper maps, even physical 3D maps with elevation!

Satellite or spy-plane images of the site are on display as well. The site of Kossa was reportedly not far from the southernmost of the three air corridors reaching West-Berlin from the FRG. However, even though the site was not unknown in the West, its purpose remained largely a guess for the duration of the Cold War – and likely so also for the local civilian population.

Technical Bunker

A major concern in the Cold War was that of the survival of the chain of command in the event of a total nuclear war. This led to the implementation of additional on-site plants, for self-sustained operations in case a nuclear explosion nearby made the area unsuitable for human life, or when links with the surroundings were lost. These plants included primarily power generators, typically large Diesel engines with their fuel tanks, and drinkable water tanks. As seen in the computer bunker, also breathable air was a major concern.

In the technical bunker in Kossa, similar in shape to the previous two, at least two large power generators can still be seen – and smelt… – on the underground level. Several electric parts for replacement are also there. Another room hosts large drinkable water tanks.

An interesting preserved office for a commanding officer still retains its original GDR wallpaper, and additional comfort is provided by a fake wood pavement.

Large electric cabinets take a big room, where instrumentation for radiation measurement is on display nearby.

Other particulars include a dial telephone with a reminder of the quick reaction numbers, including the Volkspolizei – the name of the People’s Police of the GDR, which can be seen on a label!

Intelligence Bunker

The intelligence bunker is way larger than the others in Kossa, and is also more articulated. Access was possible via two bulky metal gates, located at an underground level on the far ends of the bunker, and reached through truck-sized ramps from ground level.

Behind the door, a tunnel of prefabricated concrete allowed to store many vehicles – typically trucks, jeeps and trailers, including vehicles with communication functions.

To the interred back of the tunnel, a human sized hatch gave access to the pressurized, tight area of the bunker. This inner area, completely interred, is surrounded by a concrete case, built by a single pouring to avoid the creation of weak junctions, and such to withstand intense blasts.

Following a tight compartment, with an array of original air-filtering canisters on display, you get access to a long corridor, providing access to some rooms with technical gears for communication. Here communication with different levels of secrecy were managed, accessing all the existing links implemented in the years of construction within the GDR, and between all Countries of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR.

A first room is centered on a large console, with an original teleprinting device still in place – top-notch for the time. Still in use today in some businesses, teleprinting is a very reliable way of communicating, which is also less prone to interception than telephone.

An adjoining room managed contact with three wired systems of communication, working at increasing levels of encryption security, and used for transmitting routine or less-standard orders. These systems included S1 and SAS communication protocols. The corresponding transmitters/receivers – now very rare pieces of machinery – can be seen on display.

Encrypted incoming messages were sent to a special room, where they were translated in human language, before being internally forwarded to the command bunker. Similarly, encryption facilities were all in another room, where outbound communications were made ready for transmission.

An impressive technical room is stacked with communication electronics. The number of components is really high, and reflects a very high performance, achieved by means of top level, but relatively bulky, components from the 1970s.

A room in this bunker is dedicated to the ‘BARS’ system (‘БАРС’ in Russian), a troposphere (i.e. not wired) transmission system within all States in the Warsaw Pact and with the USSR. Beside an indigenous transmission protocol, the system made use of purpose-designed antennas, with easily deployable nodes put on wheeled trucks. An evoking, very interesting map of the fixed nodes of the system, in Russian, can still be seen on a wall. The desks for the operators of the system are just besides.

Another interesting item is the control panel of a micro-wave antenna, installed in Kossa at a shallow underground level, in an area which can still be located, corresponding to an inexplicable grassy lot along the main road in the site. This antenna system was apparently never used, on grounds of energy consumption and potential damages to other systems in the Kossa site.

Back outside, close to the intelligence bunker are an original weather station, placed nearby a radiation detection system – looking like a bell bolted to the ground. Examples of connection roads covered in camo paint can be seen in this area. Along the main road of the site, many ramps give access to semi-interred lots, where technical trucks used to be placed for operations.

An example of these trucks is a Soviet trailer for enemy signal jamming. This is well preserved both inside and outside. The label tells the construction year – 1986.

Museum Bunker

The last visitable bunker is similar in shape to the former three, and has been converted into a collection of items from the history of the old WASAG site, the NVA bunker and the Cold War.

Propaganda items from the GDR enrich this interesting collection, as well as rare photographs from the totally gone ‘Beech’ site originally developed in the Third Reich years. Also on display are detailed designs of the weapons produced here in WWII.

Getting there and Visiting

The Kossa installation can be easily reached by car, roughly 20 miles south of Wittenberg and 30 miles northeast of Leipzig. Exact location here.

The Kossa bunker is professionally managed by a dedicated Society. Their website is here. They speak only German, and the website is in German accordingly. Opening times are published for the season, and are basically in all weekends in the warm season. A synthetic leaflet in English can be obtained. However, the basic notions on this page may also help in getting much of the visit.

Two separate tickets can be purchased, one for a self-guided visit of the computer, technical and museum bunkers, and another for a guided visit of the command and intelligence bunkers. The guided tour is offered only once per day in German, in the early afternoon as of 2022.

A good strategy for a complete visit may be checking in during the morning, visiting the self-guided part, having a packed lunch, and taking the guided tour.

I followed that plan. This meant a stay of roughly five hours. The report on this page was obtained visiting the site together with Dr. Reiner Helling, who offered me a very detailed insight of the Kossa site, before we took the guided tour.

Photography is allowed everywhere. Flash/tripod generally not needed, at least with high-ISO sensors.

Possibly only cash accepted at the ticket counter.

The Cold War in Hungary – Military Collections, Leftovers & More

Many traces of the communist dictatorship can be found in today’s modern and thriving Hungary. The most visited ones, like Memento Park or Terror Haza in capital city Budapest, tell about the inhumane and pervasive aspect of propaganda and political repression. However, the history of this country in the second half of the 20th century is closely bound to the Soviet-backed communist seizure of power, and this has left traces also elsewhere, especially in terms of military leftovers. As a matter of fact, the Soviet Red Army was directly present in Hungary, to keep the status quo and to to be closer to the border with the West in case of an attack – and this of course left traces.

You can find a significant deal of material concerning more urbex-connected destinations in Hungary in another post.

In this one, you will find a mainly pictorial portrait of some of the best known attractions related to the Cold War period in Hungary, as well as some well accessible but less known ones, especially considering the general public visiting from abroad. As usual on this website, a good share of these sites is aviation-themed!

Photographs were taken in August 2020.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Sights

Iron Curtain Museum, Felsocsatar

The Iron Curtain Museum has been created soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 on the sight of a former small sector of the state border between communist Hungary and free Austria.

The site is mainly the result of the effort of a man, Sandor Gojak, a former border guard in the 1960s, who dedicated this permanent exhibition to those who attempted escaping the repressive communist regime in Hungary towards Austria and the West – both those who succeeded and those who did not, hence facing arrest or losing their lives due to the minefields prepared along the border line.

The site features three examples of the border line placed in the area over the years. They are look less impenetrable than those created between Eastern and Western Germany (see this post), yet they were similarly deadly in scope and facts.

The first is basically a simple line of barbed wire with wooden poles, and it was put in place soon after WWII. Mines were placed in close vicinity to the line. After wooden poles started to rot around the mid-1950s, mines were removed, a dangerous job which cost the health of some border guards, who were severely injured due to accidental explosions.

For a short while at that time, the border was free of mines, and about 300’000 people managed to leave the ‘paradise of workers’!

Soon after the anti-communist uprising in 1956, suffocated with violence by the Soviets, the border was further fortified with concrete poles, and the mine strip was increased in width.

Only at the end of the 1960s the mines were removed, after multiple accidents involving Austrian citizens, when the mines slipped into a creek near the border due to a flood, injuring many who touched them incautiously. This time the border security system was strongly potentiated, with the adoption of an electrified system for the immediate detection of proximity, linked to signal collection centers dislocated along the line. This system had been implemented by the USSR on the Pakistani border. Something similar can be found also on the border between Czechoslovakia and West Germany (see here).

The exhibition is completed by an example of a wooden turret, as well as a more modern fence – a specimen of the one put in place in 2015 between today’s Hungary and neighbor Serbia and Croatia, when a wave of migrants from the Middle East swept the Balkans.

The museum is full of vivid testimonies, thanks to the many historical pictures and artifacts on display, and to the fact that the founder is actually the man who runs the museum! – he is totally available to answer your questions.

Getting there and visiting

The museum can be reached here: 47.20376801287036, 16.429799972912328, on the border between Hungary and Austria, not far from Szombathely. The coordinates point to a convenient parking. The site is operated as an open-air museum, with opening times and an entrance fee. Moderate climbing is required, as the museum area is on the slope of a nice hill. Only cash accepted. Visiting may take about 45 minutes. Website here.

Military Park, Zanka

This small military park is a nice and cared for exhibition of Soviet-made weapons, located ahead of a resort which used to be an exclusive destination for vacation on the coast of Lake Balaton.

You can find here a couple of Mil helicopters – including the legendary Mil-24 in all its ‘beauty’! – in the colors of the Hungarian Air Force.

There is a MiG-21, also formerly of the Hungarian Air Force, a T-64 tank, a howitzer, a military snow blower, an amphibious truck and more light trailers.

Perhaps the most striking sight in this collection is the surface-to-air missile (SAM) SA-2, aka S-75 Dvina in the Soviet codification. A rather basic but powerful – and successful – missile from the 1950s, sold by the Soviets to many satellite Countries and clients over the world.

A revolving antenna can be seen on top of a truck. This is an example of the target acquisition antenna for the SA-2 system, code-named Spoon Rest by NATO, and known as P18 in Soviet codification. This radar system had a range of approximately 170 miles, and was an improvement of the previous P12 design. The launch site of SA-2 SAMs was always complemented by a set of antennas, including a Spoon Rest system. Actually, P18 could be coupled with the launch system of more advanced SAMs too.

All items in the collection here are pretty well preserved, making the visit an enjoyable stop along the exploration of the Balaton coastline.

Getting there and moving around

The park can be found here: 46.881838498667996, 17.7098619193198. The site can be visited in 10-30 minutes depending on your level of interest. This is an open-air museum, with ticket and opening times. Website (referral) with some information here.

Komarom Monostor Fort & Soviet Weapons Collection

An incredible, perfectly preserved military fort from the years of the Austrian Empire, Monostor Fort in Komarom can be found on the Danube, marking the border with Slovakia. At the time of construction, the two nations were united in the Austrian Empire, and the fort was erected between 1850-71 as a part of a defense line extending also north in today’s Slovakia.

Despite being extremely interesting for its articulated and complex construction – a brilliant example of military engineering from the time – the fort saw no action in its intended purpose. It was used for training for most of its life, then briefly as a prisoner’s camp in the years of Hitler’s administration, and finally as an immense weapons storage during the Cold War years, when it saw tenancy by the Soviets.

Today, the fort is open as a museum, duly centered on the interesting original construction from the 19th century.

One cellar has been left as it was in Soviet times, when weapons of all sorts were stored here, moved by means of a dedicated short-gauge railway.

In a corner of the immense apron, you can find a small collection of Soviet weapons, mainly anti-tank and anti-aircraft cannons. There are also a couple of truck-transported antennas, including a very effective early warning Flat Face radar, aka P19 Danube according to the soviet classification, as well as a PRW-9 Thin Skin target altitude detection radar. Similar platforms are still in use today, and can be coupled with modern SAM launching systems.

Getting there and moving around

The fort is a major attraction in the area. It features a large parking ahead of the entrance, address: 2900 Komárom Duna-part 1. Visiting is on a self-guided basis, with a short paper guide in English distributed at the entrance, and the visit will be extremely interesting for anybody interested in history, military engineering, etc. – not only Cold-War-minded subjects.

Visiting may take 1.5 hours, due to the size of the fort. The place is also used as a venue for theater performances and concerts, so timetables may vary. Some info in English can be found on this website.

Papa Airbase

Papa is today an active base of the Air Force, hence it cannot be accessed. However, with a short adventure drive along an unpaved road, you may reach a part of the former premises of the base – from Soviet times – now lying outside the perimeter.

There you can find a pretty unique array of old abandoned aircraft of Soviet make, in the colors of the Hungarian Air Force.

They are MiG-21 of many types, and also massive Sukhoi Su-22.