Former Soviet and East German Military Bases in the GDR – Pictures from Above

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR
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Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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At the end of WWII, the territory of conquered Germany was split in four sectors by the then-Allies – the US, Great Britain, France and the USSR. A substantial part to the north-east of the country fell in Stalin’s hands. A few years later, following a re-organization of all territories occupied by the Red Army during WWII, the Soviet part of Germany was turned into a communist-led state known as German Democratic Republic (‘GDR’, or ‘DDR’ in German language).

Especially from a military standpoint, similar to Poland, and later Hungary and Czechoslovakia, this produced a kind of cohabitation. As a matter of fact, besides clearly backing the communist dictatorship in occupied countries, the Soviets did not quit at all from newly acquired western territories. On the contrary, thanks to the position on a potential war front had the Cold War turned hot, the westernmost Soviet-controlled countries – with the GDR on top – were stuffed with Soviet military bases, and hundreds of thousands troops. These shared the map with the national military, which in the GDR were known as NVA (an acronym standing for the German equivalent of ‘National People’s Army’).

The national and Soviet forces often took control of separated military facilities, and while operating in a coordinated fashion, they were substantially different entities. As said, this was typical to many Soviet-controlled countries. Yet especially on the relatively small East German territory, of high strategic value thanks to the shared border with the West, the total number of tank bases, training academies, air bases, missile bases, nuclear depots, shooting ranges, etc., reached an unrivaled world’s peak, when compared to the population or the size of the country.

Following the crisis leading to the end of the GDR in 1989, and the collapse of the USSR roughly two years later, all these military assets turned surplus. The German reunification, and the disappearance of a significant military opponent in the close vicinity of the border, triggered a rationalization of military resources in Germany. Most of the NVA bases were closed. The Soviet-controlled installations were evacuated more slowly – it took until 1994 to bring back to their Russian homeland the thousands of troops and tonnes of material stationed in Germany. Once returned to Germany, also most of these bases were deactivated and closed.

Since then, the fate of these former military facilities in Germany has been in the hands of local governments or national initiatives. As a matter of fact, following a few decades spent as ghost bases – a real paradise for urbex explorers! – most air bases have been converted into solar power plants. Some of them have retained an airport status, either with a very reduced runway, or in some cases being turned into full-scale commercial airports. There are exceptions too, as some are still at least partly abandoned, and while invaded by vegetation, they are still totally recognizable especially from above. Other bases, like tank bases or nuclear depots, while mostly earmarked for demolition, have been comparatively better ‘preserved’ – at least, they have been attacked by the state more slowly, so there is still much to see there.

You can find on this website several reports about quite a few of these military bases in the former GDR – especially airbases – from a ‘ground perspective’. Sometimes, it is difficult to appreciate the size, shape, as well as their concentration over the former GDR territory. In order to better show these aspects, now here you have a portrait of many of these bases from the air!

The photographs in the present post are from a single, two-hours flight on a Cessna 172 single-prop aircraft. The flight took place in July 2019. As you can see from the locations pinpointed on the map below, on our route we met not less than 15 former (or still active) military items. And this is just a short trip mostly in southern Brandenburg – i.e. the region immediately south of Berlin.

This report is a complement to other chapters on this site, yet it is especially interesting on its own, as a comprehensive bundle of aerial pics on this subject is not easy to find!

Sights

Points of interest are listed following the flight plan, which was flown roughly as on the map, in a counter-clockwise direction, starting from Reinsdorf Airfield.

Soviet Nuclear Bunker Stolzenhain

This one-of-a-kind facility – there were actually two such depots, but one is today demolished and inaccessible – used to be a major storage for nuclear weapons for the Soviet Western Group of Forces, which included all Soviet troops stationed in the GDR.

The bunker is today closed, but it apparently lies on private land, hence sparing it from being turned into something else (or simply flattened) by the local government. You can see a dedicated report in this chapter.

Vegetation has grown wild in the area, but from above you can clearly spot the rectangular perimeter of the external concrete wall. From north to south, an internal road crossed the rectangle in the middle.

The bunkers are half-interred, hence from above you can barely spot the entrances. These are aligned along a service road arranged in a hexagonal shape.

To the south of the bunker area, you can spot a former group of barracks and an access road heading west. Construction and demolition works are taking place in this area.

Control and Reporting Center Schönewalde

This is an active military installation, and actually quite an advanced one. It is tasked with monitoring the air operations over a large part of the airspace over Germany.

The origin of this half-interred technical installation can be traced to the 1970s, when the site was activated under responsibility of the NVA. Following the end of communist rule and after German reunification, unlike many others this site was not demolished, but instead it was developed further, and pressed into the defense chain of NATO since the mid-1990s.

You can see many half-interred warehouses, garages for trucks, a smaller radar antenna to the west of the complex, close to a helipad.

There is also a larger antenna to the northeastern corner of the CRC.

Holzdorf Air Base

This large airport used to be an airbase of the NVA. It is one of the few airports from the Cold War in the GDR which were turned into a full-scale modern airport. Today it is a base of the Bundeswehr, i.e. the German military.

As we approached from north, you can spot first typical large communist buildings, forming a citadel which is likely still today hosting troops and their families. There is also reportedly a flight academy for helicopters in this complex, north of the airport.

The airport features large hangars for military helicopters to the northwest of the runway.

A rather old-styled control tower can be seen to the south of the runway.

Falkenberg Air Base

We reached the southernmost point on our flight with the former Soviet base in Falkenberg. This old base dating to the 1930s went on to be developed into a Soviet base home to fighter aircraft, MiG-23 and later MiG-29. Close to the airfield, there used to be a SAM missile battery (to the west of the runway).

Approaching from the north-west, you can notice a small ghost town and a large technical area, with what appear to be big unreinforced maintenance hangars, today used for something else by local companies.

The airport is today dedicated to light aviation activities. The runway has been shortened, and sadly large portions of the original airfield have been covered with solar cells.

Most interestingly, in the trees to the northwest of the runway, you can spot four unfinished aircraft shelters – possibly of the type AU-16, which could host both the MiG-23 and MiG-29. They look like short concrete tunnels. They should have been covered with land, but works were interrupted in 1990.

More aircraft shelters – completed – can be found to the east of the field, today used for storage, as it is often the case.

Finsterwalde Air Base

This installation was operative since WWII, when the large hangars and control tower still in place to the south of the apron were built. The base went on serving as a Soviet base, hosting fighters and fighter-bombers of many kinds along its illustrious history. A visit to this site, with its nuclear depot, can be found in this chapter.

Approaching from the southwest, we flew over the nuclear storage bunker, made for nuclear warheads to supply aircraft operating from here. The columns once holding the crane to lift the warheads can be clearly spotted.

There is also a group of Soviet-style houses for the families of the troops. Apparently somebody is still living there!

The base was enlarged with reinforced shelters to the north and southwest of the runway. The large hangars to the south are still in use with local companies, some of course connected with flight operations – this airport is still active for general aviation operations.

Enroute to the next waypoint, we flew over a natural preserve, which offered some quite spectacular sights.

Alteno-Luckwalde Air Base

This airfield north of Finsterwalde was a reserve airport of the East German NVA. While never developed to the extent of primary airfields, it was among the few reserve air bases to receive an asphalt runway.

Today, the view is rather desolating – the airfield has been totally covered with solar cells.