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.

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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.

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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.

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Soviet and East German Relics North of Berlin

For the full span of the Cold War, the communist German Democratic Republic has been a highly militarized region.

Due to its position right on the European border between NATO countries and the USSR-led eastern bloc, this relatively small state was kept in high consideration by the Soviet military staff in Moscow. In the re-organization of Soviet forces following the end of the Great Patriotic War (i.e. WWII), of the four Soviet groups of forces stationed in all satellite countries outside the Soviet border, one was specifically named ‘Group of Soviet Forces in Germany’. This group was headquartered in Wünsdorf, the former location of the German OKW south of Berlin (see this post), and had under its command a force of some hundred thousands troops, divided in two tank armies, an entire air army, three mixed armies and a supplementary artillery division. Supplies were in no shortage either, with some tens of fully operational airbases/tank polygons, academies and housing for all the troops and respective families.

Despite the very significant Soviet presence, the GDR invested a huge capital of its own in the development of a full-scale military strength. The East-German National People’s Army (NVA) received top-tier technology from the USSR, and did of course manufacture military supply of all sorts. Sustaining this army, together with the enormous para-military organization of the internal Ministry of Security – the ill-famed STASI – and other governmental organizations, military expenses undoubtedly contributed to the economical crisis hitting the GDR in the 1980s, setting the scene for its final demise.

The region north of Berlin was particularly rich in military and governmental installations, some of them highly classified, their history shrouded into mystery. You can find some information in dedicated posts on this website (see this post, also here and here).

In this chapter, some more items of interest are featured. Four of them are abandoned tokens from Soviet occupation. A nice belle-epoque villa on the shore of the Röblingsee in Fürstenberg, where the headquarters of the 2nd Guard Tank Army was headquartered since Stalin’s era to the withdrawal of Soviet forces in the 1990s, is the first of them. The second is a unique, forgotten Soviet monument, to be found less than two miles south of Fürstenberg. Two more are memorials and cemeteries, for Soviet troops who perished in the last stage of the Great Patriotic War (WWII) around Berlin.

Other three points of interest are instead GDR-related. The first is the former academy for future leaders of the communist party, established in Wandlitz in the years of Stalin, and initially led by Erich Honecker, later to become the omnipotent leader of the GDR for two decades. In the same area north of Berlin – and precisely in Waldsiedlung, today a nice clinical campus in the countryside – are the former private houses of the members of the central committee of the communist party of the DDR – personalities like Walter Ulbricht, Erich Honecker, Erich Mielke and Egon Krenz lived here with their families. Finally, you will find a glimpse from the so-called ‘Honecker bunker’ in Prenden. This big and highly classified installation was prepared in case of war, to protect the leadership of the GDR and ensure safe communication with Moscow.

Photographs were taken in summer 2019 and 2021.

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Sights

Soviet 2nd Guard Tank Army Headquarters, Fürstenberg/Havel

Among the Soviet forces permanently stationed in the GDR in case of war, there used to be two entire tank armies, the 1st and 2nd. The former was headquartered in Dresden, whereas the 2nd – named ‘Red Banner’ – in Fürstenberg/Havel.

The headquarter in Fürstenberg is basically an old villa, possibly dating to the late 19th century or a slightly more recent time. The villa is somewhat unusual in the panorama of todays Fürstenberg. This is a nice and lively touristic town, where many Berliners come to find a retreat in nature, less than 1 hour driving from home. Thanks to tourism-related activities, the area has got rid of the Soviet/East German grayness, and is now a typical village in the German countryside, graced with a creek and a small lake, where canoes and small boats are always roaming around.

In stark contrast with this, the villa is today completely abandoned, with overgrown vegetation almost hiding it from the main road. Access to the premises is easier from the back, where you first meet a typical Soviet prefabricated wall, and service buildings with evidence of a communist design – the usual yellow paint and railings on the windows with the stylized ‘radiant dawn of communist revolution’.

Getting closer to the house, you meet an access door, possibly going to a bunkerized area underneath. The house is in a really bad shape, with rotting walls, plants growing on the balconies and roof. The inside has been made completely inaccessible. A typical East German light is still hanging from the back wall.

To the front, a temple-like decoration contours the main door. It is difficult to say whether this decoration was there since the beginning, since it appears rather different in style from the rest of the villa.

A highlight of this site is the statue of Lenin still standing ahead of the front facade. The statue is in a relatively good shape. It looks like the man was portrayed during a discussion.

The concrete sculpture was accurately made, as witnessed by the facial expression and details in the embroidery of the tie.

On the front side, the villa used to be reachable with a large flight of steps climbing uphill, with Lenin on top. Today this perspective is gone, for vegetation has totally invaded the steps, and the front of the house is not visible from the street.

Getting there and moving around

The villa is located in central Fürstenberg on Steinförder Strasse (possibly) 44, on the southern side of the road. The house and its large garden estate are abandoned, but all other houses around are not. Getting closer without being spotted is easier from the backstreet. Technically speaking, the latter is accessible for residents only, so you may park somewhere else and come closer by foot. Visiting may take about 30 minutes with time for the pictures, for the house is not accessible inside.

It should be remarked that this site is probably not public, and at an unpredictable time it may be either restored or demolished – so checking it out may be not possible for long.

Soviet Monument, Fürstenberg/Havel

A rare example of Soviet commemoration monument can be found very close to Fürstenberg. Apart from the monumental sites in Berlin (see here), a number of smaller Soviet monuments are to be found around the GDR – impressive ghosts of a bygone era.

Among the best preserved are that in the former tank base of Zeithain (see this post), and this one in Fürstenberg.

The monument is composed of two parts, basically two concrete curtains facing each other on the sides of a small apron.

The smaller panel to the south is the most intriguing. It is apparently a celebration of an economic plan of the Soviet Union. It is all about the growth in production in several areas of industry and farming, likely resulting from careful planning by the top of the Soviet government.

Between a citation from Lenin and a stylized image of the Kremlin, several panels cite one by one the increases in production of anything from oil to weapons, from milk to corn.