A Few Remains of Nazi Grandeur in Germany

Architecture is possibly one of the disciplines where the ringleaders of the Nazi dictatorship invested most, for it provided a direct mean to display and impose their ‘new aesthetics’ to the German people and to foreign visitors from abroad.

The victory of the Allies in WWII wiped out the Nazi apparatus, but nowhere as in Germany did the new post-war leadership take the  deletion of all traces of the Third Reich so seriously. Even in museums of military history – there is an excellent example in Ingolstadt,  Bavaria, perhaps one of the most beautiful museums on the topic in Europe – there are just a handful of Nazi insignia. Swastikas, Nazi uniforms, weapons and memorabilia can be found to an incredibly greater extent elsewhere in Europe, especially in Britain, or in museums in the US. They are really also abundant in the countless exhibitions about the Great Patriotic War – WWII for Russians – in the former USSR, and generally beyond the Iron Curtain.

Concerning architecture, especially in Berlin many buildings of all ages were totally demolished as a result of US/British air raids, and during the last battle for the city opposite the Red Army. Similarly, the town centers of many larger towns were severely damaged. In the reconstruction process, little care was taken in keeping trace of this dark page of the German history, and the reborn downtown districts assumed in many cases a new face, where 1950-styled buildings shared the stage with medieval cathedrals and public schools from Bismarck’s time – pretty much nothing from the 1930s.

Yet of course some creations of Hitler’s architects have come to these days. Despite the evil ideology behind them, some are remarkable works of art, displaying a clear relationship with functionalism, typically found through various interpretations also in many realizations of great architects of the Thirties, in the US as well as all around western Europe. Examples are those buildings connected with infrastructures, like airport terminals or railway stations – much needed in the post-WWII period, and preferably restored instead of being demolished. More items of this kind survive than possibly of any other from Hitler’s era in todays German cities. A majestic example is the terminal of the now closed Berlin-Tempelhof airport.

Most of the surviving buildings hold a public function – like departments of the government or sport arenas. In a very few cases, buildings strongly connected with the devious ideology of the Third Reich have been preserved – albeit not greatly publicized – as museums. A first notable example is the complex around the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, with the unfinished huge congress hall for the conventions of the Nazi Party. A second one is the disturbing ‘spiritual center’ of the infamous SS in Wewelsburg.

This chapter collects a few photographs from these three places. Of course, it is far from a complete review of the architectural heritage of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. It just provides an insight on a relatively unknown group of relics from Hitler’s era in Germany.

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Sights

Berlin-Tempelhof Airport Terminal

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Possibly the most complete and grandest example of Nazi architecture, the airport terminal of Berlin-Tempelhof is interesting both from an architecture standpoint and for its historical significance. The terminal was designed and built in the late 1930s and completed in 1941, greatly enlarging a preexistent construction.

At that time, nothing comparable existed in the world. The terminal is more than a mile long. It was built with a direct access from the land-side buildings directly to the long side of a narrow hangar on the air-side, which basically ran all along the terminal. Considering the small size of the aircraft of the day, this ‘hangar-terminal’ configuration could be exploited to simultaneously load and unload a high number of flights, with operations taking place directly in, or just outside, of a covered hangar. During WWII, parts of the hangar were used to manufacture military aircraft, exploiting forced laborers from a concentration camp prepared nearby for the purpose.

But the features of the terminal turned also extremely handy during the Berlin blockade of 1948-49, when Stalin tried to force his former western Allies to withdraw from Berlin by cutting off the western sector of the city. The western Allies set up the famous airlift, supplying the western sector with basically everything that was needed for a population in the order of a million, for 15 months! Tempelhof was the major airport in Berlin – the other being the British airbase in Gatow, near Potsdam – and laid in the American zone of the city. Thanks to its peculiar structure, it could manage the immense flow of goods flown in by more than 1’000 flights per day.

In the Cold War years, the airport was operated as a logistic base by the US forces. In the meanwhile, the construction of a larger airport – with a smaller terminal, but longer runways – was started at Tegel, and this was promoted to the main airport of West Berlin for civil air traffic. State flights still were operated in and out of Tempelhof, President Reagan’s Air Force One 27000 notably operating from Tempelhof on a famous state visit in 1982. After the German reunification the airport went on working as a civil airport, but the relatively short runways and noise issues led to its closure in 2008.

Sadly, today this glorious airport has been turned into another city park. It is rather difficult to use it for the scope though, as all the cement and asphalt of the apron, runways and taxiways are still there, there are no trees, and the terminal is an imposing presence on one side. Moreover, it is really a surplus for a city like Berlin, scattered with plenty of beautiful and immense green areas. The terminal building has not yet found a new occupation, and is basically a well-guarded ghost. Plans for reopening it as a convention center are apparently consolidated in 2022, but renovation works are going on still at very low pace.

Most recently, a small but well-designed, mainly pictorial exhibition has been located in the old terminal building, retracing with beautiful historical pictures, technical schemes and essential explanations the history of Tempelhof Airport.

Pictures from the year 2015 – but luckily not much had changed in 2022, the date of my latest visit – show the main building giving access to the terminal on the northwestern corner of the airfield still in a rather good shape. The empty parking ahead of the passenger entrance with nobody around gives a lunar aura to the place.

The neat lines of this part of the building deceive its actual size. From a former visit still in the days of operation – year 2006 – you can notice the roomy check-in hall, right beyond the main entrance.

Close by one of the glass entry doors you can spot a memorial to General Lucius Clay, the American mind behind the Berlin Airlift.

The grand perspective leading to the entrance is really an architectural masterpiece. Also noteworthy is a series of covered passages leading to lateral courtyards to the sides. These service passages are not visible when approaching the terminal from the distance, preserving the general sense of order without renouncing to the functionality of the construction.

There are two surviving marble eagles from Hitler’s time, on the front walls of the buildings to the sides of the main perspective.

The eagle head ahead of the parking is from the eagle sculpture originally standing on top of the main façade in Hitler’s times. That eagle was taken away after the capture of the city and the end of the war. The head went to the Army Academy in West Point, NY as a spoil of war, and was returned after the German reunification.

Moving along the wings of the building you can appreciate the size of the construction, really uncommon for Europe in the Thirties. The quality of all materials is also really striking. Their cost must have been really high.

To the extreme northeastern tip of the building you can spot some former radio installations, likely connected with air traffic control or military operations. From there you can get access to the former air side of the airport. At the time when the pictures were taken it was possible to walk around freely, but unfortunately not close to the hangar. Most recently, a branch of the Allied Museum in Berlin has taken responsibility for a preservation effort, and is keeping the place off-limits, opening it to the public on rare guided visits in German only – but I could not join in any of them.

There is also a historical propliner ahead of the iconic ‘Berlin Tempelhof’ sign on top of the hangar. Anyway, walking on the apron and runways produces a ‘history was made here’ feeling, and it is worth trying! Again, a few shots from the days of operation show the hangar from inside the terminal building. Historical pictures from local panels show the use of the hangar for the production of aircraft and technical parts.

As said, a recent exhibition of special interest for getting an accurate historical perspective, retraces the timeline of the airfield, since its pre-Third Reich era, through the colossal redesign in the shape we see today carried out in Hitler’s time, and down to the Cold War era, when Tempelhof had a crucial role in the Berlin Airlift, and was operated for long as a regular city airport.

Remarkably, in April 1945 the airfield fell in Soviet hands – since the Soviet Army conquered Berlin – and was later ceded to the US, following the Potsdam agreements in July 1945, which split the capital of the Third Reich in four sectors. It is likely Stalin regretted his own ‘fair-play’ concerning Tempelhof at the time of the Airlift, just a few years later…

A picture portraying general Keitel, in custody, arriving at Tempelhof to sign the instrument of surrender in the Soviet headquarters (see here) together with other top-ranking Nazi officers, shows a Lisunov Li-2 in the background. This was the licensed Soviet copy of the Douglas C-47. Also interesting the demolished German fighters found on sight by the conquerors.

The US, having taken control of the field, organized open-days for the general public once per year – reportedly, mostly appreciated by the local population.

Actually, the years corresponding to the sealing of the Inner Border (see here), from the Berlin crisis of 1961 (which saw the construction of the Berlin Wall) until specific accords partially reopening the land borders especially to Westerners in the early 1970s, were those of the most intense activity for Tempelhof – reaching West Berlin was more convenient by flight. But soon after, the better infrastructure of Tegel, with longer runways and less surrounded by high-rise buildings, took over most of the airline connections to Berlin. Tempelhof went on hosting state flights, general aviation flights, and commercial flights to a lower scale. There was also a permanent presence of US Army forces.

Evoking pictures include one with Willy Brandt greeting general Clay, and much later, President Reagan and the First Lady on a state visit in 1987. In another, you see one of the former Third Reich top-ranking staff Albert Speer – who also contributed to the design of Tempelhof – leaving for Western Germany by flight, following release after serving a long sentence in the prison of Spandau. He had been sentenced in Nürnberg.

The closure on grounds of noise issues, as noted, left the infrastructure unused for some years. Plans for re-opening as a convention/exhibition centers have been prepared as of 2022, and partial updating works are being carried out.

Getting there and moving around

The former airport is not far from downtown Berlin, around 3 miles south from the Brandenburg Gate in the former western sector of the city. Access to the terminal is from Tempelhofer Damm. Parking is possible along this major alley, or on the many roads around the airport – parking is rarely a problem in Berlin. Be ready to walk though, as usual when touring an airport.

Access possible also with public means of transportation. The front terminal can be easily reached from the U6 stops ‘Platz der Luftbrucke’ or ‘Bhf Paradestrasse’. Access from the east is easier from the U8 stops ‘Boddinstrasse’ or ‘Leinenstrasse’. There is finally an S-bahn station on the southwestern corner of the airfield – ‘Bahnhof Tempelhof’ – where U6 meets with several S-bahn lines.

My last visit to the place dates back to 2022, and as the area was undergoing renovation with a consolidated plan for changing its role and shape – and some works having started in the southernmost part of the terminal building.

Anyway, at the time of this visit the terminal was closed to the public, with limited chances to visit inside on guided tours. The only chance to access the terminal is for the small – yet totally recommended – photo exhibition. The latter can be reached to the left of the main facade of the terminal building. Website with contacts and timetables here.

Touring the exterior is possible on your own, and there are also a few descriptive panels along the perimeter. There are multiple entrances to the former air side, which is a public park with many people around.

Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg

Nuremberg is an ancient imperial city in the heart of Germany, taken over as the symbolic capital of the ‘new kingdom’ by the theorists of the Nazi doctrine, due to its historical significance in German history. This town became the focal point of Hitler-led Nazi Party (NSDAP is the acronym of the party name in German language) well before the fateful general elections of 1933, when Hitler was elected chancellor of the German Republic. Among the activities of the NSDAP since the Twenties was a yearly rally, where for a few days all sections of the party met in Nuremberg for a series of group activities, including political speeches, commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the German wars, sport, camping, dining, etc.

In the years preceding Hitler’s raise to power, these rallies took place in the Luitpoldhain Park, to the southeast of the town center. The park had at its center the Hall of Honor, a memorial to the soldiers of German Wars, erected at the end of the Twenties. Today, leaving behind some construction works carried out by the NSDAP in the 1930s – including a massive Luitpold Hall and a tribune, today completely demolished – the place has regained its commemorative function, and is still used as a nice and sober city park. Yet historical photographs of Hitler celebrating the fallen German comrades ahead of the very monument you can see today produce a strange feeling.

In the years of the dictatorship, the rallies turned into a megalomaniac ostentation of power, with hundreds of thousands participating in the reunions. Correspondingly, the area involved in these parades was greatly enlarged, and a plan was made to realize a group of dedicated buildings.

The most famous of them, thanks to the historical movies of the parades recorded at the time, is the Zeppelin Field. This was a parade ground designed from scratch by Nazi architects. The white tribune with the huge swastika on top, in the background of an immense, perfectly ordered and disciplined public, crowding the arena and listening to the voice of the Führer, is one of the permanent symbols of the Third Reich monstrous machine. Actually, the same tribune is the subject of another very famous movie, where the swastika is blown up with dynamite after the capture of the city of Nuremberg by US troops, marking the end of the Nazi rule in Germany.

The tribune and the constructions along the perimeter of the Zeppelin Field underwent major post-war deconstruction works, as the area came to host a car racing circuit and later a rather minimal sporting ground. What remains of the building is still rather massive, yet the top colonnade is gone, and as of 2016 the place looked little guarded and partly abandoned – eventually making it even grimmer! You can be on the exact podium where Hitler stood in his golden days admiring his evil creation.

The final and most prominent part of the plan is the congress hall of the NSDAP. Like most of the gigantic construction project for the area, this building was never completed, yet it reached a rather advanced state of completion. It is a U-shaped, three floors building, clearly inspired to the ancient Roman architecture. It should have been the building for the congresses of the NSDAP.

Today, this is the only preserved building of the complex, and hosts an extremely interesting museum and documentation center on the history of the Nazi Party and of the rallies. Really an interesting insight in the aesthetics of Hitler’s era and in the strange history of this strange political movement, which has been instrumental in shaping the face of todays Europe – and possibly of the world. Surely worth visiting.

A somewhat off-topic note, yet fitting in this chapter, concerns the hall of the Nuremberg Trials. These post-war trials were held in Nuremberg soon after the end of the war, mainly because of the significance this city had gained for the NSDAP. The courthouse, used as such also under the Nazi dictatorship, survived the war rather undamaged. Today, it is home to the Memorium, a very interesting museum documenting the trials from an anecdotal perspective, as well as from a more elevated viewpoint, describing its significance for international law – it was the first time an international conflict ended up in a trial.

Besides the museum, which is mainly centered on panels and photographs, you can see the famous Courtroom 600, where the trials took place. This was a bit altered since the years of the trials, yet some peculiar features, like the artistic doors, are exactly those you can see in the famous video recordings from the time.

Getting there and moving around

The area of the NSDAP rallies can be found about 2.5 miles southeast of the historical district of Nuremberg, Bavaria. It can be conveniently reached by car, or with public transport. Tramway line 8 departs the central railway station and has several stops in the area of interest. The S-bahn station ‘Nurnberg-Dutzenteich’ is 0.3 miles from the congress hall.

Today the area is mainly green, with much room for relaxing with a good walk. There are some explanatory panels with maps outlining the scheme of the Nazi master plan, including the buildings which were actually erected, those which were later demolished, and those which were just planned.

The centerpiece is the museum ‘Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände’, in the unfinished congress hall. Despite the distance from downtown Nuremberg, this is a major attraction for foreign visitors, hence the museum is prepared for large crowds. Visiting is possible with an audio-guide in many languages, and it is really worth the time and price. Website here.

The Memorium Nuremberg Trials, is hosted in a still active section of the Courthouse and is conveniently reachable by car of with the U-bahn U1, stop ‘Bärenschanze’, about 1 mile west of the historical town center. It can be visited on a self-guided basis, with audio-guides in many languages. This exhibition is really well designed and very interesting, and may take a couple of hours for a complete exploration. Yet due to the relative absence of tangible ‘hardware’ it may turn out unbearable for smaller children. Website here.

Spiritual Headquarter of the SS, Wewelsburg

The castle of Wewelsburg is connected to one of the most obscure aspects of the Nazi ideology – magic practices. The castle was founded centuries before the advent of the Nazis. Soon after the rise to power of the NSDAP, the head of the SS Heinrich Himmler got fascinated by the triangular perimeter of the castle, which appears to point towards the North. This is nothing special for a normal mind, but the SS  were the treasurers of the German race culture, and they were trying all the time to establish a solid link between basically themselves and the ancient settlers of Greenland – the Thule people – described in some legends as the most ancient northern population. This was instrumental in sustaining that the world belonged to the SS, which had been there since before everyone else.

This apparently silly idea represented for this group of fanatics a sufficient motivation to trigger a world war, were they saw themselves as the leaders of a liberation movement, regaining a rightful control over Europe (just to start) to the German race, after centuries of undue occupation by other races.

Wewelsburg gained more and more importance as the Nazis started preparing for war. The northern tower of the castle was declared the center of the world, and the heart of the SS soul. The School of Wewelsburg represented the spiritual leadership of this military organization, which enjoyed a surprising independence – and an extensive budget – even in the suffocating bureaucratic apparatus of Hitler’s political dictatorship. As such, Wewelsburg came in the middle of a visionary master plan, where it had to be at the center of a circular construction with a radius of 1 kilometer. Construction works started on this project, satellite concentration camps for forced laborers being opened on site for the purpose. The work did not develop much though, due to the intervening war events and things evolving differently from the Nazi plans.

The castle underwent some modifications under the SS. It was generally refurbished to host regular reunions of the comrades of the School of Wewelsburg, with SS-themed furniture which can be seen in the local museum devoted to this incredible story.

Furthermore, the northern tower was largely modified inside, with two round rooms appearing one above the other on two levels. The top one was completed as the ‘Room of the Black Sun’. It is centered on a mosaic pavement with a swastika motif. A disk made of pure gold, disappeared after the war, represented the sun in the center of the pavement, and marked the very center of the world.

The bottom room is basically a crypt, receiving little light from the outside, and resembling a chapel. At the center of the room you can find a basin like in a baptistery. All around there are little stands, possibly provisions for thrones. On top of the vault, just beneath the sun in the top room, there is a rare stone sculpture of a swastika.

The real use of these rooms is rather mysterious. It seems likely that Himmler with the School of Wewelsburg wanted to create a kind of ‘elite of the elite’ in the SS. The crypt might have been a place for ritual initiation ceremonies, and the top hall a kind of meeting area for the group. Selected officials and intellectuals of the SS met regularly in Wewelsburg, but basically no documentation exists of the content of these meetings. Yet the well-known mental inclination and conviction of the components of the group, the symbolic significance of the Wewelsburg site for these people and the temple-like setup of the northern tower suggest some sort of esoteric ritual might have taken place here.

The area reportedly fell into disrepair soon after WWII, and even worse, conceived by some as the shrine of the still alive ‘spirit of the SS’, it rapidly became the stage of black masses, magic practices and satanic rites. To contain the drift, the top hall was turned into a Christian chapel and an altar was put in place. This was later removed when castle opened as a museum on local history, a youth hostel and more recently as part of a very interesting museum and documentation center about the SS.

Getting there and moving around

The castle of Wewelsburg is located on top of a cliff in the homonym village, about 8 miles southwest of the medieval town of Paderborn, immersed in a beautiful north-German landscape. It appears to be about 2 miles south of the Paderborn-Lippe local airport. The castle can be conveniently reached by car, parking available nearby the entrance.

There are several exhibitions, including a museum about the ancient history of the castle, a documentation center and museum on the SS, which provides access to the Northern Tower and its mystery rooms, and a space for temporary exhibitions – at the time of my visit, there was one on the racial aspects of Nazi ideology. All museum are very modern and extremely interesting. There is also a hostel right inside the castle.

The site is really interesting to visit and a good destination for a nice half-day trip for everyone. Yet despite the nice panorama and the pleasant 16th century architecture, the association of the castle with dark activities in the dark years of Himmler and the SS makes this castle mysterious and somewhat grim, adding to the experience.

Soviet Airbases in the GDR – Third Chapter

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As mentioned in previous chapters on the same topic – you can find the first and second here – the territory of the GDR was cluttered with an uncommonly high number of military bases, run either by the local Armed Forces of the GDR (‘German Democratic Republic’) or by the Soviet Union. This was also due to the great strategic relevance of the area, placed right in the center of Europe and on the border with ‘the West’.

Soon after the reunification of the two halves of Germany and the withdrawal of the Red Army after the collapse of the USSR, most Soviet/Russian bases in Germany were deemed unnecessary by the new federal government, hence they were converted into something else. Airbases have been turned most typically into solar powerplants or, more rarely, into general aviation airports. Armored cavalry training areas have been largely cleaned up, and allocated as land for reforestation.

Despite large parts of these installations having been recycled to some other function, substantial traces – and sometimes even more – of these once prominent and populated bases can be found still today. These include many technical buildings, like aircraft shelters, hangars for maintenance, weapon storages, bunkers, … as well as housing and buildings for the families of Soviet troopers. Needless to say, this kind of stuff is of primary interest for urban explorers and war historians as well, for these places – besides being really creepy and often preserving a ‘Soviet ghost aura’ which may appeal to a part of the public… – are usually full of lively traces of the Soviet occupation, like signs in Cyrillic alphabet, murals, monuments and Lenin’s heads, which make for an interesting memento of the recent past, when the map of Europe looked pretty much different from now.

In this post you can find a pictorial description of a visit to the two airbases of Sperenberg and Finsterwalde, south of Berlin, the airbase of Grossenhain, close to Dresden, plus a quick chapter on the former tank regiment base of Zeithain, close to the sport town of Riesa – not an airbase, but convenient to visit and well worth a quick stop when going to Grossenhain. Photographs have been taken in spring 2017.

As for the second chapter, some historical photos from the collectible book Rote Plätze – Russische Miltärfluglplätze Deutschland 1945-1994 have been included to allow for a ‘now and then’ comparison. I do not own the copyright for those pics.

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Sperenberg

The Soviet airbase of Sperenberg stands out in the panorama of the facilities of the Red Army in the GDR for two reasons.

Firstly, it was not an attack base, but the primary logistic airport of the Soviets in Eastern Germany. The place was developed with air transport in mind, so differently from most bases around, there are no shelters for deadly MiGs or Sukhois ‘mosquitos’, but instead enormous open-air aprons, hangars and parking bays for Antonov and Ilyushin monster-size transports, as well as for bulky Mil helicopters. The place even bolsters a small passenger terminal for military staff, a truly unique feature. The proximity to Wünsdorf, a small town in Brandenburg which since the end of WWII and until 1994 hosted the headquarters of the Soviet Forces in Germany (covered in this post), may have played a role in defining the function of this base.

Secondarily, Sperenberg was simply shut down at the time of the withdrawal of Soviet/Russian forces, but was never converted into something else – at least at the time of writing. This makes it truly a one-of-a-kind item for lovers of ‘ghost airbases’, for here everything, including all taxiways and the runway, is still there. Nature is fiercely reclaiming much of the area, which is nowadays completely surrounded and partly submerged by a wild forest – making the silent remains of the base look even more creepy, unnatural and haunted…

The installation is also very big – similar to an average-size civil airport – , and besides the airside part, there is also an extensive array of residential buildings for the troops. For the major point of interest of the place is the preserved – for now… – airport infrastructure, I concentrated on that, neglecting the barracks and housing. This was also due to the latter being closer to the old main gate to the base, and standing to the available information there are rangers and local citizens who sometimes keep that part under watch. With only a basic knowledge of German, I think it’s better to take all countermeasures to avoid misunderstandings, thus enjoying a reasonably safe and undisturbed exploration…

Sights

In order to reduce the chance of a contact with the locals, it makes sense to intrude into the perimeter from the northeast, heading southwest directly to the center of the airport, leaving the housing part to the east. This will result in a multi-miles walk in the trees, along former service roads, now seldom used by woodcutters. Sooner or later, you will meet the original fence of the base, with concrete posts, barbed wire and an unpaved service road for service cars running all around it.

In order to make your way through the wilderness, unless you are from that very district and have a (very) good knowledge of the area, you will need a GPS. I profitably used the Ulmon app on my iPhone. It worked perfectly, all paths were precisely indicated. The external fence around the northwest area is very well preserved. The function of the first group of buildings I came across with is not very clear. You can clearly spot them on aerial photos of the base, to the northwest of the main part of the apron, connected to the airside area with a long straight service road aligned in a northwest-southeast direction.

I guess the facility may have been a former fuel deposit – there is a large maneuver area possibly for trucks, an inner fence for further protection, a water deposit, possibly for firefighting, and a strange array of aligned pipe ends made of concrete, pointing vertically.

Going southwards to reach the apron area, I came across an abandoned… Soviet boot, plus some more mysterious buildings, clearly blown up at a certain point in history, and possibly not built by the Soviets. These resembled in shape the cannon bunkers placed by Nazi Germany on the northern coast of France, constituting the backbone of the ‘Atlantic Wall’. Maybe residuals from an even farther back era?

After crossing another fence – again, concrete posts and barbed wire – and going through a really wild trail in the trees, basically not signed except for traces of animals everywhere, I appeared on the apron in the northwesternmost part of the airport, with a huge array of parking bays for transport aircraft. Reportedly Antonov An-12s and Tupolev Tu-134s used to be placed in this area, as you can see also from historical pictures.

The proportions of the abandoned airport are really striking. Taking a closer look at many of the parking bays, it is possible to find substantial traces of the original delimiting and direction strips for aircraft. The apron is made of the typical Soviet slabs, not coated with asphalt as typical for most airports in the West.

Moving south from the parking area, which unwinds along an east-western direction – as it is clear from the aerial pictures – , walking along a connection taxiway it is possible to notice its uncommon width, which is not typical to attack bases, but necessary for a transport base operating with Soviet giants.

Accessing the southern east-western taxiway from the west, it is possible to find a very special feature of Sperenberg – the passenger terminal. The small terminal is located to the north of a dedicated apron for passenger/mail loading and unloading.

The terminal area is made of two main buildings. One is probably older, with a large glass window looking to the apron. A gazebo and some small walkways suggest the place was intended for waiting, and for ‘quasi-civil’ operations.

The main terminal bears the date ‘1986’. From historical pictures, you can notice that it underwent some modifications during the few years of operations, which ceased by the year 1994. In particular, the central window on the front façade, made for the baggage treadmill, was bricked up at a certain point.

The inside of the building has been totally spoiled, except for some wallpaper on the ceiling.

A couple of strange movable structures, possibly extendable covered passages for passenger loading operations, can be found on the apron and in the trees besides the former terminal. Also these can be spotted in one of the aerial photographs. They are full of unofficial mottos and signatures of Soviet troops, written in Cyrillic.

From the area of the terminal it’s a – relatively – short walk to the western end of the runway.

Moving eastwards from the terminal along the southernmost main taxiway, you come across several interesting items, including a Soviet control tower and many parking bays for large helicopters.

The only hangar on the airport can be found on a very wide taxiway connecting the two parallel east-western main taxiways. The hangar, albeit appearing rather big at a glance, was probably used for maintenance of helicopters and smaller transports, as large Soviet transports need a much bigger size. Traces of a motto on the front of the hangar, obviously in Cyrillic, can be seen today.

This also are quite mysterious, for on the photos from the last days of operations the inscription cannot be spotted. It was probably covered in Russian, post-Soviet times, reappearing now as the paint coat is fading.

Also in the area around the hangar another control tower, possibly from an older age, can be spotted, but not accessed.

Taking again to the east along the southern taxiway, more helicopter parking bays can be found, and finally another large aircraft parking area. From pictures from the time, this area was used for parking mainly An-12s, some of them with the tail leaning over the grass. Many interesting strips and indications for aircraft can be found in this area, with writings in Cyrillic, together with strongpoints for anchoring aircraft to the ground.

From the end of the taxiway, where more interesting signs on the ground can still be found – one of them telling ‘cars must stop here’ – it’s again pretty easy to come to the eastern end of the runway. The connection taxiway descents gently towards the runway.

Here some of the original lights can be found. Some slabs close to the end of the runway appear highly damaged, like they were stricken from above. Possibly some overweight plane heavy-landed here at some point?

Leaving north from the eastern end of the runway, crossing both main east-western taxiways, you can point back to the fence of the airport. Going further east you would reach the housing area, which I did not explore. Going north I came across an abandoned railway track, and a railway/truck interchange area. Finally, I reached the usual barbed wire and I left in the trees. I had to walk again along a very nice multi-miles track in the wilderness back to where I had parked.

Now that I was fine with the goals of the exploration, I moved to the main gate – where you are quite exposed and it’s easier to get spotted – to take some pictures from the outside. These can be compared to an historical pic from post-Soviet times – see the Russian Eagle to the left of the gate.

Another set of exciting pictures from the air, taken during a special flight over this area, can be found in this chapter.

All in all, I would say Sperenberg was among the most interesting Soviet airbase in the GDR I’ve ever visited. You can really feel the ‘Soviet ghost aura’, for the place looks really like it was simply closed up and forgotten. And I didn’t even look at the housing part. The wilderness around is really nice to walk in spring, you will see many birds, deers and some say they have spotted boars. I walked something around 12 miles in the area, my stay lasted a full afternoon, and I noticed only a few people having a look around, far in the distance. So if you are looking for an evocative walk, mixing the pleasure of the countryside to serious, top-quality urban exploration in a former military setting, this is really a place to be!

Getting there and moving around

Sperenberg is located about 20 miles south from downtown Berlin. The unattractive village bearing this name can be conveniently reached by car, and the main gate to the base can be found to the west of it. If you don’t want to access the base from here – which may attract some unwanted attention – you may elect to go to the area of Kummersdorf a few miles north, park your car and cut through the wilderness to reach the area of the former airport. For doing that you will need a map. The Ulmon map on my iPhone was perfect for guiding me on the task, all major and almost all minor service roads were perfectly signed. Due to the size of the base, you may choose to reach the perimeter from different directions, especially if you are more interested in some part than another. It used to be a full-scale transport airport, so expect to walk a lot if you – like me – want to have a look to everything. Being placed in the deep countryside of Brandenburg, finding a parking place should not be a problem.

Grossenhain

The former base of Grossenhain, close to Dresden, has been in the focus of an important conversion plan. Much of the facilities – especially the many hangars – have been converted into something else, including busy factories and warehouses. The area of the airport has been reduced, and the majority of the original buildings – some of them dating back to the Nazi era – demolished. A small flight club operates from the southeastern quarter of the base, using the original runway. From a bird’s eye view, the area for flight operations has been sensibly reduced, but thanks to the conversion, most hangars are still in place, so it’s easy to get an idea of how the base looked like in the past.

Historical pictures show that this airbase was used for open days in the years of the GDR, and in the transition period between 1989 and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Similarly to other bases in the GDR like Rechlin/Laerz, Jüterbog and Merseburg, this attack base hosted a model GRANIT special weapon storage (‘Sonderwaffenlager’). This is still preserved today, and makes for the most prominent feature of this base.

Sights

Three items make this base really attractive. First and foremost, a bunker for storing special weapons. Perhaps a unique case in the former GDR, the bunker has undergone a complete refurbishment, and it now appears like new.

The two imposing doors are preceded by a barbed wire fence. It is inaccessible, but it can be easily photographed from the outside. There is even an explanatory panel, both in German and Russian, with photographs from an older time.

A second sight of interest is the former gate guardian of the base. It is a MiG-17 of the Aviation of the Red Army. It is placed on a concrete post – designed in a pure Soviet-style – with writings in Cyrillic. Pictures from the day of operations suggest a different background than the rotting hovel now behind it. The gray sky on the day of my visit added to the Cold War atmosphere of the place.

Finally, another sight of interest is a wooden round table from the age of the Nazi dictatorship, used to align flight instrumentation. It is very large, and perfectly preserved. An explanatory panel can be found also besides this item.

All in all, while not a place for a real exploration – the area is very busy and not abandoned at all – Grossenhain offers some very unique items, keeping memory of its strong military past, surely worth a detour for the committed specialist.

Getting there and moving around

Grossenhain is about 20 miles north of Dresden, and just 8 miles north of world-famous Meissen – the birthplace of the Meissen pottery. The still active ‘flugplatz’ – local airport – is immediately north of this averaged-size village. Access is via the road N.101 or N.98, surrounding the airport area to the west and south respectively. There is no barrier except for the small flight club, many public roads have replaced the original taxiways and service roads. You can move in the former area of the airbase with your car and park at your convenience. Just be sure not to interfere with the many businesses in the area, especially big trucks going in and out on smaller roads.

Finsterwalde

This once prominent, very large airbase, is still in operation as a local airport. During the Cold War, this place was selected for storing nuclear warheads with a specially built facility. Other two installations of the kind existed over the territory of the GDR, namely Brand and Rechlin/Laerz.

Sights

The airport area is largely inaccessible, for the airbase is still an active general aviation airport. Among the most visible items in this part, a great example of a control tower from the years before WWII. It has been perfectly refurbished. Nearby are some very big hangars, today hosting some private business. Closer to the apron, some shelters from Soviet times are possibly used as hangars – they were shut when I visited. I could see a Transall C-160 parked outside, a really ubiquitous military transport in Germany, likely not any more managed by the Air Force.

The ‘ghost part’ of the base is located to the south of the airport. The ideal trailhead is a former railway station and interchange platform. From historical pictures, it’s easy to see this was very busy supplying materials to the base, where also extensive housing could be found in Soviet times.

Going south following a former service road, still used by woodcutters and acceptably maintained at least for an easy 0.8 miles walk, you can reach the old bunker for nuclear ordnance. It is preceded by parking areas, demolished truck depots and many service roads. The assembly should have looked like the one in Brand, but most of the buildings today are gone.

The bunker is not interred, so the size can be appreciated from the side. Unfortunately, the bunker has been left open, and at some time in its history it must have been set on fire, so the walls inside are covered in black soot, and exceptionally dark – unfortunately I couldn’t take an acceptable picture even with a torchlight. More recently, it has been used as a dump for common waste. The area is far from hygienic, with piles of garbage here and there. Furthermore, on the outside it was covered by stupid and ignorant graffiti.

On the plus side, the crane for maneuvering the ordnance ahead of the main door is still in plac