Jüterbog/Niedergörsdorf – Abandoned Flight Academy in the GDR

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The area around the small town of Jüterbog – located 60 miles south of Berlin – has a long military tradition, with storages, barracks and training installations in place since the years of the Kaiser and Bismarck, about mid-19th century.

The region was selected for building one of the first flight academies in Germany before WWI, and flight activities with airships and other exotic flying material from the early age of aviation took place in those years.

Much was forcibly dismantled following the defeat of Germany in 1918, but the place regained primary attention with the advent of Hitler and the Nazi party to power. Among the various military installations built in the area, a modern flight academy was erected anew – baptized ‘Fliegertechnische Schule Niedergörsdorf’.

Initial technical training for both ground and flying staff of the Luftwaffe was imparted here until the break out of WWII and the conquest of Poland, when the academy moved to Warsaw.

The extensive group of buildings in Jüterbog retained a primary role in the advanced training of flight officers and engineers, aircraft and engine technicians. Technical personnel were trained to operate innovative weapon systems, in collaboration with research centers of the Luftwaffe.

With the end of the war the region fell under Soviet rule, and the military facilities – including the academy, which survived the war largely intact – were reassigned to various functions.

Info is available in less detail about this part of the story, as typical with military bases in the territories occupied by the Soviets… Part of the buildings of the academy were used again for training staff of tank divisions, but also a KGB station was reportedly activated there. As with most Soviet installations, it was given back to reunified Germany by 1994.

The place is since then abandoned, but differently from other sites formerly managed by the Soviets, it has been inscribed in the registry of landmark buildings, being an interesting specimen of Nazi military architecture.

Following WWII, the nearby airbase of Jüterbog – about a mile south of the academy complex – was operated both by East German (GDR) and Soviet air combat groups, until the Russians left in 1992. Soon after, the airport was permanently closed and partly dismantled. Unlike other Soviet bases in the GDR, flying units there never upgraded to MiG-29, so the aircraft shelters you can see there are of the oldest types.

I would suggest visiting the site for two reasons, a) the uniqueness of the architectural composition, with much of what you see dating back from the Nazi era – you can clearly notice the typical Nazi ‘sheer grandeur’, differing from the often poor and shabby Soviet military architecture… b) the very famous mural of the Soviet Soldier, which apart from the result of a little attack by an ignorant writer, is still in an almost perfect shape.

The following photographs were taken in late August 2016.

Sights

Niedergörsdorf Flight Academy

It should be pointed out that this place is actually off-limits, and there are clear prohibition signs at least on the front gate. Furthermore, it is not an isolated installation, but surrounded by other buildings, close to a small but active railway station and not far from a supermarket. Accessing the site via the blocked main gate is clearly not possible.

Finding an easy way in is not difficult, but standing to the signs on the gate, the place is also actively guarded, so you should be quick and concentrated when moving around. In order to shorten your time in, I suggest turning your attention to the northernmost part of the site.

Walking along the northern perimeter inside the base some Cold War, not very artistically significant murals can be spotted on the external wall made of the usual Soviet concrete slabs.

From there you can easily reach the semicircular building of the grand hall, probably the most notable of the base, and the one where the famous mural of the Soviet Soldier is.

When moving around the corner from the back to the front façade of the building, you find yourself on the road leading to the blocked main gate. You may be spotted from outside the base, so be careful.

Once in the area in front of the semicircular building, you can see to the south a nice perspective of the other buildings of the academy, surrounding a large inner court.

The inside of the main semicircular building – which should not be accessed – is in a state of disrepair.

There are two main floors and a less interesting third attic floor.

The beautiful mural of the Soviet Soldier can be easily found close to the stairs.

Here are some other details of this nice and sober example of Soviet monumental art.

Many other parts of the lower floors are covered in painted decorations, but these were probably of lower quality with respect to the Soviet Soldier – which appears to be a real fresco – and are today falling from the walls.

Another highlight of the visit to this building is the grand theatre. You should consider going with a tripod and/or a powerful torchlight for getting better photos than these, for the room is totally dark. Very creepy, btw…!

On the former part of the sports arena to the west of the building complex it is possible to spot a new little gym. Possibly to your surprise you will find the place is still run by a sporting club – this is nice, also for getting a better idea of how the place looked like when it was an active training center. On the cons side, walking around undercover is not easy, and maybe you are violating a private property ‘no trespassing’ instruction – even though I didn’t notice any.

An interesting part of the sports arena is the abandoned pool, which I guess was already part of the Nazi construction plan too – check photographs of postcards of the time on the Internet.

To get an impression of the complex from above, you may have a look to aerial pictures taken during a dedicated flight, reported here.

Jüterbog Airbase

A quick visit to the airbase south of the academy can reveal some interesting sights, including aircraft shelters from the early Cold War era which have been converted to hay storages or garages for agricultural vehicles. Many former taxiways can be freely accessed by car, some of them have been turned into ‘official’ roads. Also the apron in front of the large maintainance hangars can be accessed with a car with no restriction.

A small aeroclub operates with trikes from a new narrow grass runway in the northwestern part of the field, so access to this part of the field is restricted. Interestingly, much of the external fence with barbed wire is still in place around this area.

Other activities on site include go-karting. To the east of the base, part of the shelters are occupied by a strange new ‘futuristic town’, similar to what you find in the former Soviet base at Rechlin/Laerz.

For a comprehensive set of aerial pictures of the base, taken during a flight over the area, have a look to this post.

Compared to other Soviet bases in East Germany, Jüterbog doesn’t offer much to the curious urban explorer today. Yet due to the vicinity of the flight academy it’s surely worth a visit. Furthermore, the countryside around is nice – apart from the unpleasant sight of a real forest of wind turbines! – so you may choose to have a walk around just for pleasure.

Getting there and moving around

Reaching the former flight academy is an easy task. The main gate is on Kastanienallee, Niedergörsdorf, and it can be accessed with a 0.1 miles walk from the Altes Lager railway station, again in Niedergorsdorf, Brandenburg. There is a convenient small parking besides the railway station. In case you want to explore the site, I would suggest considering this as a trailhead.

The area of Niedergörsdorf and Jüterbog can be reached in about 1 h 15 min from downtown Berlin by car. This is my preferred way for moving around – I hate having tight schedules when exploring! – but reaching the ‘operational zone’ by train from Berlin would take probably a bit less.

For visiting the base at Jüterbog you will need a car. Driving on the former taxiways is part of the fun when touring the base!

There are aircraft shelters both on the northern and southern sides of the runway, which is oriented in an east-western direction. The most convenient to come close to are those on the northern side, but be careful not to interfere with the many private businesses around. Barb wire fence can be found on the northwestern corner of the base.

I would suggest having a quick look at the Google map of the area for deciding how to move around. I wouldn’t rate these two ‘attractions’ difficult to visit in terms of physical barriers or when it comes to keeping the right course.

Vogelsang – Soviet Nuclear Base in the GDR

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‘The lost city of Vogelsang’ – this is the complete name often attributed to this former Soviet installation built under Stalin’s rule in 1952, located about 35 miles north of Berlin in the former territory of the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR, or DDR in German). Actually, the base was among the first three of the kind in size, housing about 15.000 Soviet troops of tank and artillery divisions, service staff and their families – much more residents than the majority of ‘normal’ cities in the region.

In the case of Vogelsang, two facts add to the usual grim aura of a deserted Soviet base.

Firstly, it was never much publicized among the locals, being large enough to contain all services needed by the troops and their families – it was basically a ‘secret base’. The trees now invading all free areas between the skeletons of the remaining buildings were not there until the early Nineties, when Russian troops left the former territory of the GDR – during 1994. Yet even when it was active, the place was hidden from the eyes of those passing by, thanks to the very rich vegetation. Its very location, pretty far away from everything, surely helped in shrouding it into secrecy.

Secondarily, at least in one instance in recent history, in the years of Khrushchev, of the latest Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, this place was used for the deployment of an arsenal of strategic missiles pointing to European targets, reportedly in core Europe and Britain. Much confusion exists about dates and many details are missing – the deployment was so secret that even the government of the GDR didn’t know about it, so the existence of the base and its role are a somewhat ‘inconvenient reminder’ of the recent past for Germany. Today this base is still really hard to spot.

Anyway, I visited the site in late August 2016, and again in August 2017 and July 2019, and I took the following photographs. While from the sequence of my visits it is apparent that the installation is quickly decaying, thanks to the combined action of the government and of ignorant writers, both showing a bothering null respect for history, there is still something left to see. I give also some basic info for getting to this site on your own.

Getting there and moving around

The village of Vogelsang can be reached by car from downtown Berlin in about 1 h 30 min – the road distance is about 40 miles, but a substantial part of the itinerary follows local roads, resulting in a pretty long time needed. Be careful when pointing your nav, for there are several towns named ‘Vogelsang’ in Germany. This one is in Brandenburg, located north of Berlin, along the road 109. The closest major town is Zehdenick, a few miles to the south of Vogelsang on the same road 109.

As usual with military bases, there is a railway track reaching Vogelsang, and getting there by train is of course possible. During my stay I heard the whistle of various trains passing there – even though I noticed only a very small station and nobody around, so possibly there’s no ticketing service. I noticed the scheduled time for arriving by train from Berlin is identical to that needed moving with a car. If you don’t want to be forced to stick to timetables, I suggest going by car.

Once there, I parked my car on the grass close to the only crossroad in town – where the 109 is crossed by Burgwaller Strasse. I parked behind the info table – there is obviously no info on the base, just about ‘regular’ nature trails in the area. Nobody complained about me parking there, and I found my car intact about six hours later…

Burgwaller Strasse crosses the railway and heads straight into the ‘zone’. Please note that soon after crossing the railway a) the road is not paved any more, b) there are prohibition signs about vehicle traffic, so you can’t go further with a car.

For moving around you will need an electronic map and possibly a GPS, cause the site is huge, and the area is covered with trees and vegetation, and many former roads are not visible any more, so getting lost is pretty easy. Moreover, from Google maps you can’t spot much from above, because of the trees. This makes a GPS + map of the site very important for the particular case of this site, differently from other bases.

I used my iPhone and it worked perfectly. Just install the free Ulmon (aka CityMaps2Go) app (app website here) and download the offline Brandenburg map – this provides an incredible detail. Furthermore, there is a strong Internet signal over most of the base – strangely enough, the area is well covered.

Anyway, if you don’t want to depend on the Internet once there, you can pinpoint the places you are more interested in on the offline Ulmon map before going – I did also this as a backup, cause I didn’t know whether Internet would be working.

I suggest not to overlook this point. Thinking back, I would have hardly made it without a cell phone with a GPS + map. You have to walk in the trees quite a bit before reaching any buildings. The trees hide everything and you can easily get disoriented – wasting much time moving around. Everything is solved with a GPS and a good map.

Over three visits, I spent almost 14 hours touring the place. During my first visit (lasting about 6 hours), I just concentrated on the southernmost part of it, which is of course the richest in remains, electing not to reach the launch pads closer to the village of Beutel (see this chapter). On that first visit, I walked approximately 11 miles standing to my iPhone, so be ready to walk. Even though there are no great physical barriers for moving around, the place is really abandoned and vegetation is wild. Probably you will need to walk in nettles and brambles at some point, so choose your clothes and shoes carefully.

On the plus side, you will see much wildlife!

Many interesting sights are outdoor, some are indoor. As usual, all abandoned buildings, except perhaps the nuclear storage bunkers that are very sturdy, must be considered dangerous. You should observe through the windows or enter at your own risk.

Sights

Missile Launch Pad

This is the southernmost, isolated launch pad on the site. You can see a concrete platform at the level of the ground about 20 feet long, with metal holding points. It was used to anchor missile-carrying trucks before tilting the missile canister vertical and preparing for launch. It is highly probable that the missile system intended to be installed here was the R5 ‘Pobeda’, NATO codename SS-3 ‘Shyster’. The relatively small range of this missile is in support of a deployment in a region so close to the border with european NATO Countries (see this chapter also for a general map of the missile installations in this area).

The road leading to the missile pad and from there to the main complex of the base today is barely visible. Traces of a barbed wire fence, delimiting the external perimeter of the base, can be found here, together with a network of trenches and dips once needed for the missile launch system (which included technical trailers with generators, control system panels, …).

The territory of the base is scattered with tokens from their former owners, from mugs to batteries, to military material of all sorts.

Southeastern Inner Access Post

Walking along the barbed wire fence from the missile launch pads to the core of the base, you will come across a long concrete wall. Soviet bases are often divided into sealed sectors. Access to the ‘service part’ of the base, with living quarters, schools, … was past this wall. The gate has disappeared, but you can find traces of it where the wall is interrupted and a concrete-paved road points into it. A cage for watchdogs can be found close to this checkpoint.

In a first building for the guards, with window railings, look for Russian writings even on the ground.

Buildings by the entrance post include a garage with writings in Cyrillic, with an apron for maneuvering trucks or cars. On the cranes inside the garage, you can find inscriptions by the Soviet troops occupying the base. Leaving this type of ‘autograph’ was typical for Soviet troops (see for instance the traces left in the theater of bases in Poland, here).

Nearby the entrance, a clubhouse, visitor center, or something alike can be found, with a pleasant architecture – large windows and a bar.

Entertainment Quarters

Two main buildings here, a movie theater and a clubhouse.

The theater is still in good shape. Some of the original lights and traces of the performance program board can be seen outside.

The road leading to the front entrance is still visible, but the façade is not imposing any more, for trees are now hiding it.

Signs and propaganda posters in Cyrillic alphabet and with photos can be spotted here and all around the base.

The café, with an original banner in Cyrillic, can be spotted to the left of the theater, close by a small warehouse with a loading platform.

Some kitchen furniture and gear can be still spotted around.

Between the theater and café buildings, you can find an incredible Soviet sculpture. The most striking feature you can see in the pics is a portrait of Lenin!

The Lenin panel was moved in 2017 to a Soviet-themed museum in Wünsdorf (see this dedicated chapter about this incredible place and its museum). The rest of the mural was there as of 2019, still reasonably resisting to the weather and spoilers.

Mural monuments are among the most interesting features of Vogelsang. Not far from this base, you can find another example of these Soviet creations described in this chapter.

Children School

This is rather creepy – even the curtains are still in place on some windows…! On the ground floor you can access a small gym.

Much of the heating system – made in Germany – is still in place.

On the first floor some very interesting murals can be easily spotted, together with traces of a small theater and special classrooms for language teaching and other purposes.

Soldiers Sports Ground

This has been turned into a corn field. Something of the original tribunes still stay, with original decoration made from parts of machinery I guess.

Water/Heating Plant

A small water pumping/heating plant occupies a building nearby the gym (see next section). Traces of the original hardware can be found, with writing in Russian.

Also a small living room, likely belonging to a technician looking after plant, is part of this small construction. Traces of the original curtains are still there! Unofficial writing in Cyrillic can be found on the concrete wall making for a small backyard to the plant.

Soldiers Gym

Very creepy! Gym apparel, subscription forms, record boards and gym gear still around…

To the back you can spot a former Turkish bath with no roof and trees in it.

Soldiers Barracks

There are pretty many buildings of the same kind aligned along a still visible concrete paved road between the school and the training center. Many of these buildings look like being close to collapsing. Some interesting halls and various items can be found in some of them.

Soldiers Canteens & Training Center

There are various canteens and entertainment centers scattered over the territory of the base.

Some nice murals in pure Russian naïve style can be found in some of the buildings. Some of the halls are very very large.

Among the most notable features in Vogelsang, a peculiar tank simulator and a small but very deep pool, for training purposes, can still be found in a dedicated training building.

Unfortunately the door appears to be blocked by a collapsed roof or something, but you can reach or at least see the features of interest through broken windows.

Base Headquarter

The headquarter of the soviet base in Vogelsang sit in a two-levels building with an imposing facade. Today you can see the remnants of a porter’s office, giving access to the main staircase.

Climbing to the upper floor, you reach a hall with a wooden canopy. Two corridors leading to the offices of the military staff depart from there.

From a 2020 visit, this building has taken a particularly rotting appearance, and maybe it is not going to last for long.

Mural of Soviet Triumphs & Soviet Soldier, plus Buildings Nearby

This is an incredible mural, about 60 feet long, with various symbolic scenes – army power, technology and agriculture, family and helpful society and housing for everybody.

A collection of Soviet emblems follows. This mural contributes greatly to the uniqueness of Vogelsang in the panorama of Soviet bases!

Turning your head 90 degrees to the right from this mural, you will see an artistically pleasant giant head of soldier, embossed on the side of a building. Differently from the mural nearby, this is of some artistic value. The head was still there during my next visits, even though writers have attacked the base of the wall where it is standing, and the plaster is starting to fail. Who knows how long this old guardian will stand, recalling the past splendor of Soviet Vogelsang with his sad expression?

Close by, it is possible to find scant remains of other propaganda gears, like a three-steps stand for speaking, a bigger one in the shape of a Red Banner flag made in concrete and bricks, and an adjoining painted mural with planes, ships and soldiers. Unique!