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 ‘Monolith’ Nuclear Bunkers in Poland – Survivors & Ghosts

Since the beginning caught in the storm of WWII, Poland saw its border changed again in 1945 by the Western Allies and the USSR – the lack of natural borders meant that fate for this Country several times over the centuries. Furthermore, as a massive flow of Soviet forces had been pivotal in repelling Hitler’s forces, similar to other nations sharing a border with the USSR, Poland found itself deep in the sphere of influence of Stalin’s Soviet Union. A communist dictatorship was installed starting 1945, due to last until the end of communism in Europe in 1989.

As a matter of fact, Poland turned out to be by far the most populated and largest of Eastern Bloc countries. Strategically placed in the middle between the USSR and free Western Europe, with a wide section of the Baltic shoreline and a huge, mostly flat territory, similar to the German Democratic Republic nearby, Poland was the theater of a significant militarization effort by the Soviets. Not only the Polish army received Soviet war material in large stocks over the full span of the Cold War, but the Red Army also actually had significant assets scattered over Polish territory – its huge Northern Group of Forces being stationed there, with tanks, aircraft, dedicated bases, firing ranges, as well as several tens of thousand troops and their families, making for a kind of military colony of the USSR.

What is possibly less known is that also Soviet nuclear weapons were stationed in some satellites of the USSR, like the GDR (see this and this chapters, for instance), Hungary (see this chapter), and of course Poland.

Some elements of the global picture have been introduced in another chapter, dealing among other things with a Basalt-type bunker built for storing air-launched nuclear systems, on the premises of the Soviet airbase of Wiechlice (Szprotawa). Yet as can be argued from the general map of of nuclear depots known to Western intelligence, dating from 1979 (‘Warsaw Pact Forces Opposite NATO’, Vol.I-II, CREST record number 0005517771, declassified and released in 2010, here), there were also three major depots of the Monolith-type in Poland. Similar to Stolzenhain and Lychen in the former GDR (see this post), these depots were larger, multi-chamber storage facilities, intended to store primarily missile warheads for longer periods, for instance to complement the SCUD launch system for theater missiles.

The uniqueness of Poland in the panorama of Cold War archaeology lies in a generally positive attitude towards preserving some traces of this dramatic piece of recent history, when the map of Europe was markedly different from now, and the western world found itself multiple times on the verge of a nuclear confrontation, to be fought on the very territory of now wealthy Core Europe. As a result, an impressive number of war museums putting on display military stuff from all the 20th century can be found scattered over the broad territory of today’s Poland.

Even more important, a certain number of former Soviet military installations are being either actively preserved, or at least not condemned through demolition works or re-assignment to improbable new uses. This is despite a totally justified negative attitude towards the Soviet occupation forces and communist dictatorship. This attitude marks an unusual difference between the cultural attitude of the fierce Polish people towards recent military history and Soviet occupation, with respect for instance to Germany or Hungary, where the comprehensible dislike for the Soviets has taken a shape in leaving behind – i.e. more or less demolishing – every trace of a Soviet military presence, and especially in the former, reducing military museums to a minimum.

Among the most prominent Cold War relics you can find in Poland are the three Monolith-type nuclear warhead bunkers mentioned above. One of them – the Podborsko site – has been restored with 90% original material, and makes for a world-class, top-tier museum in the panorama of Cold War military history. The other two, Brzeznica-Kolonia and Templewo, have been left to nature and have now become ‘Soviet ghosts’, but they are advertised with panels, providing some info, and while access is not encouraged, a quick look inside the bunkers, as well as freely walking in the former premises of these bases, is of course possible.

This post covers these three Monolith-type sites, with a focus on the unique preserved Podborsko site, which needs to be on the shortlist of everyone with an interest in Cold War technology, as well as in the history of the nuclear stockpile. All sites were visited, and all photographs taken, on a trip to western Poland in summer 2020.

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Sights

All three sites are in northwestern Poland. GPS coordinates are provided in the respective sections. Despite being not too much afar from each other, due the relatively slow connection roads in the area, visiting all three places in one day is not possible. Furthermore, the area is quite dense in both general interest and Cold War related destinations, so I would advise planning a trip to this region of Poland and listing these sites among other destinations.

Podborsko Site – Objekt 3001

A good specimen of a Monolith site, Podborsko – or Objekt 3001, as per the official military listing of the Cold War years – was centered on two large half-interred bunker, each with two big side-wards opening tight doors at ground level, providing access to the interior with the trolleys used to move the nuclear warheads from the transport trucks to the cellars.

For an increased protection in case of an attack to the site – likely listed among targets of strategic value by Western Countries – a second tight door was put immediately next to the external one, creating a tight, blast resisting and insulated airlock between the interior of the bunker and the outside world.

Both doors to the two ends of the airlock can be – and are – opened via a manual crank system. Two men are needed to actually move the doors however – they are really heavy! A servo-assisted system was in place originally.

An interesting detail is the original sensor for the door status, part of a security system of the base.

Similar to their US counterparts, the Soviets took the problem of security of the nuclear arsenal pretty seriously. Each door on the path followed by the warhead from the outside to the cellar, including the airlock doors as well as the cellar doors inside the bunker, were associated to a trigger. When the corresponding door was opened, the trigger sent a signal via a dedicated cable link to the headquarters of a dedicated branch of the Red Army offices in Moscow, Russia, which was kept constantly updated on the status of each critical door in the depot. The link was via purpose-designed vacuum-protected cables – the actual wiring ran along a vacuum manifold, so that in case of the cable was bitten and the vacuum manifold collapsed, an emergency signal was immediately sent to the nearest nodes of the network, allowing surveillance staff to intervene promptly.

The opening of and closing procedure of the airlock doors involved communication with a post in Moscow too, which started with the local guards communicating their intention to open the doors via a system housed in a blue cabinet besides the tight door. As the signal traveled from the bunker to the headquarters and back, the opening of an airlock was not a quick operation! Original writings in pencil can still be found in the cabinet.

Past the airlock, you land on an elevated concrete platform. From here the warheads were moved to the underground floor via a mechanical crane. This is still standing today, with limit indications in Russian.

From the platform you get an excellent lookout of the bunker structure. You can see a twin suspended platform to the opposite end of the underground floor, with a tight door shut closed. Along the long sides of the main hall, on the underground level you see several doors. On the right hand side, big sliding doors painted in white give access to the cellars, where the warheads spent most of their time in rest. On the opposite side are smaller man-sized doors, giving access to the technical area, with provision for the men of the permanent bunker watch.

The stairs leading downstairs are among the few complements to the original structure – they have been put in place to ease visiting. Originally, the underground floor could be reached from the suspended platform only via a lateral manhole with a vertical metal latter.

The warheads are long gone today – the site was built in the late 1960s, and was emptied of its strategically relevant content in the late 1980s, to be finally ceded back to the Polish government after the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Europe. The cellars today are mainly empty, and used to showcase interesting items related to the site.

First, you can see a scale model of the entire site. In Soviet times, the place was a full scale military base. It included a separated area with living facilities for the troops and their families, who ran the base with both technical and surveillance tasks. Today, this area has been taken over by the government, and used as a prison – Podborsko is rather secluded and far from populated areas on the Baltic coast. Furthermore, as said there used to be two twin bunkers. Today only one has been restored, whereas the other is sealed and waiting for reuse. Between the sectors of the base multiple fences with barbed wire, concrete walls, foxholes and other deterring/defense devices and systems were in place, making the innermost part of the base with the bunkers rather inaccessible.

An original armored cabinet from the time of operation is still in the corner of a cellar, its original use is uncertain.

In another cellar you can find everyday items and relics from Soviet presence in the area. These range from toothpaste to children’s toys. Also more military-related items, like cartridge boxes and even original Soviet military dog tags have been found scattered over the area!

You can also find weapons, a scheme of the base in Russian, anti-radiation suits, and parts of the body, control and guidance systems of a Soviet SCUD theater missile – the corresponding warheads being the main business in Podborsko. There is also a copy of the plan of an attack scenario for Western Europe, showing some targets on the respective sides of the Iron Curtain.

One of the cellars has been left empty, with a mock-up of a warhead, resting on one of the original trolleys. This is particularly evoking, despite being just one out of the high number of warheads usually stored in a cellar. The actual number of warheads residing in each Soviet storage over the years is still today not totally clear. However, reportedly former Soviet staff support there was in a single Monolith bunker in Poland enough nuclear material for the whole attack plan over Europe, meaning a number of several tens warheads per site.