Missiles in Germany – The Live Exhibition of the Society of Military History in Demen

Heading to Berlin or the former GDR? Looking for traces of the Cold War open for a visit?

A Travel Guide to COLD WAR SITES in EAST GERMANY

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The armed forces of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), named NVA (‘Nationalen Volksarmee’, or National People’s Army), and the Western Group of Forces of the USSR coexisted on the territory of the communist-led GDR for the entire duration of the Cold War. They were basically independent from one another at least in terms of organization. The NVA was sized according to the interests of a highly militarized, but relatively small country in the core of Europe, and its vocation was mainly tactical. Nonetheless, the NVA boasted several branches, and in particular a land army, an air force and a navy.

Actually, the attack plan of the USSR in Europe – constantly updated over the years – foresaw a total, ‘one-shot’ massive attack aimed at reaching the North Sea coast in the shortest time possible, starting from the border with the West, thus primarily from the GDR, and making use of tactical nuclear weapons on key-targets in Western Europe. An involvement of all Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact – beside the Soviet Red Army – was part of the plan, and as a result especially the good level of the military supply of the GDR was always a concern in the eyes of war planners in the Eastern Bloc.

When thinking of missiles and the Cold War, images of the parades on the Red Square in Moscow typically come to one’s mind. However, local national Armies of nations in the Warsaw Pact indeed had armed forces on their own, and usually also missile brigades incorporated in them.

This is the case of the NVA, which was fed by the USSR with the most advanced rocket technology, as soon as missiles grew in size and reliability to become significant warfare items. An excellence of Soviet rocket warfare has been the great care for the advanced deployment and ease of transportation of any assets, partly dictated by the infrastructural difficulties of a country so huge and so extreme in terms of terrain conditions and seasonal changes as the USSR. Actually, Soviet transport vehicles for missiles since the early 1960s matched missiles of virtually any sizes, of course including those for theater operations, which are intermediately compact and lightweight, especially when compared to larger, heavier and longer-range strategic missiles.

The arsenal of the NVA in terms of missiles was kept up to date between the early 1960s – as said, the beginning of serious rocket-based warfare and correspondingly war action plans, also in the West – and the end of the Cold War. Following bilateral Soviet-US disarmament treaties in the late 1980s, a transition period was started, obviously influenced by the 1989 anti-communist revolution and the starting of the German reunification process. The NVA was dissolved and its assets incorporated in the armed forces of Federal Germany in 1990. Due to the changed global relationships following the collapse of the USSR, most rocket forces in Europe, originally intended to fight a war on the continent, were significantly reduced or totally disbanded.

In its heyday, the missile forces of the NVA totaled two regular Brigades, incorporated in the land forces of the NVA, and eleven independent Brigades. They were supplied over the years with SCUD-A/B, Luna and Oka missile and corresponding transport/launch vehicles in various versions. The warheads supplied to the NVA were usually conventional. However provision was made for nuclear warheads, which were always kept under the direct control of the Soviets in two purpose-built nuclear depots (see this post).

An excerpt of the rich history of the rocket forces of the NVA can be reviewed visiting the nice exhibition of the ‘Militärhistorischer Verein Demen’, which translates into ‘Society of Military History of Demen’, located in the homonym village in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the northernmost district of the former GDR. It is easily reachable less than one hour driving inland from Lübeck or Rostock on the Baltic Coast. The display of this society of enthusiasts reaches even further, documenting the presence of missile forces of the US and within the Bundeswehr of Federal Germany, supplied with American material during the Cold War.

This post covers this very nice and lively collection, really special both in terms of items on display, and for the fact that most vehicles there are still in working order – when visiting, you will have good chances to see them moving around!

Photographs were taken in 2021.

Sights

The base in Demen became active between 1975 and 1977, when the 5th Mobile Rocket Technical Base (BRTB-5) and later the 5th Rocket Brigade (5. RBr) of the NVA moved in with all their assets. The 5. RBr had been originally formed in 1962 with another name (Autonomous Artillery Brigade sABr-2), and supplied with SCUD-A missiles. In 1964 it converted to SCUD-B theater missiles. It was re-founded as the 5. RBr only in 1967.

In 1985 it was resupplied with the SS-23 Spider (aka Oka, or 9M714 in Soviet coding). The INF treaty signed in 1987 by President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev targeted that type of missile, which was therefore short-lived, and disposed of as soon as 1990 in the NVA (later Bundeswehr).

The exhibition in Demen offers an insight in the missile types in use by the NVA. They have been placed inside a building of the former NVA military base on site, which following disbandment of the NVA has been converted into a multi-functional facility, with local companies and diverse businesses taking over the hangars, warehouses and residential buildings.

A complete 9P113 Soviet-made launcher for the old Luna (NATO: Frog) missile is on display, with the missile on top of it.

Right besides is a cutaway exemplar of the highly-successful Soviet BTR-60 armored personnel transport vehicle. The twin-engined propulsion system is clearly visible.

The collection in Demen is unique in having some fully working vehicles on display.

The bulkiest and most impressive is surely the movable launcher 9P71 for the Oka missile. This eight-wheeled truck can be seen in the pictures sheltered in a hangar, or moving around the premises of the former NVA base!

In this video you can see the vehicle displaying the movable crane – still perfectly operative – for maneuvering the missile.

In this other video you can see the launcher carefully coming back into the hangar, following a live display.

Another vehicle from the Eastern Bloc and still in fully working condition is this technical van UAZ-452. Not only it can move on its wheels and engine, but it looks still perfectly equipped!

The collection in Demen is not exclusively devoted to the Eastern Bloc or the GDR either. Instead, you can find both static and ‘live’ items on display from the NATO side of the Iron Curtain. The latter include a M752 amphibious vehicle for transporting the Lance missile.

This vehicle with tracks was highly popular in the US and many NATO countries, including Federal Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Another unusual living exemplar is that of a Swedish Hägglunds Bandvagn BV-206, aka SUSV in the US Army. A very versatile tracked vehicle with a trailer made for the snowy terrains of Scandinavia and the Polar continents as well, today running around the former NVA base in Demen!

Three warheads from US missiles deployed on the territory of the FRG are on static display, allowing for a nice size and shape comparison. They are a Pershing, Honest John and Sergeant warheads, all theater missiles from different stages of the Cold War. On the outside, a fully assembled Honest John is similarly on display.

The Soviet-made missiles on display are a Luna, an Oka and a SCUD. The Luna, painted in gray, is partly cut to show the inside mechanisms and arrangement. Also the corresponding warhead has been cut to show the inside structure.

The pretty rare Oka missile has not been cut – a true icon from the Cold War in the mid-1980s!

The SCUD has been separated from its warhead, and partly cut and cleverly lighted to show the inside plants and arrangement.

Besides the SCUD also some original parts of the guidance system have been put on display, together with some technical testing/monitoring material of Soviet or East-German make – note the writing in Cyrillic.

Display cases all around host original technical material, many fantastic models mainly from the arsenal of the NVA and Red Army during the Cold War, as well as exceptionally detailed and informative panels concerning the history of the missile forces of the NVA (as well as specifically on some of the missile systems on display).

Many evocative photographs and videos from the days of operation complete the display in the hangar.

Some very rare artifacts are from the early stage of rocketry, and include components of von Braun’s first works – most notably the V2 – from the Third Reich era.

A second branch of the exhibition, physically hosted in another building of the complex, is composed of the two rooms packed with memorabilia items mainly from the history of the 5. RBr

These include books, photographs, and beautiful memorial crests, especially from joint exercises carried out with the Red Army with live firing of the missiles in a dedicated polygon in Kapustin Yar. People taking part to these exercises – held back in the 1980s – are now volunteering in the Society, and you may be so lucky to meet them for a nice talk and for getting a more lively insight on the history of the NVA rocket Brigades. Staff from the 5. RBr deployed to the polygon by land, and the original map retracing their movements across the USSR is on display.

Also on display are original technical boards displaying some operating concepts for the Oka missile – in Russian, a one-of-a-kind relic of the Cold War years!

Getting there & Visiting

The small village of Demen is located in the northeastern quarter of Germany, about 25 miles from the Baltic shoreline, 45 miles from Rostock and 55 miles from Lübeck, both port towns on the Baltic sea. You can reach the display by car here. Access to the former NVA complex, now called Evita complex, is via the road L091, to the west of Demen.

One of the many hangars in the Evita complex hosts the collection, and the memorabilia rooms are in an adjoining building. Opening times are very limited (basically in the weekends), but this is due to the fact that they coincide with volunteers’ gatherings. On the plus side, you are likely to see at some vehicles running.

For interested subjects a time of 1 hour may be the minimum for a visit to the static display, if no vehicles are moving around. If there are live displays, or volunteers to interview, you may spend there 2 hours or more.

German is obviously the main language spoken (and often times the only option in this part of Germany), but English is nonetheless understood and spoken by some of the volunteers. Website here.

Stalin in Georgia

The republic of Georgia, located on the Caucasian isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, was founded in the turmoil following the collapse of the Czarist Empire during WWI. Located on the border with Turkey, at that time this region tried to untie from neighbor Russia, and proclaimed a libertarian socialist state.

Following the seizure of power by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, producing a devastating civil war which would go on raging all over the former Russian-controlled territory well into the 1920s, Georgia lost its independence, being sucked into the Soviet Union, similar to many other nations sharing a border with Russia – like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Latvia, etc.

A country with a remarkable wealth of history, inhabited since when traces of mankind started to appear on earth, with a deeply rooted Christian culture since centuries, a strong independence movement started to show in Georgia already in the 1980s, when the Soviet system was still destined to last for long in the eyes of many western observers. This independence feeling would culminate in the republic of Georgia leaving the USSR months before its actual end, already in early 1991. Since then, the country is openly hostile to Russia, and the formation in the early 2000s of two de facto Russian-backed independent states – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – over the sovereign territory of Georgia witnesses a mutual state of tension between Tbilisi and Moscow, still lasting today.

Despite this, and almost paradoxically, the Georgian individual possibly best known to the general public and to the world is an eminent communist character, a one-of-a-kind contributor to the history of the USSR and of the world – and someone would say, the most authentic incarnation of a communist leader – Stalin.

While Georgia, most comprehensibly, is striving to delete every tangible trace of the Soviet era – from statues to symbols and pieces of architecture – a few notable exceptions include some of Stalin-related relics in the country. In Gori, Stalin’s hometown, the house where Stalin was born is preserved under a bombastic Soviet-era canopy. Nearby, a unique museum dedicated to the Soviet leader, opened back in the late 1950s with a display of incredible memorabilia, is reportedly the most successful attraction in town, with crowds of visitors still today.

In an old district in Tbilisi you can find another unique point of interest – the so-called Stalin Printing House Museum. It was in this unapparent house that young Stalin operated as a pro-communist clandestine agitator in the early 20th century, well before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

This post covers these Stalin-related remains in the man’s home country, with photographs taken in summer 2019.

Sights

Joseph Stalin Museum – Gori

Stalin’s hometown, where he was born in 1878, is dominated by a scenic ancient fortress, sitting on top of an isolated mound. At the time of Stalin’s birth, that was also the geographic center of the town. When Stalin became… Stalin, his birthplace was turned into a place of pilgrimage, and a new purely-Soviet master plan was implemented in the city, creating a new gravitational center around the modest house of his parents.

The long axis which drives you from the major access road and the railway station south of the city to the house follows an almost north-south direction. A typically Soviet alley – straight, too wide and with mostly sad-looking buildings to the sides – links a bridge over the local river to to the house, going through a square with the town hall, built in a Soviet classicist style. A tall statue of Stalin used to stand on the side of the square, and it was torn down only in the 2000s.

Closer to the house, the alley bifurcates into a ‘Y’. Between the arms of the ‘Y’ you can find a garden with fountains and flowers.

To the far end of the garden, the small half-timbered house where Stalin’s parents used to live is preserved under a Soviet-style canopy.

Stalin’s parents were not well-to-do, and they actually rent the house, where they occupied only one room. Back in the 19th century, it was just one in a row of similar buildings. Following the radical reshaping of the area for celebrating the Soviet leader, the whole neighborhood was completely demolished, and only this block was left.

On the side and front facade of the house are marble signs in Russian and Georgian. The ceiling of the canopy features a stained glass light, with hammer and sickle signs by the corners.

To the back of the birthplace you can find a smaller statue of Stalin. Considering his generally acknowledged status as a bloody communist dictator, similar open air statues have been removed almost everywhere in the world – this is one of the few remaining exceptions (another being in Belarus, but most likely apocryphal – look for Stalin’s line museum here).

The most conspicuous building in this celebratory installation is the actual Joseph Stalin Museum, which occupies a pretty large palace in Stalinist style. The master plan dates back to the final years of Stalin, and its realization was carried out during the 1950s.

The building is interesting from an architectural viewpoint, and features a colonnaded porch giving access to a main entrance hall.

The latter is rather formal, with another colonnade and a perspective leading through a staircase to a mezzanine. In the focus of the perspective you can see another statue of Stalin. Every particular in the architecture here is extremely Soviet – grim, menacing, heavy.

The ticket and toilets can be accessed to the sides of the hall on the ground floor, which acts also as a meeting point for groups – but guided visits are not compulsory, you can tour the museum on your own.

Upon reaching the first floor, you meet two busts of Stalin, and a couple of interesting paintings, portraying the young Josip Vissarionovich Dzugansvili – Stalin’s its real name – as a student talking to his class mates at the seminary of Tbilisi, and later as grown-up, well-established Stalin talking to his collaborators.

The museum is composed of a few big halls. The first rooms retrace Stalin’s personal story, and are based on a mix of documents, original or reproduced, newspapers, paintings and photographs. The latter are often reproductions, often magnified – since when he was not yet famous he mostly appeared in group photographs.

Here you learn about his humble origins, and you can see the photographs of his parents, his early school reports and the first known photographs of Josip as a young boy.

A rather brilliant pupil, he was granted access to the Orthodox seminary in Tbilisi – which back then was called Tiflis – where he moved to attend lectures and to grow to become a priest. Some works of poetry from the time, published on local newspapers in Georgian, are part of the exhibition.

Something went wrong at that time, as he got excessively fascinated with the leftmost socialist theories, spread by several authors including Lenin. A rare naive portrait of his meeting with the principal of the seminary, when he was expelled for his unacceptable and dangerous views, is part of the collection.

This was the beginning of a militancy period, when he became known to the department of internal affairs of the Czar due to open subversive propaganda activities. He worked irregularly, publishing clandestine works in Tbilisi (see about his printing house below), holding open-air meetings in port town Batumi, and so on.

Finally, he was arrested and deported by the Czar to inland Russia. As his fame grew, he was tasked with some role in the apparatus of the clandestine political formations headed by Lenin – the factions against the Czar and even in the socialist area were many, and the intricate civil war that followed the 1917 revolution was also the result of the struggle for power of these opposing forces.

Between internment periods, he started traveling to the capital – St. Petersburg. He also met Lenin in Tampere, Finland, a country politically bound to the Russian empire until 1917. Photographs and documents from the time, a suitcase and models of the houses where Stalin resided can be found in this part. Busts including one of Stalin as a young agitator, pretty rare and likely taken from the few portraits from the time, are also parts of the collection.

Again following a historical timeline, you can find more documents and portraits of a grown-up yet young man of the apparatus. It is well known that Lenin, after the 1917 revolution, saw Stalin as a potential problem for the future of the Party. A copy of Lenin’s ‘testament’, telling his comrades to get rid of Stalin, is on display in the exhibition. As a matter of fact, Lenin’s illness and demise in 1924 started a period of transition.

Stalin, by 1922 general secretary of the communist party of the USSR, fought and won against all other members of the communist party, making his appointment in the government the most powerful. He managed to maintain his role until his death in 1953, reigning as an unopposed tyrant at least since the end of the 1920s, when he prevailed over his most strenuous opponent, Trotzkij.

As he started to gain power, official portraits started to appear, both paintings and photographs. These pieces of the collection are also interesting, for not many portraits of Stalin have survived in official displays, after he was condemned by his political heirs.

Also books from his speeches and prints from his personal history, to be distributed to the general public, are displayed here.

Prominence in the communist party of the USSR gained a special status also to Stalin’s family. His mother had a decent place to live, and his son payed a visit more than once – this is the subject of some portraits. A porcelain set from Stalin’s mother household is on display.

Curious artifacts in this part of the museum include a desk from some communist office of the time of Stalin’s purges.

As a marshal in WWII – the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 as it was known in the USSR – Stalin reached international recognition and world fame. His ability as a general is open to critics, for he managed to kill most of the most experienced staff in the purges of the 1930s, and appointed generals – mostly like Hitler – based on their political attitude. It is questionable whether without substantial help from the then-allies of the Soviet Union (Britain and the US) a victory against Germany could have been reached, despite a disproportionate number of casualties in the rows of the Red Army. However, the final march to Berlin, which gained him control over half of Europe, raised him to the level of a world leader. The exhibition reflects this recognition, with books by Stalin translated in several languages, gifts from generals of the Red Army – including an authentic monstrosity donated to the museum by WWII hero General Zhukov in the 1960s – and many pictures from the war years.

A showcase is dedicated to Stalin’s sons and heirs. He had five sons, from two wives and other women, and his descent is still existent today.

A corner hall hosts a kind of monumental installation, a small Soviet monument not among the best of the kind. Made of lighted reproductions of photographs, it is a kind of recap of Stalin’s triumphs and special moments.

The next hall concludes the climax, and is really unique. It is a circular room padded with black leather panels. At the center of a circular colonnade you can see at the level of the ground one of the few – apparently 12 – original reproductions of Stalin’s head from his death mask.