Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Exploring the Secrets of the Bunkerstadt Wünsdorf-Waldstadt

Zossen was an unexpected long stop, but I had to return to Wünsdorf-Waldstadt for finally seeing what I was really looking for: a slice of history that only recently - 1994 - was still in the making. 


For over a century, this place was a forbidden city. First, it was a training camp for the Prussians, than military headquarters for the Nazis and the Little Moscow until 1994. As I am walking the long path from the train station, I can hardly see anything, as most buildings are a couple of meters away from the public area, hidden under a thick forest wall. When once in a while some buildings are closer to the eyes, they look delapidated, giving you that feeling I often had in such places, like Beelitz, that I am in a historical adventure park.


But the adventure awaits at least one hour away, as the city was well hidden behind forests and getting to find it takes at least as long as the direct train ride for Berlin - a bit over an hour. At least, I can fill my city lungs with the green forest healthy vibes.


The much awaited historical adventure is suddenly entering my Zen universe, in the shape of an aerial defense bunker, one of the many spread over the residential area. Since 1971, the Red Army started to offer its generous help to the 'Democratic' Germany to defend its air space, therefore, the frequency of such bunkers.


Dilapidated remains lay near the residential area, in places that could have been playgrounds. Children can use them to climb, carefree of the heavy meaning of history they stump on.


There are many remains from those Soviet times, whose origin is unclear, unless you are lucky enough to be accompanied by a local guide to show you exactly the old ways.


Keen to immerse into the history with a proper guide, we book a one-hour German tour for 12 Euro after which there are not too many historical secrets left hidden. The tour starts with the dilapidated buildings from the Nazi times. In building blocks desguised as rural homes, the Wehrmacht and the Reichswehr motorized division settled their headquarters here since the beginning of the 1930s.


After so many years, no one ever did anything to change the situation of the buildings, and after the Soviet troops searched for any scrap of paper that might be taken away, they used some of the bunker facilities but left everything as bombed as at the end of the war. Bunkers Maybach I and II were used for various military operations during the war, but it was also where secret correspondence between people involved in the 20 July plot against Hitler was discovered which lead to the hunt for those involved.


The initial construction of the site dated from the time of the Prussian infantry school, back at the end of the 19th century, when this modest location was connected to Berlin via the rail network passing from Jüterbog


Although I grew up in a communist country and was pretty knowledgeable about the political skirmishes I was never exposed so openly to the historical part of it as I am in Germany, even so many years after the end of the Cold War. The traces are starting to disappear, many of them eaten out by the need to make space for residential compounds, but still there is an enormous recent history material all over the former communist Germany.


We are visiting a small part of a bunker formerly used by the Soviet Army and I cannot stop and observe all the very small details of the surroundings, such as the old time door settings.


We pass through small passageways leading to different small spaces, guarded by heavy metal doors.


Some spaces were used also for communication surveillance in the region. Mostly, the Soviet Army deployed here . around 80,000 soldiers as of 1953 - was aimed to defend the border around Western part of Berlin, but as usual in such cases, there were always some additional things to do to the basic military agenda. 


For a non-technical person, all those installations just look odd, but they can make it into a Cold War history of electricity, for instance.


In some cases, the German locals needed some linguistic help to understand how exactly to use them properly.


Very often in places where the Soviet Red Army passed by, there were always words left on the walls: in the Reichstag or Beelitz, and now here. Very often there are just names and I just say to myself to decipher this habit one day.


Happily, we are visiting this place when there is a warm sunny day outside, otherwise if it would have been during rain, we may have need it some wellies as well. The temperature underground is only one digit and it makes me think in what harsh conditions people were working so hard here for the pride of the country. As Wünsdorf-Walsdorf was the headquarters of the Red Army in Germany, most probably there was always a lot of commotion that now was just sucked into the history vortex.


From a small chair, comrade Lenin - only with his pensive head left, a frequent sight of my childhood, is having his stone glory moment. Those were his times, but those times are long gone and I can only be happy about it.


Outside, it is a warm weekend afternoon, and I am happy to breath the freedom air, although it is in a city which looks almost empty.


The post office is waiting for a postman that will never knock its's door and can't wait to learn a bit more - and preferably more war-less content - about this city.


There is some other attribute associated with Wünsdorf-Waldstadt which is even more appealing than the historical touch: Bücherstadt. It means in English 'city of books' and this is the first ever German city bearing it. The idea was launched in 1962 by Richard Booth from Wales, which created the first such town in Hay-on-Wye in 1962 as a complex of antique bookstores and other cultural activities. Wünsdorf-Waldstadt was awarded this title on September 12th.


Affordable books, mostly in German, and mostly from the old DDR times can be purchased for as much as 1 euro.


In some places the books are left unattended and you can serve yourself, while being trusted that you will left the corresponding amount in one of the many piggy banks in the corners.


But even in the 'city of books' section, you just cannot avoid history. During the WWI, here was also established a big POW camp - Halbmondlager -, which included soldiers of many religions and faiths, as a Hindu tomb reminds. For the Muslim residents of the camp, a mosque was built, the first ever on German soil, but was closed shortly of 1924 and never open again. There is also a Muslim cemetery a couple of kilometers away, close to a forest area.


If you want to learn even more about this place, the Garnison Museum is displaying some interesting historical facts and artefacts displayed in the small garten.


And, surprise, comrade Lenin, in a more revolutionary and full body pose, is also there.


Just another aerial defense bunker is showing its ugly shape, a reminder that history at least for a couple of decades to go, will never leave this place. However, given its relatively good positioning in the middle of a green area and its closeness to Berlin, it makes it into a good destination for real estate and there will be not too long when probably a debate about the need to keep all those artifacts versus the need of better and cheaper housing will arise.


Until then, the few residents - some of them probably left behind by the Soviet Army - are enjoying some outdoors meals in many of the restaurants in the area. Thinking about much happier places, we stop to a Greek restaurant, for a cold drink and some spicy aubergines in tomato sauce at Akropolis.
Near us, a group of people in their mid-60s arrived to celebrate a birthday and unless I turn my eyes out of my tasty plate looking at the bunkers surrounding on land and underground this place I would just think I am having a relaxed meal outdoors. But with so many history lessons around, it takes longer to start enjoying the foodie part of my trip. This is weight of history and I am happy I finally made it to this place.
Maybe I should hurry to see more such places until they are still around.

No comments:

Post a Comment