The only sound to break the eerie stillness is that of the wind caressing mature conifers both sides of Comrade Lenin, frozen forever in his emphatic pose. He’s looking down on us, hand on chest, daring us to enter the equally imposing structure he’s been guarding since the 1950s. But Lenin is a relative newcomer here …
Wünsdorf traces it’s military history back to 1877 when Kaiser Wilhelm ordered the building of a shooting range for the Prussian Artillery. This proved successful and was expanded through the addition of several barracks in 1910, a communications and telegraphy facility in 1912, and an Infantry school in 1913. By now Wünsdorf had established itself as the HQ for Germany’s »Reichswehr« or Home Guard, and the expansion was unstoppable. The Imperial Gym »Kaiserliche Turnanstalt« was added in 1915 and eventually grew into the National Sports School through the addition of a military paddling pool in 1936. Many of these facilities were used by the German Olympic team and later rebuilt under Soviet occupation.
Interestingly, Wünsdorf was also the site of the first Mosque on German soil. Originally constructed in 1915, the »Halbmondlager« or Half Moon Camp was there to make the ‘re-education’ of Muslim prisoners of war easier by allowing religious practice. It was still in use after WW1 but eventually pulled down in 1925 due to ‘structural concerns’ – though my money’s on it being a tad incompatible with Hitler’s greater plans.
Things were really beginning to get interesting around 1937 with the addition of the first bomb-proof communications bunker. »Maybach 1« entered service as the headquarters of the Empire’s High Command a few days before the invasion of Poland in August 1939, and was joined by »Zeppelin«, another bomb-proof bunker effectively the command and communications hub for Hitler’s WW2 effort.
Unsurprisingly history is lacking in finer details over the next few years. We do know that there were only three Allied attacks on Wünsdorf, the worst of which killed 120 people and several houses on 15 March 1945. By comparison, between 22,000 and 25,000 civilians were laid to waste in four Allied raids on Dresden in February the same year. Was Wünsdorf really that well camouflaged and defended, or was the nerve centre of two world war campaigns thought to be somewhere else? Speculation makes up for history’s silence.
Wünsdof was surrendered almost without resistance on 20 April 1945 and henceforth used as headquarters for Soviet forces in Germany. From that point onwards the town was off-limits to
prisoners inhabitants of the newly formed DDR, except for 2700 original citizens. And between 50,000 – 75,000 Soviet men, women and children, surrounded by a sturdy wall. Russian troops departed in 1994, leaving behind 260 hectares of suspected minefields as well as 98,300 pieces of ammunition, 47,000 grenades and miscellaneous weapons, 29 tonnes of spent munitions, and 45,000 cubic meters of hazardous waste, including chemicals, oil, and asbestos.