The name Elstal might ring a bell for some – mainly due to it being the home of the (not so) abandoned 1936 Olympic Village. But the small village actually has a deeper, specifically military, history due to its proximity to the Truppenübungsplatz Dallgow-Döberitz. The Nazis didn’t just build an Olympic village though – just a stone’s throw away they had built one of the largest military bases around Berlin, the Löwen Adler Kaserne.
Döberitzer Heide, Elstal and the Löwen Adler Kaserne
The area surrounding the Villages of Elstal and Dallgow has been used for military purposes as far back as 1713 – with the Döberitzer Heide having been transformed into a military proving ground for colonial troops in 1894. The Truppenübungsplatz Döberitz as it was formally know was expanded in 1901 with the addition of a Luftschifferbataillon – the first proper German military balloon unit and by 1910, the Flugplatz Döberitz was established, which played a pivotal role in the military development of German Luftwaffe.
When the first World War broke out in 1914, a provisional prisoner of war camp was established on the western side of the parade ground. Either because it got too small, or for some other logistical reason, the initial camp was replaced by two new prisoner of war camps in the villages of Rohrbeck and Dyrotz. At its peak in 1918, the camps held over 30,000 prisoners from seven different nations. A small memorial known as the “White Maria” from one of the prisoner of war cemeteries can still be found here.[irp posts=”15495″ name=”The White Maria”]
By the mid 1930s, German rearmament was in full swing – and the German Military leadership was hastily building up its military units and infrastructure. Similar to the Artillerie Kaserne in Eberswalde and the Adolf Hitler Lager in Forst Zinna, a large military complex known as the Löwen Adler Kaserne was built in 1935/1936 in Elstal (though some refer to it as the Löwen Adler Kaserne Wustermark). This Nazi Military complex outside of Berlin wasn’t actually one military base – but two: The Adler Kaserne (Eagle Barracks) and the Löwen Kaserne (Lion Barracks). -similar as with the Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau, which was later split into the Panzerkaserne Bernau and the Heeresbekleidungsamt by the Soviets.
The Adler Kaserne and the Löwen Kaserne
While the military barracks are most commonly referred to as the singular Löwen-Adler Kaserne today, they were simply referenced to as “Neue Kasernen” (New Barracks) until 1945. Upon their completion in 1940, the Adler Kaserne served as a base for Cavalry Units (“Bespannte Einheiten”) while the Löwen Kaserne housed the “Infanterie-Lehrregiment” – a regiment which consisted of Officers NCOs and “Manschaften” – who were trained in the newest tactical behavior, as well as testing new equipment.
Large scale garages and vehicle halls were located towards the southern end of the barracks, essentially giving quick access to the military proving ground.
Shortly before the Second World War, modern combat units were trained on the Truppenübungsplatz Döberitz and organized into respective unit. The sandy, dry soil of the Truppenübungsplatz made the training area ideal for armored units. The infamous Panzerkorps Großdeutschland was formed here with units from the Wachregiment Berlin and parts of the Infantry Lehrregiment.
The Flugplatz Döberitz, also located just south of the Löwen Adler Kaserne was used to train new pilots and paratroopers – leading to the establishment of the “Regiment General Göring” in 1936. The Löwen Adler Kaserne was used to train and form troops right up until the end of the war, with the Infantry Division “Potsdam” – which was part of the 12. Army – being set up on the 29th of March, 1945.
Stauffenberg and the end of the War
The Löwen Adler Kaserne gained nationwide notoriety due to the plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the current military regime on the 20th of July, 1944. The attempted assassination set in motion a whole logistical plan codenamed Operation Valkyrie. Part of the plan was for units of a regiment close to the German resistance from the Löwen Adler Kaserne to occupy the Radio Stations in the Masurenallee in Berlin and in Nauen. Both attempts failed to disrupt the regime loyal broadcasting – enabling the Nazis to spread the news of the failed coup attempt.
The Soviets took over the Barracks in May 1945, but handed over Truppenübungsplatz back to the village of Dallgow, so that small farmers could settle there (from 1945 the Soviets and enacted a land reformed called “Junkernland in Bauernhand” – which meant to transfer property from the Land Nobility to the Farmers).
The area was subsequently parceled out and worked on agriculturally. By the late 1940s – with the cold war getting into swing – the Soviets started a series of military training exercises – which didn’t sit so well with the local villagers and farmers. After several incidents involving property damage, the killing of a woman (shot in 1950) and arbitrary destruction of crops, the last settlers abandoned their homes in 1957 and left the area.
The Soviets move in
At its peak, over 20,000 Soviet Soldiers (including some families of the officers) were stationed in the area, which led to the creation of a parallel soviet town with schools, kindergartens, workshops, department stores and cultural and sporting facilities. They even had their own private hospital, police and radio station. While it wasn’t expressly forbidden, there was little contact between the soviet soldiers and the East German Population (there’s a great article about this topic in German here).Some of the following units stationed in Elstal (including those in the former Olympic Village) were:
- 7th anti-aircraft missile regiment
- 283. Guard tank artillery regiment
- School № 36 (also: № 81)
- 88th Military Command
Life in Löwen Adler Kaserne (also known to some as the Roter Stern Kaserne thanks to a very prominent graffiti) was harsh for the Soldiers. Military drill, social pressure and tension between the units – and there between the representatives of the various Soviet ethnic groups – did not create a pleasant living climate. The buildings and accommodations were rarely – and then only sparingly – renovated or repaired. Ordinary soldiers were only permitted to leave in groups, and even within the Soviet territory they needed permits to get from the fenced area of one unit to the next. And it wasn’t like they had much free time either – as they were allocated only half an hour to an hours rest each day.
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The Flugplatz Döberitz was closed down in 1960 as its runways had gotten too short for the jet aircraft. All aircraft and pilots were moved to the Flugplatz Oranienburg (home of the first stealth aircraft in the world). The locals probably weren’t too sad to see the soviet aircraft go, as a Soviet Pilot later recounted that during a low-flying exercise, an east German was beheaded by the landing gear of a soviet plane.
The Löwen Adler Kaserne post reunification
The Soviets moved out of the Löwen Adler Kaserne in 1992, but they did leave some unpleasant surprises behind. While conventional household garbage from the soviets was collected and disposed of in the landfill on the Galgenberg in Rohrbeck, there was no legal way to dispose of the other trash that had piled up. The soviets decided it would be best to dispose (either burying it or just straight up dumping it) on the military training ground.
Shortly before the soviets were to pull out of Elstal, the problem reached a new peak when the landfill in Rohrbeck stopped accepting even conventional trash from the soviets as they had found munitions and other dangerous items. If you wander through the forests in the area, you might even stumble across an abandoned east german tram from the 1950s.[irp posts=”15383″ name=”The Abandoned Forest Tram”]
Contrary to many other military installations occupied by the soviets – the Löwen Adler Kaserne was still in remarkably good shape – so good in fact that the Bundeswehr had serious plans of reusing the installation for themselves. The roofs of the buildings were repaired at quite a considerable cost, but subsequent investigations showed that the grounds were highly contaminated after all these years of military use, and that the costs to clean up the area would be simply too high. All the buildings were gutted and the area was closed off in 1998.
Parts of the Truppenübungsplatz were cleared and converted into a nature reservation – with some lovely hiking and cycling paths (more about that can be found here). A southern part of the area was cleared (roughly 10% of the total area) for the Bundeswehr to use – which brought up an astonishing 8.6 Tons of munitions that were left behind. The mind wonders how much more is left in the ground.
While there had been multiple plans as to what should be done with abandoned Löwen Adler Kaserne to the west of Berlin, none really came to fruition. The barracks had become a regular haunt for paint ballers, right wing fanatics and the usual vandals – though this hadn’t gone by unnoticed. The Lion Statue which had been taken care of by the Nazis and then the soviets had become a regular target of vandalism and graffiti.
A local initiative managed to remove the statue in 2015 and move it to a safe place for restoration, in hopes that it might find a new suitable home. Ironically, this wasn’t the first time the statue had been removed. In 1994, the Statue was moved to a Bundeswehr base in Kiel, but it was brought back after extensive local protests in 1998.
Karls Erdbeerhof in Elstal
Some readers might be familiar with the Strawberry huts that are seemingly found all over Germany. “Karl’s Erdbeerhof” is the Walt Disney of German strawberries. Small huts can be found all over the country selling delicious strawberries – but “Karl” also built several entertainment parks. One of them being located right opposite the Löwen Adler Kaserne. The Company had been wanting to expand their park for some time, and in the beginning of 2018, they bought abandoned military base and are in the process of tearing it down.
According to the plans, they want to create a holiday village and animal park – and there’s a rumor floating around that the Lion Statue (which actually looks a bit more like a panther) will find a new home there. Our first visit to the Löwen Adler Kaserne in Elstal was in 2014 (noticeable in the quality of the photos). As of mid 2019, some of the buildings were still standing, but its most likely impossible (or very foolish) to try and gain access to the site with all the construction going on.
Not too far from here is the not so abandoned Rangierbahnhof Wustermark – a train shunting yard with an impressive water tower. Having been abandoned for years its currently being renovated – but still an interesting site to be seen.
While it’s always a shame to see these places vanish – I personally think it’s a good thing that someone constructive is being made of the space and that the toxic munitions are being removed from the ground. Better than it burning to the ground or someone being injured by stepping on a buried mine or rocket.