Directly along the scenic Oder-Neiße border between Germany and Poland lies the concrete remnants of the Kraftwerk Vogelsang, a crumbling symbol of the destructive madness of the Third Reich. While most passersby probably dismiss the abandoned Power Plant as just another ruin – one of thousands that dot the East German landscape – its history is actually a tragic collection of Nazi economic desperation, forced labour, and a pointless “Endkampf” costing hundreds of lives.
Fürstenberg Oder and the German Armament Industry
The town of Fürstenberg (Oder) – not to be confused with Fürstenberg/Havel – has a history like so many of the villages and towns in eastern Brandenburg. Founded in the early 13th century, it was under control of a Cistercian Order until it inevitably gained its independence. The rapid industrialisation brought an all important train connection in 1848 which brought an influx of bohemian glassblowers, a Aniline factory (used mainly as a medicinal compound), as well as the opening of the Oder-Spree Canal, linking the city directly to Berlin. The opening of the canal was the biggest driver for the industrial (and commercial) development of Fürstenberg Oder, being one of the central hubs for silesian coal and granite.
With the outbreak of the second world war, many factories – now mass producing materials for the war effort – split up their production facilities and strategically spread them out. The arms manufacturer Rheinmetall-Borsig, the aircraft manufacturer Focke-Wulf and the chemical giant Degussa (which was heavily involved in the crimes of the Third Reich) all built up branch factories and production lines in and around Fürstenberg Oder.
With the german economy having switched to a war time economy, the demand for energy drastically increased. With the current energy output not nearly being sufficient to power all the factories, Minister of Armaments and War Production in Nazi Germany Albert Speer – who was also the Inspector General for Water and Energy – established the “Wärmekraft-Sofortprogramm” (literal translation: Immediate Thermal Power Program) in 1942.
The goal of the “Wärmekraft-Sofortprogramm” was to build a series of identical Power Plants – so called Einheitskraftwerke (Uniform Power Plants). The idea was to produce as many uniform system components as quickly and cheaply as possible, as well as simplifying the power plant design from individual units for boilers and machines into a unified block design.
The Nazis had initially planned to build 15 of these Einheitskraftwerke, each with an output of 300 megawatts, though at the end of 1942, this was reduced down to 8 as the armaments industry needed all the available iron and steel for their production. This number was then further reduced to only 5 Einheitskraftwerke by early 1943.
An initial prototype was built by the Hamburgische Electricitäts-Werke in 1942, the 5 planned power plants were destined to be built in the eastern german regions. The Kraftwerk Vogelsang – known also as the Wernerwerk – was to be built in the municipality of Voglesang (not to be confused with Vogelsang-Zehdenick, formerly home to one of the most important soviet military bases in East Germany), the Kraftwerk Trattendorf in Spremberg, and the Kraftwerk Berzdorf in Hagenwerder (now part of Görlitz). All three of these Power Plants were located in areas with large lignite deposits.
Wernerwerk – Kraftwerk Vogelsang
The Märkische Elektrizitätswerke took charge of the construction of the three brown coal power plans – and began construction of the Wernerwerk on the 1st of April 1943, though supplementary construction work and and a new adjacent coal mine was opened by 1941.
Like most of the large scale construction projects from 1939 onwards, the construction of the Wernerwerk was entirely reliant on forced labour. The Wehrmacht established the “M Stalag IIIB” (Mannschafts Stammlager) – a prisoner of war camp -on the outskirts of Fürstenberg Oder, which at one point housed over 40,000 people. The industrial sites in and around Fürstenberg made heavy use of this slave labour, with both the DEGUSSA and the Märkische Elektrizitätswerke establishing their own factory subcamps.
The use of forced and unskilled labour – especially under atrocious conditions – slowed down the construction progress of Wernerwerk immensely. It took until 1944 – one year – to construct the buildings, and it took until January 1945 for the first 75MW power plant block to be completed and (supposedly) successfully tested. For reasons unknown, the official name of the Wernerwerk was switched to Kraftwerk Vogelsang in 1944.
By 1945, out of the 5 planed “Einheitskraftwerke” – the Kraftwerk Vogelsang was the only one that reached the stage of being theoretically operable.
The battle for the Kraftwerk Vogelsang
By the beginning of February 1945 , tanks from the Soviet 33rd Army were already visbily approaching the frozen Oder. The Kraftwerk Vogelsang was evacuated with its remaining staff either seeking safety or being drafted into the Volkssturm. The southern Oder bridge was blown up by the Germans on the 4th of February to slow down the advancing soviets, but it was of little use as the Soviet 33rd Army managed to establish a bridge head on the 6th of February right next to the Kraftwerk Vogelsang (and as the river was still frozen, many soldiers managed to cross over on foot anyway).
The initial battle between the Red Army and Wehrmacht was especially fierce, as both sides were vehemently focused on defending, or respectively trying to crush the bridgehead. The Soviets quickly occupied the Kraftwerk Vogelsang and began using its two 100 meter high smokestacks as lookout point to direct artillery strikes.
More and more undertrained and under equipped troops were thrown into the fight, with troop losses mounting to 70% and higher after each failed attack. By the 28th of February 1945, the Germans managed to recapture the majority of Vogelsang, though failed to take back the entire village due to a lack of supplies. By the beginning of April, the Soviets had already reached the outskirts of Berlin but fighting in and around the Kraftwerk Vogelsang was still going on.
Kraftwerk Vogelsang after the war
After the end of the second world war, the Soviet Military Administration ordered the Kraftwerk Vogelsang dismantled and shipped back to the Soviet Union, leaving behind only the power plant shell. The now dismantled kraftwerk escaped complete demolition after the war as the local authorities were worried that blowing up the remnants would damage the adjacent dike.
Over the years, locals would venture out to the ruins and “acquire” building materials from (which was the same fate of Görings Carinhall after it was blown up), though the property was then used by East German Paramilitary Police Units and so called “Working Class” Combat Groups as a training ground until the late 1970s (again, this was a rather common occurrence as the VPB and NVA used the old Nazi Submarine Headquarters – Lager Koralle – as a training ground as well).
The Kraftwerk Vogelsang did almost meets its end though in 1998, when Eisenhüttenstadt decided to finally tear down the remaining ruin, but local nature conservationists stop the demolition per special injunction as the abandoned power plant had become a nature reserve hosting endangered plants and animals. During the proceedings, ownership of the property was transferred from Eisenhüttenstadt over to the State of Brandenburg.
The State of Brandenburg had little use for the property and decided to auction it off – despite it hosting endangered plants and animals – in 2010. A Dutch company managed to snag the 178,000 sqm property for the (apparently) paltry sum of €8500, though there was no clear indication what they had planned for it. Regardless of their plans, the company will have to adhere to the local conservation laws.
The Stalag which housed thousands of prisoners during the war was liberated by the Soviets on the 28th of April 1945, and then completely demolished in May 1947 by said Soviets. The East Germans planned to build their first new socialist city here, which upon its completion on the 7th of May, 1953 received the name “Stalinstadt” in honor of, who else, Stalin. The fact that the this new model city was built on the grounds of a former Nazi Prison Camp was conveniently left out, as to not tarnish the symbolic new beginnings of the GDR (and to not highlight the politically and historically delicate topic of the Soviet demolition of the Stalag).
Kraftwerk Vogelsang today (2022)
Neither the Nazis, nor Soviets nor the current authorities managed to tear down the Kraftwerk Vogelsang. Its two towers are visible from kilometers away – and its concrete shells serves as a beautiful – yet macabre ruin along the picturesque Oder-Neiße cycle path. The Kraftwerk Vogelsang is surrounded by an extremely pathy fence, and some very dense growth, but other than that its left to itself. Its quite clear that the local youth spend one or two evenings partying here, and the occasional idiot will try to climb up the broken stairs to explore what’s left on the upper floors (i.e nothing).
Speaking of stairs, it seems like the local authorities tried to demolish all the ground floor staircases to prevent people from accessing the upper floors, but they didnt do a good job and a small stack of tires is all that’s needed to access the the stairs. No empty factory hall is worth my time and more importantly my safety, so I declined the opportunity to venture further up.
Of the 5 Einheitskraftwerke, the ruins of the Kraftwerk Vogelsang are the only remnants left and attempts have been made to have it listed under monument protection, but there’s no hope of that ever happening. One can only hope that the bats that live in the cellar of the Kraftwerk remain there and continue to hinder any future demolition attempts.
Kraftwerk Vogelsang Address
Buchwaldstraße, 15890 Eisenhüttenstadt