The forests of Brandenburg harbour many secrets – though more often than not, it’s almost impossible to fully decipher them. One of these secrets is what’s left of the so called “Bramo Werk” and “Zümo Werk” Werke in Basdorf and Zühlsdorf, just outside of Berlin’s city limits. Originally these locations were built to produce aircraft engines, and later test Nazi rockets – its secretive use under the East germans remains a mystery to this day.
From Siemens-Flugmotorenwerk to Brandenburgische Motorenwerke
While some people might be familiar with a variety of Siemens products, from trains to computer chips, many might not realize that at the beginning of the 20th Century, Siemens & Halske (to use its original name) invested a substantial amount of time and money developing aircraft engines for the german military. The most well known of these motors was the Siemens & Halske Sh.III – an 11-cylinder, air-cooled counter rotary engine used in a variety of airplanes, from the Albatros D.XI to the Siemens-Schuckert D.VI.
Productions of these motors was undertaken in Berlin in the aptly named “Siemensstadt” (after Siemens bought the land and built the factories and infrastructure) in the Blockwerk I. In 1926, the motor production was spun off into separate company – the Siemens-Flugmotorenwerk, Berlin-Spandau, which was then merged in 1933 with the newly founded Siemens Apparate und Maschinen GmbH (SAM).
Not quite content with all the changes, Siemens decided to remove the aircraft motor production from the SAM, and sell the rebrandended Brandenburgische Motorenwerke GmbH (Brandenburg Motorworks GmbH) – also known as Bramo – to the German Reich in 1936. To no one’s surprise, the German government was very interested in the development of aircraft motors, who had pressured Siemens to expand their works – which Siemens had rejected.
The Bramo expanded, and new production site was opened up in 1938 in Basdorf, just 10 kilometers north of Berlin, with plans to open up a secondary production site in Zühlsdorf – which was literally across the street.
The Bramo Werk in Basdorf began with the serial production of the Bramo 323 “Fafnir” engine (Fafnir being the dragon from the nordic Völsunga saga and Wagners Ring der Nibelungen), which was based on the Siemens & Halske Sh 22. Ironically, the Sh 22 was a licensed design, and was originally a Bristol Jupiter IV motor. The Bramo 323 engine would be used in such aircraft as the Focke-Wulf Fw 200, Dornier Do 24 as well as the Do 17. So in theory, the German Luftwaffe can thank the British Industry for powering its early (long range reconnaissance) aircraft fleet.
Bramo and Zümo Werke under the Nazis
On the 9th of June 1939, the Brandenburgische Motorenwerke GmbH was purchased by the BMW Flugmotorenwerke Brandenburg GmbH, Berlin Spandau (the BMW you know as the car maker today). By 1940, the BMW Flugmotorenwerke Brandenburg GmbH was “employing” over 10,000 people in Spandau, Basdorf and Zühlsdorf, with 5000 people working in the factories in Basdorf and Zühlsdorf. Interestingly enough, BMW still operates the factory in Spandau to this day, producing motorcycles at the location.
To stem the large influx of workers (many of whom were forced labourers as well as prisoners of the KZ Sachsenhausen), an entire new district was built in Basdorf called the “Milch-Siedlung” – named after Erhard Milch, State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of Aviation and Inspector General of the Air force, as well as the head of technical development and armaments production for the Luftwaffe.
When the larger factory in Zühlsdorf – the Zühlsdorfer Motorenwerke (Zümo) – opened up, it began with the production of the BMW 003 – an axial turbojet engine used in the Heinkel He 162, Junkers Ju 287 and Messerschmitt Me 262. At the same time, BMWs rocket division, under the lead of the Helmut Graf von Zborowski, began working on a series of “secret” rocket engines on the grounds of the Zühlsdorfer Motorenwerke.
It’s also worth mentioning that Helmut Graf von Zborowski, a member of the SS, was part of the team around Wernher von Braun which developed the Aggregat 4 (A4) – also known as the V2 rocket. Upon his release after the war, he moved to france to assist the French in their technological research.
While the Bramo / Zümo Werke were targeted by two allied air raids in 1942 and 1943, it was an american air raid on the 22nd of March 1944, which ended up destroying two thirds of the factory. BMW had the foresight to move its rocket division back to Munich after the second air raid.
The Stasi moves into Basdorf
The Soviets took over the Bramo Werke / Zümo Werke on the 20th of April 1945, eventually dismantling the majority of the surviving factories and shipping it back to the Soviet Union. Parts of the barracks were used as a school, until they were handed over to the Kasernierte Volkspolizei.
Before going to deep into the next section, id like to preface that there is little information out there as to what exactly the East Germans did on the former Bramo and Zümo sites, and there seems to be a lot of disagreement there as well. We’ve pieced together some of the information that we could find, and that sounded most plausible, but be aware that there seems to be a lot more secrecy around this place than normal.
By the early 1960s, some say by 1964, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (the Stasi), moved into the former Bramo and Zümo Werke, specifically the “Abteilung N”.
Each of 14 districts of the GDR had a “Abteilung N” – also known as the Abteilung Nachrichten (Intelligence Department) which was responsible for the planning, organization and operation of the district administration’s intelligence communication. It took over the technical testing and maintenance of a news system of the secret service on the territory the district, which was independent of the state news network.
The service unit was not only responsible for the internal communications, but also for securing the secret government telephone connections (“WTsch connections“) in the area of responsibility. Furthermore, the department ensured communication with the offices of the party and the state apparatus and the communications technology integration of the district administration for state security in the district operations management.
Both the Bramo Werk and Zümo Werk were apparently run as two separate sites, requiring different and specific clearances to enter, though both of them were under direct control of the Stasi – and guarded by the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guards Regiment (the paramilitary wing of the Stasi).
The former Zümo Werk was the (significantly) larger of the two sites with an “inner” and outer” ring. The outer ring was secured by three fences (5 meters between each) – one of them emitting an alarm when triggered. The entire property was surrounded by 15 meter high guard towers every 400 meters. The forested area in the outer ring contained around 50 fixed antennas, each around 50 to 70 meters tall.
The inner ring, secured by a concrete wall, supposedly had a bunker that was used to store the electronic equipment, the transmission station as well as a training center for new recruits. The topic surrounding the bunker has probably brought up the most controversy, as some people had claimed it was a nuclear bunker – though this seems to have been thoroughly debunked. It seems like the Stasi repurposed and modified a pre-existing underground complex from the Zümo factory, which according to some was quite vast.
Aside from the usual buildings such as barracks, the Stasi site also had a massive heating plant (the chimney still being visible today), which taking into consideration that that complex only had a few buildings, brought up more questions than answers.
The former Bramo Werk was supposedly used to primarily store technical equipment, cables and antennas. As to the purpose of the entire site? Some had mentioned that it was used to “listen in” on West Berlin, but again it seems like most sources agree that the stasi was using this location primarily as a transmissions point, rather than a listening station.
The Abandoned Stasi Guard Tower (Video)
The Stasi “Listening Post” after German Reunification
After German reunification, the now unified german state was suspiciously quick to decommission the site and chop down the antennas. The Bramo Werke rented out to the Police who stored seized cars there, while the Zümo Werke was briefly occupied by the Deutsche Telekom. Both the Zümo and Bramo Werke are occupied by various business (scrap dealers, a media company, etc) these days – and it seems like they are equally secretive about the properties that they occupy.
The forest is still littered with ruins and anchor points of the antennas – almost all which have been chopped down since. The old stasi perimeter paths are still intact and make for a very smooth bike ride. Of the old GDR guard towers that dotted the perimeter fence, it seems like only one has survived. Its been more or less gutted and is missing the interior top platform, meaning theres nowhere to stand but the edge of the concrete ring when you climb up the ladders.
Two other GDR era towers remain, both along the Zümo werk, though they are not publicly accessible as they are on private/company property. The area is still dotted with quite a few GDR era buildings – a large radiomast and what seems like a barracks building stand empty, while another building seems to have been renovated rather nicely and is occupied by a few families.
Overall there’s not terribly much to see, and venturing out here purely to see a closed factory gate or an abandoned guard tower isn’t really worth it, but if combined with a visit to the formerly abandoned Schloß Dammsmühle, which has been almost completely restored – it does make for a nice scenic bike ride through the forest of Wandlitz.
Zümo Bramo Werke Address
Zühlsdorfer Str. 22C, 16348 Wandlitz
Neue Str. 9, 16515 Mühlenbecker Land