This article is also available in: Deutsch
While we are avid rail travel enthusiast and avoid flying whenever possible – we have an almost unhealthy attraction to abandoned airports. East Germanys landscape is littered with remnants of theNazi Luftwaffes airbases, more specifically with those that the Soviet Military decided to take over after 1945. Many of them have been steadily torn down over the years and converted into solar farms – the Flugplatz Alt Daber (Wittstock/Dosse) being no exception – though there are still enough remnants left for now to be explored.
Table of Contents
A short history of Wittstock/Dosse
Wittstock Dosse, one of the oldest cities in Brandenburg, traces its origins back to a Slavic settlement. It was first mentioned in a foundation charter for the Bishopric of Havelberg in 946. In 1248, Wittstock was granted the Stendal city rights. The city’s name, initially “Wizoka,” later became “Witzstock,” and it derives from the Old Polabian word “vysoka” meaning “the high one,” referring to the Wittstock Castle established in 946. Over the years, Wittstock grew in significance and developed its own city seal in 1251.
Throughout its history, Wittstock faced various challenges and experienced significant events. In 1636, during the Thirty Years’ War, the Battle of Wittstock took place, where the Swedes triumphed over imperial and Saxon troops (the city of Wittstock opened up a fantastic museum on the former battlefield in 2012 commemorating the battle).
In 1716, a devastating fire destroyed a considerable portion of the city. In the early 19th century, Wittstock was declared a fortress (in 1812 to be specific) during the war against Napoleon. In 1885, the city was connected to the railway network, facilitating transportation and development. Wittstock also had a vibrant Jewish community, with a synagogue being built in 1857.
Flugplatz Alt Daber 1938 – 1945
Despite having a military hospital during the first world war, wittstock had no notable military facilities until the beginning of the second world war. When the Nazis came to power, the SA almost immediately set up a concentration camp – the KZ Alt-Daber – in a former lung sanatorium that had been converted into a used as a children’s home. The was closed the same year, and over half the inmates were transferred over to the KZ Oranienburg.
The Flugplatz Alt Daber actually began as the “Fliegerhorst Wittstock” in 1934 as a glider airfield, and it wasn’t until 1938, when it was expanded and turned into a Paratrooper training facility. Unlike other airbases, who would later take on cross training functions, the Flugplatz Alt Daber had been designed and built specifically to train paratroopers from the beginning – and only completed in 1939, a few months before the the outbreak of the second world war.
From a technical perspective, the Flugplatz Alt Daber was relatively unremarkable. The fliegerhorst only had 2 aircraft hangars and large maintenance hall as well as several smaller technical maintenance buildings as well as a heating plant. Flugplatz Alt Daber did on the other hand have a very large barracks complex.
As there was no real need to station a squadron here – hence there only being 2 hangars – the priority was to build a large training (and housing) facility for the paratroopers. The barracks (quite easily spotted on aerial maps of the time) were built in three large segments, the two largest being the housing units, while the smaller one was designated as an administration block. This part of the Flugplatz also housed the kitchens, messhall, officers casino and the motor pool.
The northern segment of the Flugplatz consisted of the maintenance hall, a storage building with a direct rail connection, the flight control tower and administrative building, a “drying tower” to hang and dry the parachutes as well as a packing hall (to pack the dried parachutes).
The main administration building also had an interesting feature – the entire cellar was constructed as an underground cinema, with space for 200 people.
Flugplatz Alt Daber, like many airfields of the time only had a grass runway, approximately 1200 x 500 meters long. Aside from training the new luftwaffe paratroopers, Alt Daber was also used to train military gliders which became quite popular among the military leadership and proved to be rather successful in the early stages of the war.
From the end of 1942 onwards, several Luftwaffe squadrons were briefly based in Wittstock, the most notable being the III/ Kampfgeschwader 4, the IV/Jagdgeschwader 301 (with the “new” Messerschmitt Bf 109 G) as well as the I (Pz.) / Schlachtgeschwader 9, which flew Focke-Wulf Fw 190 equipped with so called “Panzerblitz” missiles. The Schlachtgeschwader 9 was used as a last ditch attempt to stop the advancing soviet tanks around Berlin, but had very little operational success.
Flugplatz Alt Daber Video
We are going take a short detour to briefly talk about Herbert Gratzy, one of the early paratrooper pioneers:
Herbert Wilhelm Josef Gratzy, Edler von Wardenegg was born on the 3rd of May 1893, in Laibach Austria. He was enrolled in a cadet school in Graz between 1909 and 1912, then the military academi between 1912 and 1914 graduating with the rank of Lieutenant.
Herbert Gratzy was initially assigned as a platoon commander of a replacement squadron in Marburg to train new recruits before being shipped off to the Eastern Front (Carpathian Mountains) in December 1914. Grazty survived the war, and joined the newly formed Austrian Volkswehr at the end of 1918, before joining the Austrian Bundesheer in 1920.
Above: A postcard sent from the Fliegerhorst Wittstock Dosse in the 5th of April, 1940. The translated text reads: Dear Joseph Thank you for your card and I apologize for writing to you only now. I misplaced your card. I’m still the same. I still get mail from Tschenkowitz*. Well Sepp many (greetings) from your old friend Fritz
*Tschenkowitz (or Čenkovice) is a small village in Czechia close to the southern Polish border that was – until 1945 – mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. After the war, the population was forcibly expelled.
By 1935, having been promoted to the rank of Major a few years earlier, Gratzy was made Commandant of a Fliegerabwehr-MG-Kompanie (an anti aircraft unit). That same year, Herbert Gratzy began his career in parachuting – recording his first jump on the 19th of July and receiving official permission to engage in public parachuting activities in april 1936. Later that year, Gratzy formed the “Fallschirm-springergruppe Wien Nr. 71” (Paratrooper Group Vienna No. 71) with members from his anti-aircraft company, operating under the “Aeroclub.” Gratzy served as the group leader and parachuting instructor.
The “Springergruppe 71” took on the responsibility of developing the military parachuting service using their own funds – almost bankrupting Gratzy in the process. In 1937, Gratzy published the instructional book “Kamerad Fallschirm” (Comrade Parachute), where he outlined significant military applications for airborne units.
On December 1, 1937, Major Gratzy was transferred to the Fliegerregiment 2 in Zeltweg Austria, where he became the commander of the airborne weapons company. After Austria’s annexation into the German Reich on March 14, 1938, Gratzy became an officer in the German Wehrmacht. He served in the 1st Battalion of the 1st Parachute Regiment, where he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on April 1, 1939, and two months later, he was appointed as the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 1st Parachute Regiment.
On November 10, 1939, he became the commander of the Wittstock Parachute School at the Flugplatz Alt Daber. His tenure as Commander at Wittstock was cut short, as he died during parachuting accident on the 18th of January 1940. Gratzy had apparently been experimenting with delayed parachute opening, and due to a miscalculation and erroneous flight instruments, he deployed his parachute too late and was killed upon impact.
A small memorial to Herbert Gratzy has been set up next the airfield in Alt Daber, and by the looks of it – it’s either a fairly recent addition, or somebody seems to be taking care of it on a regular basis as the grass around it was freshly cut.
Flugplatz Alt Daber under the Soviets (Аэродром Витшток) 1945 – 1994
After the remaining personnel had evacuated from the Flugplatz Alt Daber, the Soviet Red Army took over Alt Daber on the 3rd of May 1945.
The Soviets almost immediately began stationing their own airforce in Alt Daber, but it would take until 1952 for them to build a 2500 meter long tarmac runway. Multiple fighter units were stationed in Wittstock, notibily the 33rd Fighter Aviation Regiment PVO – which was equipped with (among others) the MiG-21F. With the installation of a fixed runway, and the deployment of newer generation of fighter aircraft, the Soviets began building aircraft shelters as well as placing SAM sites in the vicinity of the Flugplatz Alt Daber (Аэродром Витшток).
The Soviets more or less took over everything that the Nazis had built, adding only slight modifications to some of the original buildings. The parachute packing hall was converted into what seems like car pol – judging from some of the still visible wall decorations depicting german street signs and traffic laws. The drying tower was also still more or less left as it was with the original ceiling mounts / holes left intact.
The Soviets did build a “tiny” city with over a dozen apartment blocks – each 4 stories tall – on the western end of the barracks. Not quite sure if you could consider yourself lucky to live on one of the apartments as they are all uniformly tiny. The Soviet Army ultimately withdrew from Wittstock/Dosse on the 20th of June, 1994 – handing the property over to the German government.
Flugplatz Alt Daber 1994 – 2022
The German Government had initially planned to reactivate the Flugplatz Alt Daber as a training institute for the Army and Luftwaffe, but ongoing legal cases against the continued use of the Wittstock-Ruppiner Heide as a military proving ground significantly delayed all plans. The plans were eventually dropped, and the airbase was used as a race track and event space. As with many former airbases, a large section of the Flugplatz Alt Daber (specifically the runway) was converted into a solar farm – at the time one of the largest in Germany.
In 2014, the city of Wittstock (with the help of significant EU investment funds) began demolishing large parts of the Flugplatz Alt Daber, as geological and environmental surveys had found significant traces of asbestos. Demolition of the large soviet apartment blocks on the south western end began in 2022 and as of June 2023, all but two blocks have been torn down. A lone Lenin statue still stands by the entrance, though it seems to look a little worse for wear, having lost its face some time ago.
Flugplatz Alt Daber (Wittstock/Dosse) Today – 2023
The main administration building, the two aircraft hangars, the former fire station and the maintenance building have were declared as listed (or protected) buildings, and there are no plans to demolish them and replace them with solar panels. What’s left of the other buildings is slowly being torn down to make space for the ever increasing solar farm. Most of the buildings are in terrible shape, and its questionable what good the “protected status” does, if nothing is being down to secure them. Supposedly the entrances to the underground cinema have collapsed and the cellar flooded with water – but i’ve heard conflicting stories about this.
Ownership of the Flugplatz Alt Daber is shared by the German State, by the State of Brandenburg and the city of Wittstock. After being left abandoned for so long, the buildings have become a refuge for several endangered and protected species (bats, reptiles and birds), and the areas where buildings have been torn down (an not covered with solar panels) have shown remarkable rates of renaturalization.
The state of Brandenburg has designated several large sections of the abandoned airbase as so called “compensation areas” – meaning that if the state has to cut down forests due to state infrastructure projects, the equivalent loss has to be reforested in designated areas. On the other hand, the areas which are not earmarked for reforestation will be sold off to private investors when the time comes. While its a sad affair to see the buildings slowly rot, it is nice that nature is making a comeback in the area – and I think most will agree that they’d rather have bats and lizards living in the former airbase than hundreds of Soviet soldiers.
Flugplatz Alt Daber Address
Flugplatz Alt Daber
Flugplatzallee, 16909 Wittstock/Dosse