Know Before You Go

Name: Fort Zorndorf (Fort Sarbinowo)
Date of Construction: 1883 – 1889
Status: Ruin
Address: 74-400 Sarbinowo, Poland
Geo Coordinates: 52.621733516996855, 14.66856713794554
Date Of Visit: October, 2023
Legal Visit: Yes, though signs in Polish warn not to enter the structure

Just across the German border, on the outskirts of Kostrzyn nad Odrą next to the former Reichsstraße 166 lie the remnants of the gigantic prussian Fort Zorndorf, one of four fortifications built to protect the Küstryn fortress. While two of the five forts have survived more or less intact to this day, the ruins of the Fort Zorndorf serve as an imposing reminder of its 140 year history.

Festung Küstrin

An extremely condensed history of the Fortress Küstrin:

After inheriting the Küstrin from the house Hohenzollern in 1535, Johann von Brandenburg-Küstrin decided to make the city his official residency. The Küstrin Castle was built between 1535 and 1537, and after its completion, work on the surrounding fortress began. The fortifications built between 1537 and 1543 were constantly undermined by floodwater and after several years of construction interruption, new reinforced brick walls were introduced between 1553 and 1568. Two of the architects heavily involved in the construction of the Festung Küstrin were Francesco Chiaramella and Rochus zu Lynar, both which had worked on the construction of the Zitadelle Spandau (amongst many other famous fortresses in Germany).

The Swedish King Gustav II Adolf took over the Küstrin in 1631 during the thirty years war and began expanding the fortress. The expansion would continue (after the Swedish departed) under Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg – until 1688. During the seven years war, Russian troops laid siege to Küstrin in 1758, burning down the city, yet failing to storm the fortress. A week later, King Frederick II soundly defeated the Russians in the Battle of Zorndorf.

During the fourth coalition war (aka the fourth attempt to get rid of the french), Napoleon’s troops took over the Festung Küstrin nearly unopposed in 1806. The french expanded the fortifications, though the failed invasion of russia in 1812 put them on the back foot. By 1813, russian and then prussian troops laid siege to the fortress and eventually starved the french out by 1814. The entire fortress complex was expanded and modernized between 1850 and 1878, making it more secure against long range artillery attacks.

Construction of the Fort Zorndorf

With the modernisation of the Fortress Küstrin, four outer fortresses were constructed – Fort Gorgast, Fort Zorndorf, Fort Säpzig and Fort Tschernowto – protect the flanks of the Küstrin fortress and to prevent any potential enemy from approaching Küstrin.

The Fort Zorndorf was built between 1883 (some sources say 1882) and 1889, and was one of the last fortresses in Prussia to be built under the Biehler system, essentially an updated standardised fortress blueprint. After spending who knows how much into building the Fotz Zorndorf – which was constructed out of 28 million double fired bricks – the Prussians declared all fortresses outdated.

By 1890, high explosive shells had been developed, which in contrast to their predecessors were not filled with black powder, but rather with high explosive material such as picric acid and nitrocellulose. These high explosive shells could shatter the walls of any of the fortresses, and with their increased range could target Küstrin directly without having to engage any of the outer fortresses.

Fort Zorndorf Video

As usual we short a short video as we walked through the Fort. We actually went up with the drone to see if we could get any good shots from above, but the area is completely overgrown with trees and there’s nothing to be seen, unless you use google earth – then you can clearly see the outline of the old fort.

Fort Zorndorf During And After The First World War

Information is rather scarce as to what happened with the Fort Zorndorf during the first World War. While on the one hand, smaller military structures were being constructed outside of the city of Küstrin just before the outbreak of the first world war, but at the same time the military administration was planning on removing the ramparts of the Fort Küstrin (but never got around to it).

What we do know is that the Fort Zorndorf was used as a prisoner of war camp during the war. After the treaty of versailles, the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission stipulated that all guns and weapons had to be with withdrawn from the forts. Fort Zorndorf was then used to house so called “Optants” – civilians who had previously lived in german territories that had been given to Poland after the war who had “chosen” the German citizenship over the Polish one and were forced to leave the territories (an estimated 30,000 Germans opted for the German citizenship).

Fort Zorndorf During And After The Second World War

The Fort Zorndorf was converted into a munitions factory with the outbreak of the Second World War – and thats essentially all that we know at this point about the activity here between 1939 and 1945. Towards the end of the war, a large part of Küstrin was razed to the ground and its population expelled. The Fort Zorndorf – now renamed to Fort Sarbinowo – was then used by the Polish Military as site to detonate unexploded ordnance, with some of its bricks being reused for reconstruction efforts, and later on as a military storage site up until the early 1990s.

Fort Zorndorf | Fort Sarbinowo Today (2023)

Of the four outer forts, Fort Gorgast and Fort Säpzig survived the war more or less undamaged. Fort Tschernow was torn down to make use of its bricks. After the Polish Military pulled out of Fort Zorndorf (Fort Sarbinowo), it was more or less left abandoned. It’s unclear when or how exactly the current damage originated from, but essentially everything of use aside from the bricks was torn out. While the majority of the Fort is still intact, including the steep ramparts, and long tunnels – almost all of the upper floors have been removed, giving the entire structure a cathedral like appearance.

While the Fort Zorndorf has surprisingly been more or less spared of shit graffiti, the surrounding forest has been used and abused as a local trash dump, with car parts just carelessly being dumped wherever. The fort itself is relatively empty, aside from a few bats who were just a little irritated by the flashlights. While there aren’t any fancy details to be found, the sheer size of the complex and its long history make this an interesting abandoned place to explore.

It is somewhat sad the the the fort has been left in such a state, and the local Polish government see no value in preserving this piece of history. Its relatively easily accessible by car (but not public transport), and its highly doubtful that anything will be done with the Fort Zorndorf in the near future. If one is in the area, there is an old Wehrmacht Pioneer Training Bridge nearby which is worth checking out, even if its just because it’s right across the street.

Fort Zorndorf | Fort Sarbinowo Address

Fort Sarbinowo
DK31, 66-470 Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Poland
52.62156717930557, 14.667506460979057

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