With more and more abandoned places in Berlin being converted into apartments and offices (or just outright being torn down) – it’s becoming increasingly more uncommon to find “untouched” and forgotten places in Berlin. Thankfully Startups and Hipsters don’t want to live in Brandenburg (yet), so the countryside is still littered with abandoned factories, bunkers and military bases left over from the Nazis and the Soviets. One of these buildings was the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau, a former Wehrmacht uniform depot – and one of the largest surviving connected structures of the 3rd Reich.
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The Heeresbekleidungsamt in Berlin
Germany is steeped in military history and traditions (ever wondered where those stereotypes about punctuality and order come from?). Every Military needs uniforms, and with the German Military being exceptionally large in the early 19th Century, it needed lots of Uniforms. It is hard to imagine but Berlin used to be full of large military complexes (dating back further than the 1930s). From 1848 onwards, an area that stretched from the Hauptbahnhof to the Perleberger Straße housed the largest military complex in Berlin. The complex housed garrisons, several factories, a parade ground and officers casinos (a surviving casino is now the Embassy of Uzbekistan). The complex also housed the Heeresbekleidungsamt, the central manufacturing site/depot for Military uniforms.
The Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau
When the Nazis came to power, they had big plans. The Wehrmacht needed lots of new uniforms and the Heeresbekleidungsamt in the Lehrter Straße ended up being too small for intended purpose. The Nazis decided to build a more suitable complex in Bernau, just north of Berlin.
On a 65,000 sqm large plot of land, the Nazis actually constructed two separate complexes – the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau – Hauptamt, and the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau – Nebenamt For complexity sake, we are going to be talking and looking at the Nebenamt in this article as the Hauptamt was turned into the Panzerkaserne Bernau by the Soviets and deserves its own separate article.
The architects constructed 8 interconnected, bow-shaped buildings. Each of the two story high clinker brick buildings was built with reinforced concrete – quite a new development at the time, and something the Germans mastered quite well. Comparing aerial views, the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau Nebenamt shows a remarkable similarity between another Nazi Superstructure – the now defunct Tempelhofer Airport. The size and scale of the Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau soon earned itself the nickname “the Führers wardrobe”.
When the construction of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau was completed in 1942, 1300 employees were moved from the old Bekleidungsamt in Berlin to Bernau. As the name implies Heeres(Army)bekleidungsamt(clothing departmant), the workers of the Heeresbekleidungsamt began producing Military Uniforms and equipment for the Nazi War Machine. Despite building such a massive complex – the Germans only managed to use the buildings for 3 years as the Soviets rolled into Bernau on the 20th of April, 1945.
The Soviets move in to the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau
The Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau was seized by the Soviets, who used it up until 1947 as a storage for their war loot which was being prepared to be shipped off back to the Soviet Union. The Heeresbekleidungsamt proved to be especially useful as the Nebenamt had a direct access to train tracks.
Never letting a good military structure go to waste, the Russians then used the Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau as a logistics and supply depot, as well as using is for the same reasons as the Nazis did – to store and repair Uniforms. As well as housing a Chemical Laundry – the Heeresbekleidungsamt was home to a Transport Unit, the Command of the Central Supply Depot, and a Military Mail Distribution Center.
The Soviets also seized the Heeresbekleidungsamt Hauptamt further down the road, and converted it into the Panzerkaserne Bernau – though that story is best told on its own: Panzerkaserne Bernau
Sadly – as was quite often the case – the Soviets weren’t sticklers for safety precautions or for keeping up with environmental standards. The Chemical Laundry liberally used Trichloroethylene – a common industrial solvent at the time, and ended up dumping tons and tons of it into the ground, poisoning the earth and the groundwater to this day.
The Soviets say goodbye
After the allied occupation of Germany ended, the now Russian military forces withdrew from the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau in 1994. The area was marked off as a “restricted zone” and the buildings were left to themselves. While the property is owned by the “Brandenburgische Boden Gesellschaft für Grundstücksverwaltung”, not much was being done with it. For several years the society “Panke-Park Kulturkonvent Bernau e. V.” started campaigning for the preservation of the historic buildings. In 2003 the group managed – with the help of the EU and the German Government – to establish a half-yearly clean up service of the area. While it was a small step, it at least was a step in the right direction.
It would be an understatement to describe the Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau as huge. When looking at the satellite images, one can easily draw comparisons between the old Tempelhof Airport. But as is so often with such buildings – the larger they are, the less there is to see. Endless mirroring corridors – only differentiating themselves by the color schemes of the walls.
As seen in so many other abandoned Russian military bases (such as the former Adolf Hitler Lager in Forst Zinna), soldiers have carved their names into the walls, and left parting messages. Some of the rooms are littered with little cards – believed at first to be laundry stubs – but upon closer inspection turned out to be some sort of Radiation Dosage Cards.
Other rooms look like they were used as a kindergarden and youth center, toys and various sporting equipment lay strewn across the floor, while other rooms were full of journals and drawings. These were most likely remnants from other brief tenants of the building. Venturing into the attic, you’ll stumble across the “Russen Disko” – the local discotheque.
You can only imagine the tunes that they played in here. As a general rule of thumb, you can almost always assume to find the most interesting stuff upstairs. Generally the Russians always seemed to have a knack for placing basketball courts and gyms upstairs – they must have really had some faith in german architects and builders. But aside from that – the rest of the complex consists out of empty hallways and storage rooms.
Aside from the usual funky soviet murals (which in this case really have an 80s touch) and some Russian and German labelling, the Heeresbekleidungsamt is just a very large warehouse.
The Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau today (2020)
It seems like after years of slumber, developers have found use for the Heeresbekleidungamt. Bernau, thanks to its proximity to Berlin (and thanks to Berlins ever increasing property prices) has seen an ever growing influx of new residents.
As of late 2016, the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau has been slated for redevelopment and has been in the process of being turned into fancy new apartments. The whole project is called “Pankebogen” and upon completion, it will be the second largest inhabited building in Germany after the former Tempelhof Airport. One of the people involved with the project drew size comparisons with the Nazi retreat Prora on the island of Rügen. Not sure thats the kind of association I would want with my new home.
As of 2020, the project seems to be almost complete. If you fancy seeing the development of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau over the years, have a look at the developers website, as they documented the whole process quite nicely from the start.
For more photos of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau – check out the Flickr album: Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau
Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau Nebenamt Address
Schönfelder Weg 17
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I always miss one information in such articles: most probably, considering the time and years, the complex was built by forced labourers. Another missing bit: the Nazis were as careless with chemicals as the later Soviets.
Hi Holger – thank you for your feedback. I try to be as thorough as I can be with these pieces, though most of the time its very difficult to find any more/deeper information about the construction phases etc (without access to archives etc). If you have any sources that could shed a deeper light, I would love to include them.
I admit it’s hard to find such information about specific sites. Generally speaking, there were about 1,000-3,000 forced labour camps in Berlin alone (!), and the whole economy during the war was based on forced labour. Germans would meet forced labourers in their daily lives. You can eventually find more information here: https://www.ns-zwangsarbeit.de/en/home/ I simply find it a bit disappointing reading about all these grand-scale buildings without remembering the suffering of the people involved in the construction and work there (probably also among the workers sewing uniforms were forced labourers). Not your fault, though, such information is most of the times omitted!
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