After the end of the Second World War, the Allies – and especially the Soviets started a mad scramble to repurpose former Nazi Military installations. Never letting a good Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe base go to waste – the Soviets inadvertently ended up with a luxury military barracks – the “Heeres Reit- und Fahrschule und Kavallerieschule Krampnitz“ (also known as Kaserne Krampnitz) in their sphere of influence.
Table of Contents
Kaserne Krampnitz’s predecessor in Hannover
There would have never been a Kaserne Krampnitz if it weren’t for its predecessor – the Kavallerieschule der Reichswehr in Hannover. The Cavalry School in Hannover was founded January 1, 1920 as a successor to the Prussian Military Institute in accordance with the Versailles Treaty (which demanded a general demilitarisation of Germany). The school was a cavalry teaching and training institute founded by the Reichswehr and later transferred to the Wehrmacht. Among other things, its task was to prepare officer horses, which were then delivered to the troops. In addition, the School trained ensigns (who were about to be promoted to Officers) in weapons technology.
The Cavalry School had many famous students, amongst them Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg who attended the cavalry school until 1929. The Cavalry School in Hannover was famous across Europe for its excellent training – and especially its riding theory which lead the way in Germany and Europe, and which still has an impact on equestrian training in riding clubs and schools today (all six gold medals in the equestrian competitions of the 1936 Olympics were won by riders from the Cavalry School in Hannover).
Construction of the Heeres Reit- und Fahrschule und Kavallerieschule Krampnitz
By the Mid 1930’s, theCavalry School in Hannover wasn’t quite enough for the grand plans of the Nazi regime. The Wehrmacht planned for a new Cavalry School but sought to include it as an expansion of the already existing military facilities in Döberitz/Potsdam – which already contained numerous barracks (like the Löwen Adler Kaserne) and the massive military training ground in Döberitz.
One can ask themselves, why would the Nazis build a giant cavalry school – but its easy to forget that despite the ongoing modernisation and mechanisation of the military, the Wehrmacht still had almost 600,000 horses in use by the beginning of the second world war in 1939.
Kaserne Krampnitz was meant to train soldiers in modern, technically oriented mobile warfare and reconnaissance, especially with the aid of bicycles, motorcycles, motor vehicles and later armoured personnel carriers and scout tanks – which also made it the spearhead of germanys tank reconnaissance troops.
The cavalry tradition attracted many noble officers – and was a point of pride for the military. As mentioned previously, riders from the Cavalry School were very successful on the international stage – so it was envisioned to house the “national team” at Krampnitz as well as to offer space to visiting international teams.
Kaserne Krampnitz was never meant to be just an ordinary Military Barracks – it was envisioned to be both representative of Germanys Cavalry traditions, but also modern and forward looking, a well as serving as a role model both within Germany and to the outside world. To achieve this, the Nazis hired an old acquaintance – the architect Robert Kisch.
Kisch studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule Berlin from 1920 to 1924, and ended up being assistant to Eduard Jobst Siedler in 1927. Siedler and his assistant Kisch eventually won the contract to design and build the extension of the Reichskanzlei from 1928 to 1931. Soon after Kisch joined the Army building administration and began designing Military Barracks for the Wehrmacht.
The Heeres Reitschule Krampnitz outside of Potsdam was planned for a troop strength of 3,700 men, 1,800 horses as well as housing 450 families. Construction began in 1937 and lasted until 1939, though troops were moved in successively. The Cavalry School in Hannover officially moved into the Kaserne Krampnitz on the symbolic date of the 1st of September, 1939.
The original planning for the Krampnitz Barracks from 1937 was changed in 1939, with more troop and vehicle buildings planned on the western end of the base – though these plans never materialised.
Layout of the Kaserne Krampnitz
Kisch planned a spacious complex of two-storey barracks buildings (in fact there are only two three-storey buildings in Krampnitz) characterised by two large axes with a representative entrance flanked by a large tower overlooking the Krampnitzsee. On the eastern edge close to the Krampnitzsee are the representative buildings – namely the Officers Casino, three officers’ dormitories, three ensign buildings, the staff building and two buildings for the lower enlisted men.
A large east-west axis fans out from the central three-story officer’s building to the west through team buildings, the central riding arena and a large riding hall and stable yard; 15 riding halls were original planned, though only 9 of them were built. Six team and two farm buildings are grouped around the central riding arena.
Another large building complex which would have included an auditorium, gymnasium and swimming pool was planned to the west – though that as well was never built. Another eleven team and two farm buildings are located in the south of the facility, while there were further horse stables and riding halls in the north.
The motorized units of the Kaserne Krampnitz were located in the southwestern section of the base – which was expanded in 1939. A three storey gatehouse marks the entrance to this section of the Kaserne and lead to a modern workshop and an garage complex with 16 motor halls.
Both areas of the facility – the riding area and the driving area – were autonomously equipped with workshops, other necessary technical facilities and personnel. Kaserne Krampnitz had 5 entrances, the representative gate square with a tower on Krampnitzsee, a driveway northeast of it, through which the heating plant could be accessed directly, and a driveway to the cavalry school in the southwest. Two dam paths led to the north to the training area in the Döberitz Heide and to the northwest to the shooting range.
Heeresreitschule Krampnitz and the War
In 1941 the Heeresreitschule Krampnitz – or to use its official name Heeres Reit- und Fahrschule und Kavallerieschule Krampnitz – was renamed “Schule für Schnelle Truppe” (School for Rapid Troops) and then again renamed in 1943 to “Panzertruppenschule II Krampnitz”.
Krampnitz’s motorized units were moved to Bromberg in Western Prussia (now Bydgoszcz), so by early 1945 only a small unit remained in Krampnitz. As the war was drawing to a close – Krampnitz was then used as a base by motorized units fighting around Berlin.
By April 1945, the last remaining soldiers in Krampnitz took the last remaining 400 or so horses and decided to evade the Soviets and to flee into American and British captivity in Saxony. On April 27th, 1945 the Soviets captured the empty and almost brand new Kaserne Krampnitz (the Nazis only used it for 6 years).
Despite being such a prestige object – and in theory a high value target, Krampnitz by Potsdam was never subject to a bombing run. This was largely thanks to a decoy installation at the Fahrländer See, which took off the attention of the Kaserne.
The Soviets move into Kaserne Krampnitz
The first division to be stationed in Krampnitz in 1945 was the 10th Guards Uralsko-Lvovskaya Tank Division. Interestingly enough, the civilian employees who worked at the Krampnitz Kaserne and lived in purpose built houses just outside of the Kaserne were initially allowed to stay – as it turned out the Soviets had good use for their skills.
This changed from 1946 onwards when the first homes were “evacuated”, which continued until 1952. After all civilians had been removed, the Soviets erected a wall around the “village” and incorporated it into the Military Base (though they only began using the houses themselves much later).
The barracks were used more more intensively by the Soviets than by the Nazis, and thus they began to structurally expand the base. In 1946, three industrial sized canteens were built. By 1967, a large residential building with 48 units was built, a shopping center and a heating plant were added in 1975.
At the same time three dormitories and four 5 storey apartment blocks were built on the northern and western ends. A large sportshall was built in 1980, and two more soviet prefab buildings were added in 1987 and 1989 (showing that the Soviets werent quite convinced they were going to leave Germany just yet). By 1989, the number of housing units at Krampnitz was almost tripled from originally 164 to 347.
It’s worth mentioning that the Soviets, once they moved in to former Nazi structures rarely ever modernised or improved on the original structures – let alone expanded them. If at all, they built entirely new structures in addition to the existing ones.
The Soviets didnt just build new buildings at the former Kavallerieschule Krampnitz, they also added some new technical facilities. Fuel depots were added in 1959, while four tank washing and repair facilities were constructed by 1969. Another tank washing and repair facility, as well as extensions to the existing facilities, eight depots and three teaching buildings were constructed by 1979. Between the 1980 and 1989, another boiler house as well as a central laundry were built.
Poisoning the ground and the lake
The laundry facility which was constructed in 1987 proved to be an environmental catastrophe. A chemical cleaning machine was installed, which used the – at the time very common – cleaning agent trichloroethene. Aside from being a very effective degreasing agent, it was also extremely harmful to the environment. An accident occurred, and 500kg of trichloroethene seeped into the ground, poisoning it for decades. An almost identical accident occurred at the Heeresbekleidnungs Amt in Bernau as well (and interestingly enough, the Soviets also had another Tank Base there – the Panzerkaserne Bernau).
In connection with the construction of the laundry, the state water authority had requested an expansion of the sewage treatment plant. For years locals had complained about the water pollution from the barracks. Local residents report of meter-high foam mountains on the Krampnitzsee and of inedible fish that were caught in the lake. The wastewater pipeline broke several times, causing considerable amounts of untreated wastewater to flow into the Krampnitzsee.
At the same time there was a constant expansion of the barracks with denser occupancy, which inevitably increased the amount of waste water. The Soviet soldiers built an additional seven settling tanks in the vicinity of the sewage treatment plant on the site of an earlier dump. After its completion in 1990, there was another accident when a faulty constructed damm broke and large amounts of waste water poured into the Krampnitzsee.
Kaserne Krampnitz – a small Soviet city
The 10th Guards Uralsko-Lvovskaya Tank Division was the first unit to move into the Kaserne Krampnitz in 1945, but it only stayed until 1983 when it was moved to Magdeburg. This Tank unit was also one of the Units used to brutally surpress the East German uprising in 1952. Four new units moved in which included the staff of a division based in Döberitz, an anti-aircraft regiment and two tank and gunner training regiments.
From 1983 onwards, Krampnitz was turned into a training barracks in which soldiers were trained for all Soviet army units in the German Democratic Republic.
By 1989, roughly 6,000 soldiers were stationed at the Kavallerie- und Panzertruppenschule Krampnitz, with an additional 1,500 family members and civilian employees. So not only did the amount of buildings tripple, the Krampnitz now also housed double the amount of people planned in 1937. Ironically, Kaserne Krampnitz was still considered spacious compared to Barracks in the USSR – as it was common for a dorm to hold 100 to 150 soldiers, whereas at the Kaserne Krampnitz it was 25-40 people per dorm.
The Kaserne Krampnitz wasn’t just the size of small town, it was also equipped like one. Krampnitz had a department store, a fruit and vegetable shop, an East German Delikat shop with western products, a kindergarten and a school, two cinemas, four sports fields and a bath house.
And unlike other more secretive Soviet Military installations such as the Adolf Hitler Lager in Forst Zinna, Krampnitz was relatively open and accessible, allowing german residents of the neighbourhood to shop at the stores on the base – were actually quite a few german civilians worked at. Local companies from Potsdam received numerous orders from the Soviets, and School classes from Potsdam were regularly invited to the casino for German-Soviet friendship events.
Glasnost and Goodbye
Feeling the winds of change within the Soviet Union, the Russians slowly started calling back their troops. The first to leave Krampnitz was the Tank training Regiment in 1989, followed by the motor rifle troops in 1990 – which meant that by this time, Kaserne Krampnitz was already half empty.
Germany and the USSR signed signed an agreement on the 12th of October 1990, which formalised and regulated the Soviet Troop withdrawal from Germany until 1994. In the case of the former Heeresreitschule Krampnitz by Potsdam – the Soviets didnt need until 1994. They handed over the keys to the abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz on the 13th of November 1991.
Abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz 1991 – 2008
The German authorities had little use for the now abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz (just like with the Artillerie Kaserne in Eberswalde) – and actually had a serious issue at hand. The ground was still poisoned thanks to the trichloroethene accidents, and they had ensure that the area was cleared of dumped munitions.
The various septic, chemical and gasoline tanks were cleaned out, and the majority of the trash and debris which had been dumped around was removed by 1995. Removing the trichloroethene poisoned earth apparently was such an issue that it took until 2008 or so to remove the soil – at a cost of 3,5 million euros.
In 2006, an Investor wanted to build a Football theme park where Krampnitz was, which would have included a Hotel, restaurant, sporting and training grounds, event locations and Houses, but this never came to fruition.
In 2008, TG Potsdam GmbH bought the abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz from the State of Brandenburg for 4,1 million euros – but due to numerous legal and planning disputes not much happened with the place for years.
What did happen was that the movie industry found a perfect setting for its Nazi and post apocalyptic films. Such illustrious Hollywood movies as Enemy at the Gates, Resident Evil, Mein Führer, Inglourious Basterds, Effi Briest and Monuments Men used the Heeresreitschule Krampnitz as a backdrop.
Over time, copper thieves, treasures hunters, neo nazis and general idiots left their traces in Krampnitz – destroying, stealing and generally causing mayhem wherever they could.
The infamous Nazi Eagle and Swastika Mosaic
If you’ve heard of the abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz, then you’ve most likely seen a photo of the giant Eagle and Swastika mosaic. Over the years there had been much debate on the internet over its authenticity – and until having seen it ourselves, we were unsure what to think about it.
The arguments that it were fake were the following: Why would the Soviets keep a large Nazi Eagle mosaic with 5 swastikas embezzled on it? Surely they would have just removed it. Adding to the argument that it was probably fake was that many war movies were filmed here, so it might just be a very convincing move prop.
Having seen it up close and personal, we think its the real deal. There are plenty of Nazi Eagles still visible in other parts of Krampnitz, most notibally on the large riding halls and in the Officers Casino – so the Soviets clearly didn’t have a big issue.
Four of the Swastikas in the corners were tiled up – but still visible in the right light. If it was fake – who would go through that effort? In my opinion, they kept the Nazi Eagle and Swastika as a symbol of their victory. Even the Russian Embassy in Berlin has Nazi Eagle light fixtures installed (albeit turned around as a sign of disrespect to the Nazis). Ironically, this isn’t the only place to see the Nazi Eagles – more than a handful have endured over the decades all over Berlin.
The Nazi Eagle in Krampnitz had been a somewhat guarded secret – as vandals and idiots do seem to take every opportunity to destroy everything they can get their hands on. With its location becoming more well know – more people sought it out, which brought more vandalism to the mosaic. While Krampnitz was relatively unguarded, the owner began boarding up the buildings, which didn’t stop people from removing the boards themselves. A cat and mouse game continued until the owner had enough and painted over the mosaic (with plaster if I remember correctly).
Kaserne Krampnitz today (2020)
In 2013, the city of Potsdam decided to finally do something about the abandoned Kaserne Krampnitz at the gates of the city – and started developing an urbanisation plan.
In 2015, an open call was placed for concepts as to how best revitalize the area. Concepts were fleshed out by 2018, and now plans have been set in motion to build homes and offices for around 10,000 people.
Many of the buildings have been listed as protected monuments, so they will survive the new developments. By 2020, much of the overgrowth has been cleared, allowing us a full view of the buildings probably not seen since the Soviets left.
The planning company organizes occasional tours of the Kaserne Krampnitz on set days, though these have been postponed until further notice due to the corona virus crisis.
Kaserne Krampnitz FAQ
When was the Heeres-Reitschule Krampnitz built?
The Heeres-Reitschule Krampnitz, also known as Kaserne Krampnitz was built between 1935 and 1937. The Hannover Cavalry School moved in on the 1st of September, 1939.
Who used the Kaserne Krampnitz?
From 1937 to 1946, the Nazis – and more specifically the Cavalry section and the tank reconnaissance troops and other mechanised troops. From 1945 until 1991,, the Soviet 10th Guards Uralsko-Lvovskaya Tank Division as well as anti-aircraft regiment and two tank and gunner training regiments made Kaserne Krampnitz their base.
How big is Kaserne Krampnitz?
Including the Soviet expansions post 1945, Kaserne Krampnitz is roughly 120 hectars in size.
How many Soldiers were stationed in Krampnitz?
The Nazis planned to station 3,700 men, 1,800 horses and 450 families in Krampnitz. The Soviets had 6,000 soldiers, 1,500 family members and civilian employees stationed at Krampnitz.
Can you legally visit Kaserne Krampnitz?
Yes, there are legal tours of Kaserne Krampnitz. Despite being redeveloped as a housing and business estate, the developer organises a weekly tour of the area.
Address of the Kaserne Krampnitz
Kaserne Krampnitz, Potsdamer Chaussee, 14476 Potsdam
Kaserne Krampnitz Address