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Seemingly every larger village in Brandenburg has some connection to Germany’s military past – but few places can boast 360 years of continuous military use like the city of Fürstenwalde. When strolling through town, you’ll stumble across plenty reminders of the city’s garrison past – and even on the outskirts between the farmers fields, you’ll find the remnants of the Nazi era “Mars La Tour Kaserne”, evoking images of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.
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A short history of Fürstenwalde
While there is some historical debate surrounding the topic that the area surrounding modern day Fürstenwalde was inhabited by the 1st century AD (known as Susudata) – Fürstenwalde was first officially mentioned in 1272. Its strategic location next to the river Spree – which was also conveniently unpassable for ships beyond this point – made it one of the richest cities in the Margraviate of Brandenburg
Fürstenwaldes rise through the centuries were somewhat dampened when the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Kanal was built in 1668, which connected the Oder river with the Spree, essentially robbing the city of some of its lucrative income. Fürstenwalde was quick to adopt industrialisation and by 1842 was one of the first cities to be connected to the Niederschlesisch-Märkische Eisenbahn. The line was one of the first rail lines in Germany and connected Berlin with Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland).
Again, its strategic location helped it become an attractive industrial hub for a wide variety of industries – with one of the most notable companies settling here belonging to Julius Pintsch – manufacturer and inventor of the Pintsch Gas. Upon its discovery, the gas was “widely used in railway transport and marine navigation applications up until the 1930s.
Fürstenwalde as a Garrison City (1618 – 1900)
Like much of europe, Brandenburg was ravaged during the 30 years war (1618-1648) – and Fürstenwalde was not spared. The city was first mentioned to have garrisoned troops in 1634, when the stationed troops donated a silver chalice to the Cathedral. By 1687, a company of “Grand Musketeers” were garrisoned in the city, and in 1778, the arrival of two troops of Zieten Hussars (300 men) was noted.
The city was occupied by Napoleonic troops from 1806 until 1813, when the city was freed by russian troops led by General Alexander von Benckendorff (founder of the Imperial Russian Secret Police). With Napoleon gone, the newly formed (in 1809) Brandenburgisches Ulanen-Regiment (Kaiser von Russland) Nr. 3 was garrisoned in Fürstenwalde from 1817 onwards.
For those not familiar with the term Uhlan, they were a light cavalry, having originated in Lithuania in the late 14th century and quickly gained popularity throughout europe.
Since 1687, soldiers had been billeted in private accommodation in Fürstenwalde – that is until 1897, when the German military finally built the Ulanenkaserne (along the Gartenstraße) and gave the stationed troops centralised accommodation.
Mars La Tour Kaserne in Fürstenwalde
After the Nazis came to power, they almost immediately began expanding existing military facilities (such as ins Wünsdorf) and building new barracks as well as vastly increasing military research, development and training. The Ulanenkaserne in Fürstenwalde was expanded in 1937 and was now home to the 1. Pionier-Bataillon für Eisenbahn und schweren Brückenbau (a pioneer/engineering battalion responsible for building railroad tracks and bridges).
The Kavallerie-Regiment 9 which had been stationed in Fürstenwalde since 1920 was forced to move out of the Ulanenkaserne, though a brand new military complex – known as the “Reiter Kaserne” – was built for them along the Braunsdorfer Chaussee. Its worth noting that the Reiter Kaserne in Fürstenwalde (and possibly the Marrs La Tour Kaserne) was designed by Robert Kisch, the same architect who designed the Kaserne Krampnitz outside of Potsdam.
Another military complex that was being constructed was the so-called “Mars La Tour” Kaserne, just a little further south of the Reiter Kaserne, Exact details are hard to come by and seem to have been lost to time, but the Mars La Tour Kaserne in Fürstenwalde (not to be confused with the Mars-la-Tour-Kaserne in Braunschweig) was built between 1937 and 1943, and consisted of 8 barracks, two large entrance gates as well as two messhall buildings. The long construction period seems to indicated that the complex was expanded several times over the years.
The Mars La Tour Kaserne, named after the the battle of Mars-la-Tour on the 16th of August 1870 (which resulted in an important strategic win over the French for the Prussian Army) – apparently housed the II./Kavallerie-Regiment 9 before the outbreak of the war (the regimental staff, as well as the I, II and III eskadron were all stationed in Fürstenwalde).
With the outbreak of the second world war and the Kavallerie-Regiment 9 being sent to the frontlines, new units moved into the Mars La Tour Kaserne, most notably the Radfahr-Ausbildungs-Abteilung 9 – a bicycle infantry unit around 1943. Its from this unit that the Mars La Tour Kaserne received its other name, the “Radfahrerkaserne” (literally “Cyclist Barracks”).
In 1939, the Kavallerie-Ersatz-Abteilung 9 (ersatz = reserve) was formed out of the Kavallerie-Regiment 9, which also included 2 bicycle squadrons. Over the course of the war, the units name changed multiple times, eventually splitting into a Radfahr-Ersatz-Abteilung 9 and a Radfahr-Ausbildungs-Abteilung 9 in 1943.
With the tide of the war having turned, the Volkssturm was established in late september of 1944. All men aged between 16 and 60 were drafted as a last ditch effort to stop the Soviets (and allies from advancing). In Fürstenwalde, the Mars La Tour Kaserne was used to train the new conscripts.
With the Soviet Army rapidly advancing towards Berlin, Fürstenwalde was deemed essential for the 3rd main defensive ring around Berlin and declared a fortress. The Soviet Army conducted several heavy air raids on the 17th and 18th of April 1945, essentially flattening large parts the city.
The remaining troops aided by the Volkssturm left the Reiter Kaserne, Mars La Tour Kaserne and Ulanenkaserne to engage the Red Army – setting fire to what was left of the city center to slow down the soviet advance. Most of the Volkssturm had been wiped out at this point and the last of the residents of Fürstenwalde were evacuated (leaving only 2000 people behind in the city with a former population of 28,000) before the Spreebrücke (the main bridge crossing in Fürstenberg over the Spree river) was blown up.
The Mars La Tour Kaserne under the Soviets
The Soviets took over the Reiter Kaserne and Ulanenkaserne after the end of the war, as well as the Flugplatz Fürstenwalde (and the Twin Villas in Fürstenwalde), while the Mars La Tour Kaserne was used to house refugees and those who had become homeless at the end of the war.
After the refugees and homeless had been rehoused, the Soviets seemingly had no use for the Mars La Tour Kaserne, and allowed for large segments of the base to be demolished in 1947 – with several workers being severly injured and killed in the process.
Having seemingly a change of heart, the Soviets decided to reactivate what was left of the the Mars La Tour Kaserne in Fürstenwalde in 1954, and transformed it into a military Hospital (similar to the Heilstätte Beelitz and Heilstätte Grabowsee). The Soviets operated the military hospital until their withdrawal from Fürstenwalde in 1993.
With the Soviet withdrawal from Fürstenwalde, along with that of the Bundeswehr which had inherited the GDR military installations in the area in 1990 – Fürstenwalde was completely free of any military presence since 1634.
Mars La Tour Kaserne Video
As you can see from the photos, the interior of the remaining building is in an atrocious state, and considering that a large part of the interior is quite dark – there is no footage of the interior, rather just drone footage from above/the surroundings.
The Mars La Tour Kaserne Today
After the Soviet Military pulled out of Fürstenwalde, the former military installations were handed over to the German State. The Reiter Kaserne and the Ulanenkaserne were converted into civilian housing estates in the late 1990s and early 2010s (after years of being left empty), while similar plans were hatched for the Mars La Tour Kaserne.
Despite being up for sale, and in theory being located in an attractive area – nobody has snapped up the property over the past years, leading a few people to speculate that ground contamination might be the cause. Only the main entrance gate, the Soviet border walls and the main “hospital” complex have survived – while all other buildings have been torn down.
With the buildings having been left empty for so long, rampant vandalism, few illegal parties and arson have decimated the interior of the building, while some locals have decided to use the property to dump their trash illegally. While efforts have been made to secure the building, and regular cleans ups have been organized to remove the trash, it seems like little is going to happen in the next few years (aside form it most likely being torn down due to its condition).
Mars La Tour Kaserne / Radfahrerkaserne Address