Bernau, just a few kilometers outside of Berlin was a city once known for its extensive Beer and Cloth Production skills. Today its known for being conveniently located on the S-Bahn line to Berlin and its UNESCO World Heritage site. But between 1941 and 1994 it was extensively known for the Heeresbekleidungsamt – and in turn the Panzerkaserne Bernau.
Origins of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau
Every army needs uniforms, especially one as large as the Prussian one. While not so evident today, Berlin used to be full of large military barracks and complexes. From 1848 onwards, Berlins largest military complex was once situated between what we known todays as Hauptbahnhof and Perlberger Staße. This area not only included garrisons, several factories, a parade ground and officers casinos (a surviving casino is now the Embassy of Uzbekistan) – it also housed the Heeresbekleidungsamt, the central manufacturing site and depot for Military uniforms.
When the Nazis came to power they not only transformed the Reichswehr into the Wehrmacht, they reestablished the mandatory military service, a clear violation of the treaty of versailles. The increase in Wehrmacht recruits also meant an increase in the need for new uniforms – and the old Heeresbekleidungsamt ended up being too small to fit its purpose. So the Nazis decided to build a more suitable complex in Bernau, just 10 kilometres north of Berlin.
Construction of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau
in 1939, a 65,000 sqm large plot of land along the Schwanebecker Chaussee in Bernau was picked for the new project. What the Nazis had planned was actually so large, that it was broken up into two seperate complexes: the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau Hauptamt (main office) and the Heeresbekleidungsamt Nebenamt (side office) at Schönfelder Weg.
The Architects of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau Nebenamt (Schönfelder Weg) constructed 8 interconnected, bow-shaped buildings, each two stories high and made out of reinforced concrete. Now they don’t look as massive and sturdy as they could, and thats because the exterior was covered in bricks. The Nebenamt of the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau should actually be treated as its own individual building – as its later purpose was also completely different to that of the Hauptamt. A full post with more information and photos can be found here: Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau.
Ironically, for reasons unknown, theres a whole lot more information available concerning the Nebenlager than for the Hauptamt. What we do know is that the Heeresbekleidungsamt Bernau Hauptamt was constructed between 1939 and 1942 in an identically way – out of reinforced and shatterproof concrete, with the exterior being covered in bricks.
While the buildings weren’t arranged in a semi circle, a few of them were interconnected in a similar way. And instead of two stories, the Hauptamt consisted of one large three story building and a few smaller buildings to the side. Both the size and scale of the Heeresbekleidungsamt in Bernau soon earned itself the nickname as “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, as well as serving as the main uniform storage depot. 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.
While the Nebenamt of the Heeresbekleidungsamt was first turned into a war loot depot, it soon reverted to a similar function under the Soviets as it had for the Nazis. The Hauptamt is a bit of a different story as it was turned into the Panzerkaserne Bernau. Around 1946, the Soviet Red Army began shifting troops around – in this case specifically the 1st mechanized Krasnogradsky Red Banner Corps. The 1st mechanized corps itself was part of the 20th Guards Combined Arms Army which was based at the Artillery Kaserne in Eberswalde.
Soon enough, the 20th Guards Army, began moving more troops to the Panzerkaserne Bernau, including the 6th Guards Mechanised Division (renamed from 1957 to 1982 to 6th Guards Motor Rifle Division)- which brought along with it a whole host of units including:
150. Military Command
6th Guards Tank Regiments
68th Guards Tank Regiments
81st Guards Motor Rifle Regiment
803rd Motor Rifle Regiment
400th SP Artillery Regiment
288th Air defence Missile Regiment
And just to add to the confusion, the 6th Guards Mechanised Division (which had previously been renamed in 1957) was renamed again in 1985 to the 90th Guards ” Lvov, Order of the Red Banner, Order of Lenin, Order of Suvorov” Tank Division. What sounds like a whole mouthful, are honorifics that were added to a division or units name after being awarded said honor during battle.
The last name seemed to have stuck, and the Panzerkaserne Bernau is sometimes also referred to as “Garde Rotbanner Panzerregiment Bernau” or “Guards Red Banner Tank Regiment Bernau”. Interestingly another name that seems to have stuck with some of the local residents is Kaserne Lindow, as the Panzerkaserne Bernau – while in Bernau is actually situated in the district of Lindow.
On a side note: 20th Guards Combined Arms Army had the dubious honor of being part of the Soviet (Warsaw Pact) invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
While exact dates and plans are hard to find, it is clear that the Soviets expanded the infrastructure of the Panzerkaserne Bernau. At least 12 garages and mechanical buildings were built up on the southern end of the military barracks, but other than that no larger substantial changes were made to the original infrastructure.
The Soviets move out of the Panzerkaserne Bernau
Theres conflicting information when the Soviets left the Panzerkaserne Bernau – some sources say 1991, others refrence 1993. What is sure is that they did leave. And what they left behind. While the grounds of the neighbouring Heeresbekleidungsamt Nebenamt was contaminated thanks to a massive spill of toxic cleaning chemicals – the Panzerkaserne Bernau was left relatively clean and “empty”.
All in all, 15 buildings were handed over to the Brandenburg State – and nothing happened as nobody had a need for an abandoned Soviet military base in Brandenburg. It took until 1997 for Bernau to receive back the ownership rights of the Panzerkaserne (they had been previously held by the state capital Cottbus), but nothing really changed – as Bernau didn’t really have a plan what to do with it either. So the years passed and the place gradually sunk into a state of seemingly eternal disrepair, vandalism and street art. Until 2016.
The Panzerkaserne Bernau today (2020)
In 2016, the city council of Bernau decided to draw up a developmental plan for the former Panzerkaserne Bernau along the Schwanebecker Chaussee. What they intended to do was fully redevelop the 36 hectares into a new city district. A new school, kindergartens, shops and sporting facilities were planned, as well as roughly 2,300 housing units. This type of city planning seems to have become quite popular, as the Kaserne Krampnitz close to Potsdam is currently undergoing a virtually identical conversion.
In 2018, construction work began – first by chopping down all the trees and massively overgrown vegetation. Later that year, the construction company began tearing down the non-listed buildings, which were mainly the new Soviet additions – essentially only leaving the main building standing.
As of 2020 it seems like the majority of non-protected buildings have been torn down, and another 8-10 million euros now need to be spent in removing contaminated soil and buried metals and munitions. Apparently the whole conversion project for the Panzerkaserne Bernau hasn’t jumped through all of its legal hoops yet – as the official construction start date is set for 2021, with projected completion date of 2031.
*These photos were taken in 2013, and don’t reflect the state of the Panzerkaserne Bernau in 2021 / 2022.
Address of the Panzerkaserne Bernau
Schwanebecker Chaussee 50, 16321 Bernau bei Berlin