Fürstenberg – or to use its full name Wasserstadt Fürstenberg/Havel – has a long and difficult history. Its founding dates back to at least the middle of the 13th Century, but regardless of its achievements – its history is overshadowed by years of Nazi rule, the Concentration Camp Ravensbrück and nearly 50 years of Soviet military presence. While the most ominous remnants of the Nazis have either been demolished or turned into memorials to its victims, the traces of the Soviet “guests” in and around Fürstenberg have quietly vanished over the years. But the last holdouts of the Soviet legacy can still be found, like the Soviet Mural of Fürstenberg.
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Fürstenberg already had a large Nazi presence by the mid 1930s, and it gained even more relevance by 1938 – when 900 female prisoners of the KZ Lichtenburg were forced to build the (predominantly) female KZ Ravensbrück. In addition to building and expanding the camp, the inmates were forced to assist in the construction of the SS housing estate. The camp grew, various companies established factories close by to profit from the slave labour – such as Siemens & Halske as well the the SS owned Texled (Gesellschaft für Textil- und Lederverwertung mbH).
In 1941, the Nazis decided to establish a Sicherheitspolizeischule (Security Police School) – one of seven in the German Reich – in the Village of Drögen, just outside of Fürstenberg. Calling it village is a generous description as Drögen consisted of just a few houses along the Reichsstraße 96 (known as Bundestraße 96 today). While the locals initially thought that the Nazis were constructing an explosives factory – what they ended up building was something far more sinister.
The Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) – often abbreviated as SiPo – was a combination of the Gestapo (the secret state police) and the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police). In contrast to the Orpo – the Ordnungspolizei (“Order Police”) – the tasks of the Sicherheitspolizei wasnt to maintain everyday order, but to persecute, capture and destroy all real and perceived enemies of the National Socialist order.
The Sicherheitspolizei was also played an a major role in the planning and implementation of the Holocaust. The Sicherheitspolizei (along with the Orpo) was an an intergral part of the Einsatzgruppen, death squads, whose main role was the mass execution of jews, inteligensia, political oponents and everyone deemed as “undesireable”.
The Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen was constructed by up to 250 prisoners of the KZ Sachsenhausen and was completed in early 1942. The main function of the Polizeischule was to train the thousands of Gestapo and Kripo agents in Racial Studies, Anti-Communism and Shooting amongst other things. Prisoners of the nearby Ravensbrück were forced to take care of the everyday tasks at the Police School.
After the failed assassination plot against Hitler on the 20th of July, 1944 – the Gestapo rounded up all the suspects it could find, (such Julius Leber, Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris, Graf Bernstorff and Carl Langbehn) and brought them to Drögen for “questioning”. On the 23rd of November 1944, the Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin (now a memorial known as the Topographie des Terrors) took a direct hit during an allied air raid. The files that had survived the bombing were then moved over to the Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen.
2nd Guards Tank Army and Nuclear Missiles in Fürstenberg
The Soviets moved into Fürstenberg Havel in May 1945, and like with every German city quickly took over the former Nazi military installations. The 2nd Guards Tank Army (2. Garde-Panzerarmee | 2-я гвардейская танковая армия ) – which was either formed in 1943 or 1944, depending on which sources you read – took part in the East Pomeranian Offensive and the Seelow-Berlin offensive (amongst others) and was awarded the honorific “Red banner” in November 1944 for its success in combat. For brevity’s sake, I won’t go into too much detail regarding the (re)naming and unit structure of the 2nd Guards Tank Army as it would blow the scope and purpose of this piece.
By 1946 – Fürstenberg became the headquarters of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, the first Red Army unit to enter Berlin during the Battle of Berlin. The Soviets had taken over large parts Fürstenberg and marked them off limits for non military personnel – specifically the area around the Röblinsee with its luxurious villas (more on that in an upcoming post). The Soviet Army kept on expanding its presence in and around Fürstenberg, with it eventually occupying roughly 2000 hectares of land.
Things got a little bit spicey in January of 1959, when a West German spy observed a rather large and covert Soviet Military Transport unload some “very large bombs” near Fürstenberg. What the spy had observed was actually the Soviets unloading components of the R-5M (Nato Designation: SS-3 Shyster) – a Theatre ballistic missile that would be equipped with a thermonuclear warhead with an operational range of 1,200 km.
Alongside the R-5M components, the Soviets stationed two mobile launch pads – each capable of being equipped with six R-5M missiles outside of Fürstenberg. Of course the soviets didn’t put all their nuclear eggs into one basket, and stationed 2 more launchers and enough rockets to equip them in their Military Base in Vogelsang at the same time.
The thermonuclear warheads were secretly flown in through the Templin Airport in April 1959 and divided up for Fürstenberg and Vogelsang. Four missiles were aimed at the UK – specifically the Thor rocket positions in Borfolk and Lincolnshire, while the rest were targeted at American bases in Western Europe as well as strategic atlantic ports. This deployment of R-5M Nuclear equipped missiles was the first Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles outside of the Soviet Union, a full 3 years before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 – but I guess it’s only a crisis when the US becomes a target.
And now back to the the Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen. So what happened with the Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen specifically? Well, the Soviets took it over and repurposed all the buildings that the Nazis built. They added garages and workshops and its primary function was to repair tanks. In addition they added housing blocks, barracks, and all the infrastructure you would need if you permanently lived on base. The location of the base was quite useful, as directly across the road was the military training area for the tanks. And directly at the entrance of the Tank Base was the Soviet Mural that we can still see today.
Mürder of the Baer brothers
Before we finally get to the topic of the Soviet Mural in Fürstenberg, theres a short little story to be told about the murder of two young brothers in the “village” of Drögen right next to the Soviet Base. The family Baer bought a plot of land in Drögen in 1936 and built a small house as well as a pigsty and stable for their cows. A few years later the Nazis built the Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen right next door with only a concrete wall dividing the Baers and their new neighbours.
The Soviets entered Drögen in May 1945 and found three of the older Bears (the grandfather and his 2 brothers) in the house. One of them was shot dead, the other knocked unconscious and the third deported to Siberia never to be seen again. The other family members returned to their home a while later – but the Soviets who had taken over the Sicherheitspolizeischule wanted them gone. They were offered a replacement home somewhere else, but the Baers refused the offer as it wasnt equal to what they owned and had built up.
The SED tried to forcibly remove them but gave up on the idea by the mid 1950s. A sort of normalcy had formed between the Baers and the Soviets next door, with the Soviets buying fresh meat, eggs and milk from the Bears, and the Bears being allowed to shop at the Supermarket on the base. The family and their two sons – Uwe and Christian – were well known by the Soviets and were frequently seen around the base.
Uwe (19) and Christian (16) had set out to gather scrap metal near the perimeter wall of the Soviet base in Drögen on the evening of the 11th of June, 1987. The circumstances aren’t entirely clear, but a young Moldovan Soldier – Anatoli Knish (19) – ended up shooting and killing them both. At least one of the brothers wasn’t killed immediately, but slowly bleed out without anyone helping him. Anatoli’s recounting of the events was apparently quite inconsistent and he was placed under military detention for 20 days. No further outcome is known. The GDR – even if they wanted to – could not prosecute Anatoli as the Soviet Military area was quasi extra-territorial and out of East German jurisdiction.
Crimes commited by the Soviet Forces stationed in East Germany had been a problem for years. Over 100 people were killed or murdered every year in the GDR, alongside countless rapes and robberies. The East German authorities registered 1500 burglaries every year that were traced back to Soviet involvement – though no case ever made it in front of an East German Court. Even such high profile accidents like the Forst Zinna Train accident – which caused the death of 6 people and injured at least 33 – never saw anyone being held publicly accountable.
News and knowledge of soviet crimes was heavily surpressed whenever and wherever possible, but the murder of the two Baer brothers caused an upheaval in Fürstenberg that even the East German Stasi had trouble with surpressing. It worth mentioning that Fürstenberg at the time had roughly 5000 German residents, and about 30,000 Soviet Soliders stationed around in and around it. “Anti-Soviet” behaviour was documented, with shop assitants refusing to serve the Soviets, threats were issued, and an East German workers bridgade even left the “Society for German–Soviet Friendship”.
The Stasi tried its best to get the situation under control with the use of of its agents to sway the Baer family into silence, taking care of all costs, and even offering them to leave for West Germany. The father of the Bear brothers wanted to add the byline “Erschossen” (shot) onto their gravestone, but was denied this multiple times by the state.. On the day of the funeral, the Stasi wanted to prevent the father from seeing his dead sons one last time but he chased them out of the chappel. With the Dissolution of the German Democratic Republic the father got his wish and was finally allowed to add the byline on his sons graves.
The Soviet Mural of Fürstenberg
While we couldn’t find an exact date when the Soviet Mural outside of Fürstenberg was created, we do have at least one tiny (and rather obvious) clue – the depiction of “The Liberator” by Jewgeni Wutschetitsch. “The Liberator” is the central piece of the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, Berlin and was officially unveiled in May 1945. The depiction of the Liberator became an often used symbol of the Soviet Military in Germany and can be found on countless badges, medals and murals – as well as serving as the “logo” of the Military Headquarters in Wünsdorf.
The Russian translations below are far from perfect. If you have a more accurate and/or correct version, please do let me know in the comments so that I can correct them.
We can start to decipher the Soviet Mural from left to right, beginning with the left panel. The top of the panel reads ГВАРДЕЙСКИЙ ВАПНЯРСКО – БЕРЛИНСКИЙ (GVARDEYSKIY VAPNYARSKO – BERLINSKIY) – which translates to Guards Vapniarka – Berlin. The panel itself depicts a giant red army soldier with an outstretched arm, highlighting their journey through the Soviet Union to Berlin.
Reading the panel from right to left, there’s a rudimentary “map” which highlights the the battle route that the military unit took to reach Berlin. The unit starts its journey at the Gorokhovets artillery range (ГОРОХОВЕЦКИЕ ЛАГЕРЯ- which to this day is the main artillery range of the Russian Armed forces) in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast and then passes through the following cities/battles:
Voronezh (Voronezh Oblast, Russia)
Stalingrad (now Volgograd, Volgograd Oblast, Russia)
Tambov (Tambov Oblast, Russia)
Lgov (Kursk Oblast, Russia)
Oryol (Oryol Oblast, Russia)
Bila Tserkva (Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine)
Umam (Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine)
Vapniarka (Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine)
Kovel (Volyn Oblast, Ukraine)
Lublin (Lublin Voivodeship, Poland)
Dęblin (Lublin Voivodeship, Poland)
Radziejów (Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland)
Inowrocław (Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland)
Stargard (formerly Stargard in Pommern, West Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland)
The battle route is deeply engraved into the concrete panel, and it’s safe to say that there used to be an inlay of some sort. It might have even been illuminated at some point, but scrap metal thieves and vandals have made off with whatever was installed. Looking at older photos, the inlay was actually bright red.
The bottom left hand corner of the first panel has the following inscirption:
“Our unit was created in 1942 in Gorohovetsk camps”
One can also see an officer (holding whats most likely a Tokarev TT-33 in his hand) animating calling his comrades to push on forward. Behind the officer are two infantrymen rushing forward (holding what I assume can only be a crude depiction of a PPSh-41).
The central panel of the societ mural is topped with the year 1941 – 1945 (the great patriotic war only started with the german invasion of the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941). The left half of the central panel depicts a stylized version of “The Liberator” by Jewgeni Wutschetitsch, with the inscription: “Подвиг Твой Переживет Века” – Literall translation: “Your deeds will survive through the ages”.
The right half of the central panel lists the various awards given to the unit. The first piece on the top is a statement declaring the transformation of the brigade into the Motorized Rifle Brigade on the 20th of November, 1944.
The first award mentioned is the Order of the Red Banner, which was awarded on the 8th of April, 1944 for the Dniester crossing and the liberation of the city of Bălți.
The next award is the Order of Suvorov 2nd Class, awarded on the 8th of August 1944 for the capture of the cities of Lublin and Dęblin.
The third award given was the Order of Bogdan Khmelnitsky 2nd Class on the 26th of April 1945 for Pomeranian Offensive.
And here’s a gallery of what the Orders and Medals would have originally looked like:
The third pannel on the right side has the most information crammed into it and well decipher it in segments. The mural is headlined with the following text “ЭПИЗОДЫ БОЕВОГО ПРОШЛОГО” which roughly translates into “Past Battle Episodes” . The slogan is flanked on the left side by the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award and on the right with what appears to be the “Order of Victory” – the highest military decoration of the Soviet Union for service in the Second World War.
The left segment of the third panel lists 21 Heroes of the Soviet Union which served in the unit.
The center of the third panel can also be broken down into 3 parts:
The left part bears an inscription which roughly translates into
15 March 1944
For Liberating the city of Vapnyar and by order of the Supreme Commanding Brigade, the title of Vapnyarski is awarded
To form a understandable sentence out of this – after the Unit freed the City of Vapnyar in what is now Ukraine from Romanian occupation, the Unit was awarded the honorofic title of Vapnyarski. Above the inscription is what we assume to be a map of the battle plan.
The center of the 3rd panel bears quite possibly one of the most recognizable soviet propaganda motives The Motherland Calls by the georgian artist Irakli Toidse from 1941.
Here’s an a clearer image of the 1941 graphic on a commemorative postage stamp from 1965:
To the right of her is another inscription which translates into:
2 May 1945
By the order of the Supreme Commander, the name of Berlin is awarded
As with the first honorofic, the Title “Berlin” was added to the Units Name in honor of them taking part in the capture of Berlin in 1945. Above the text are the remnants of tactical battle map – though its been destroyed and rather difficult to decipher.
The right side of the panel has a large list, that when you translate it reads:
DURING THE WAR
|Soldiers and Officers||25183|
|??? (Most likely Tanks)||144|
|Trains with Cargo||14|
|Soldiers and Officers||22214|
We had a look around at the back of the large soviet mural, but aside from trees and trash there was nothing to be found.
Video: Soviet Memorial Drögen
Every now and then we also shoot a little video when we are out and about. The editing isn’t the best, but the video gives a nice overview of the area and atmosphere around the soviet murals.
The Soviet Industrial Achievements Mural
Just across from the large Soviet Mural depicting the Military Achievements of the 2nd Guard Tank Army, there’s a second smaller, but no less interesting mural with a whole bunch of pictograms.
The mural starts off with a quote from Lenin:
“You cannot defend the country without the great heroism of the people courageously implementing the great economic transformations”
At the top of the mural is the slogan “Plans of the Party – Plans of the People”, while the bottom of the mural is graced with the slogan “Soviet people know where there is a party, there is success, there is victory”.
Starting from left to right we can see the following pictograms:
Electricity (Billion kWh)
Oil (Million Tons)
Gas (? Cubic Meters)
Coal (Million Tons)
Rolled Steel (Million Tons)
Fertilizer (Million Tons)
Corn (Million Tons)
Meat (Million Tons)
Milk (Million Tons)
Sugar Beet (Million Tons)
Cotton (Million Tons)
Each Industrial and Agricultural product also had the amount produced and most likely a year attached to it, though the numbers have long since faded. The end of the mural has an obligatory depiction of the Kremlin, and whats left of an outline of the seal of the Soviet Union.
Unlike the larger Soviet Mural, its worth peeking around the back of this one as you’ll be rewarded with an ernest looking Lenin and the following quote:
“The Party: Mind, honor and conscience of our era”V. I. Lenin
The fact that Lenin and a quote are on this side of the mural, one can assume that there must have been something else here as well, though the 22 panels no longer exists to give us any clue.
Drögen and Fürstenberg after the Soviets
The former Soviet – now Russian military forces left Fürstenberg, Drögen and the surrounding area in 1993 and mid 1994 and the 2nd Guards Tank Army was then moved to the Volga Military District. As for the former Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen turned Soviet Tank Base? It was left abandoned. Fürstenberg, like many east german regions struggled with the russian inheritance.
The sheer volume of “property” left behind far outstripped the demand of any potential investors. While some of the old property owners returned and easily claimed back their dilapidated villas (turns out that the Soviets didn’t bother officially expropriating them) no one had any interested in the barracks outside of the city.
The sources surrounding the Barracks along the B96 are somewhat conflicting. One source states that around the year 2000, the ground was bought by a local hunter, who the Barracks and other buildings torn down. There is photographic evidence that a large portion of the Barracks was still standing around the year 2005, but have been subsequently torn down over the years. Both the Soviets murals have been spared the same fate until now. There is also a small stone pillar left from the entrance gate – just worth mentioning it for completion’s sake.
The Soviet Mural Drögen Today (2021)
As of March 2021, both the Soviet Murals along the B96 in Drögen are still standing. The larger of the of the murals has seen some vandalism and graffiti, but comparing the damage over the years – it’s been not gotten any worse. The smaller soviet mural – aside from missing whatever was located on the back side – has fared rather well over the years, with only some of the lettering having faded away.
Neither of the murals are listed monuments, meaning that they – if the property owner so wishes – can be torn down at any point in time. During our visit, there was a small digger parked on the side – and while its probably too small to tear down the soviet murals, it does show that there is still some ground work happening on the property.
Drögen does not have an active Railway Station, but there is a Bus Station (Bus 841, Haltestelle: Drögen) close by which apparently has a connection from Fürstenberg once every hour. If you dont have a car, this is the next best option of getting there.
The Soviet Mural in Drögen Fürstenberg Address
When travelling by car, you can pull off the B96 into an empty lot directly in front of the Soviet mural.