Anyone traveling between and alongside the hiking trails of Brandner Wald and the Stolberg-Münsterbusch proving ground is very likely to come across the so-called “Tank Cemetery Aachen.” Despite it not truly being a tank cemetery, the military remnants along and in the forest are worth a visit.
Table of Contents
Proving Ground und Nature Reserve Aachen
The proving ground in the Brander Wald on the edge of Aachen has its origins with the military buildup during the time of the Third Reich and was put into operation as part of the western fortifications (Westwall, also known as the Siegfried Line) in 1937. In addition to shooting ranges and ammunition depots, the training area also featured dozens of bunkers and tank barriers known as “Höckerlinien” or dragon’s teeth.
After the end of World War II, the Belgian military and the newly formed Bundeswehr utilized the training area. In 2004, Brander Wald was protected under the European Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive, as the years of military use, and consequently the absence of agricultural activities, allowed protected plant and animal species to spread and establish themselves in the area.
The Tank Cemetery Aachen
Scattered throughout the training area, but conveniently located along the paths, you can find four American tanks – three M47 Patton tanks and one M41 Walker Bulldog. Hidden behind a wall, you’ll also come across a “German” counterpart – a Schützenpanzer Lang HS.30.
The german “colleague”, it seems, is often overlooked or not recognized for what it is because many hiking and photography blogs only mention the four tanks. The five tanks are so-called “hard targets,” meaning decommissioned armored vehicles used for training purposes on military exercise areas. In this case, they were not used as literally artierally targets, but more for infantry units.
It’s not possible to pinpoint exactly when each tank found its way to the “Tank Cemetery Aachen.” However, since the American models were decommissioned in the mid-1960s and the HS.30 (which was produced in very limited numbers) was replaced in the early 1970s, it’s reasonable to assume that the tanks began their second life as hard targets in the mid-1970s.
The Tank Cemetery Video
The Tank Cemetery Aachen Today (2023)
The training area Stolberg-Münsterbusch, as it’s officially called, is open to the public, but specific rules apply. A few years ago, access to Brander Wald was restricted by the Bundeswehr because many visitors didn’t adhere to the regulations set by the base commander, specifically those related to nature conservation. Following a prolonged public campaign, access was restored.
From Monday to Friday, between 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM, and when the red flag is raised, access to the Aachen training area is NOT permitted. The best time to visit the Tank Cemetery (and the beautiful nature) is on weekends. Many paths are also ideal for cycling.
You’ll pass by the abandoned tanks on many of the marked routes, and there are also numerous bunker remnants and parts of the former Siegfried Line to see. Unfortunately, many visitors do not adhere to the regulations and leave their litter while letting their dogs run freely, which precisely led to the nature reserve being closed to visitors.
The hatches of the tanks have been welded shut, but for those small enough, there are plenty of openings to squeeze inside. The pictures may give the impression that this is a solitary “abandoned place,” but the tanks are a very popular tourist destination, and it can indeed be challenging to take a photo without tourists and children on beautiful days. If you’re in Cologne or Aachen and planning a day trip into the countryside, you should definitely consider visiting Brander Wald and the Tank Cemetery.