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One of the many allures of visiting and exploring the cities and towns in Brandenburg is the chance to basque in the architectural variety that these places have to offer. From medieval houses, to art deco villas and even socialist prefab buildings – most of Brandenburgs cities have it all to show. Fürstenwalde is no different, though what really piqued our interest was a set of abandoned Villas, dating back to the early 1910s and early 1920 respectively. While not much is know about these twin villas in Fürstenwalde, the little information that we do have, paints a sad yet all to common story.
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A short history of Fürstenwalde
Fürstenwalde’s history mirrors that of so many settlements in Brandenburg. The area was first inhabited 1 CE, though it was first mentioned in 1272. It quickly gained prominence due to its strategic location on the banks of the River Spree, which facilitated trade and commerce. In the Middle Ages, Fürstenwalde became an important trading center, benefiting from its proximity to Berlin and its position along major trade routes. The city flourished economically and culturally, attracting merchants, craftsmen, and artists
The city was ravaged during the 30 years war (1618-1648), but quickly rebuilt and recovered. During the era of the 30 years war, Fürstenwalde became an important garrison city, hosting primarily cavalry troops. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Fürstenwalde transformed into an industrial center, with the establishment of factories and manufacturing facilities.
The Twin Villas
Between 1913 and 1920, a wealthy resident decided to build a luxurious Villa along the “Promenadenstraße” in Fürstenwalde. The “Promenadenstraße” – as the name suggests – was a leafy promenade street flanked by Fürstenwaldes city park (opened in 1836) on the western end of the city. While the original owner of the Villa seems to have been lost to time, we do know that by 1920 the Chemist Fritz Zippel lived in the building.
Sometime between 1920 and 1925, a second, equally impressive Villa was built right next to the first Villa along the Promenadenstraße, built by the city councilman Karl Schröter. Along the same time, the owner of the first Villa changed hands and now belonged to the Judicial Councilor Julius Hein. Interestingly enough, no other buildings aside from the local “Aufbauschule” (a mixed school, built in 1918) were ever constructed along this stretch of the Promenadenstraße. One can only speculate what political dealings happened in the background to the make this ensemble possible.
Both Villas were inhabited until 1945, when the Soviet Red Army and the German Wehrmacht engaged in a fierce battle for the city. Fürstenwalde was deemed as an essential part of the 3rd defensive ring around Berlin and was declared a fortress. Around 26,000 people were evacuated from Fürstenwalde, while large parts of the city were flattened during the ensuing fighting. While both the Villas survived the war unscathed, it is more than likely that its inhabitants were evacuated along with the rest of the city’s inhabitants.
After the end of the war, the occupying Soviets took over the formers Garrisons in the city (along with the Mars La Tour Kaserne) as well as the Aufbauschule and both the Villas along the Promenadenstraße. It is highly unlikely that the owners were compensated for their loss – as it was more or less common practice by the Soviets to expropriate the owners of luxurious Villas for their own military staff.
The Soviets pulled up some rather unsightly concrete walls around the Villa and made themselves comfortable until they withdrew back into what was now Russia.
The Twin Villas after the Soviet Withdrawal
After the Soviets left in 1994, the Villas remained empty. Its unclear if the original owners ever got their property back, but they did find new owners. Despite having new owners, the seemingly abandoned Villas remained empty over the years, leaving them vulnerable to vandalism and the elements. While the city of Fürstenberg has invested heavily in the upkeep of the city and its modernisation, both the Villas and the ugly concrete walls surrounding them remain an eyesore along the city park.
In 2022, the city managed to buy the larger of the Villas (the one formerly owned by Judicial Councilor Julius Hein) for the paltry sum of €55,000 – and intends to buy the second one as well. Though the owner hasn’t sold it yet, the city made sure that he doesn’t have any option as the land that it stands on has no building permit, rendering its development potential near zero. Both the Villas, despite their age, are not on any heritage protection lists, meaning that they will most likely be torn down at the first opportunity.
While it is sad to see such (formerly) beautiful buildings be torn down, both of them are in absolutely atrocious shape and are essentially collapsing. The city stated that its not possible to secure the entire property, so they decided to remove all larger trees on the property to reduce the risk of injury. All the while ignoring the fact that the ceilings and floors of both buildings have collapsed and pose a serious threat for anybody stupid enough to venture deeper into the building.
One can speculate what’s going to happen first, the city tearing the villas down or them collapsing under their own weight – either way the outcome will be the same.
The Twin Villas of Fürstenwalde Address