Few places in and around Berlin highlight the complex german history layer cake like the Bogensee. Situated a good 15 kilometers north of Berlin, the Bogensee served as the scenic backdrop for Joseph Goebbels “Waldhof” – also known as the Villa Bogensee – from 1936 until 1945, but was also home to an elite East German Socialist School from 1946 until 1990. We decided to take a deeper look into how this relatively quaint lake came to be the home of one of the leading Nazis of the Third Reich.
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A brief history of Bogensee and its surroundings
A quick preface: When talking about Bogensee, most people will actually be refrencening the area in Wandlitz, rather than the small lake itself – as the name of the lake has become synonymous with its previous inhabitants.
Wandlitz, the densely forested municipality which borders the north of Berlin has a long and interesting history – which would sadly consume most of this article. As with many villages and settlements in the area, Wandlitz was first mentioned around 1242, though it had already been settled decades earlier. These days Wandlitz is more known for its East German legacy, namely as the Waldsiedlung Wandlitz – the luxurious housing estate for the East German Political Elite.
Part of Wandlitz, at least since 1992, is the district of Lanke – which while not as old as the city of Wandlitz dates back to at least 1315. Like virtually all of the settlements and villages in Brandenburg – Lanke was in the hands of Nobles, who sold and traded the land countless times over the centuries.
By 1827, Lanke and its lands, including the Bogensee were bought up by the Von Redern, a noble family which traces its heritage back to at least 1155 in Silesia and the Mark. The Gut Lanke was (and still is) a densely forested area (mainly birch and pine trees) dotted by multiple lakes, the largest being the popular Liepnitzsee and the smallest and most secluded being the Bogensee.
The Bogensees New Owner
By the turn of century the “owner” of the Gut Lanke was the Earl Wilhelm von Redern. Having initially worked as a legal assessor for the government in Tilsit (now Kaliningrad) and Breslau (now Wroclaw), Wilhelm von Redern became part of the Landrat in East Prussia, and under the Weimar Republic part of the reichsrat for Waldeck-pyrmont. Having gotten into serious financial troubles – von Redern was forced to sell off his lands – including those around the Bogensee in 1913. The Magistrate of Berlin was a willing buyer, which supposedly coughed up 20 Million Reichsmark for the roughly 5000 hectares of land and continued to manage the estate and its lands to support its ever growing population.
Joseph Goebbels – from Reydt to Berlin
Born and raised in the city of Rheydt (now part of Mönchengladbach), Joseph Goebbels grew up in a large but relatively lower class household. Having been denied enlistment into the German Army at the beginning of the first world war (due to his crippled foot from a childhood illness) he decided to study History, German Studies and classical philology, eventually earning a PhD in German Studies from the University of Heidelberg in 1921.
Goebbels unsuccessfully tried to gain employment as a writer or journalist over the next years, but he did make strong connections with several figures in the right wing political sphere, specifically from the Nationalsozialistische Freiheitsbewegung, a “covert” reincarnation of the Nazi Party after it was banned after Hitlers failed Beer Hall putsch in 1923.
Goebbels founded a local chapter of the Nationalsozialistische Freiheitsbewegung in Mönchengladbach in 1924 – and with the reestablishment of the NSDAP in 1925, quickly moved up the ranks and became a leading member of the party in the Gau Rheinland-Nord. Goebbels wasn’t too taken by Hitler initially, having considerable ideological differences, though he was smitten by his character when they first personally met in November 1925.
Goebbels first impression would change though when he, along with Gregor Strasser (one of the very early NSDAP Members, who would also become Hitlers first Reichspropagandaleiter) were invited to a “Führertagung” on the 14th of February 1926 in Bamberg. The meeting went completely contrary to what Goebbels had expected, highlighting furthermore their ideological differences and left Goebbels conflicted stating that it was “Probably one of the biggest disappointments of my life”.
Hitler, the great orator, knew how to sweet talk Goebbels to get him back on board, and did just that after inviting him to Munich in April 1926. The meeting was a great success and Goebbels was totally committed to Hitlers vision. Hitler made Goebbels Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in october of the same year, sensing that he would be most useful there to strengthen the rather small party presence (the NSDAP only had 500 members at the time in Berlin).
Schöneberg, Westend, Mitte and Wannsee
Goebbels Apartment in Schöneberg
Goebbels arrived in Berlin on the 7th of November 1926, a city which he had always detested. He lived in a Bachelor pad that he rented from a wealthy married couple by the name of Steiger (sadly the address is unknown to me at the moment), which were initially taken in by the “ascetic” Goebbels, but soon booted him out when he impregnated their maid.
Goebbels found a new apartment in the bourgeois district of Schöneberg, in the Fregestraße 76, and he would stay here for several years. Incidentally, another high ranking Nazi had lived here just a few numbers down – Hermann Göring. Görings godfather – Hermann Epenstein – owned the building in the Fregestraße 19, and Göring lived there from the ages of 3 to 5. Years later Göring would come and visit his Nazi chum Goebbels who was now living in the same street.
Goebbels Apartment in Berlin-Westend
In 1930, Goebbels made the acquaintance of Magda Quandt (formerly Ritschel)- who had been previously married to the extremely wealthy industrialist Günther Quandt. After divorcing Günther in 1929, she managed to (allegedly) blackmail herself a huge sum of money from her ex husband, and bought herself a very generous apartment at the Reichskanzlerplatz 3 (renamed Adolf-Hitler-Platz in 1933, renamed again to Reichskanzlerplatz in 1947, and then renamed again to Theodor-Heuss-Platz in 1963) in the wealthy Westend.
Goebbels and Magda got married on the 19th of December, 1931 and their luxurious apartment soon became a hotspot for the rich and famous – including Hitler himself.
Goebbels official Apartment in Berlin Mitte
With the Nazis rise to power, Goebbels was afforded the luxury of having a representative government “apartment” – which turned out to be a massive Villa in the Hermann-Göring-Straße 20 (renamed Ebertstraße in 1947). The Villa was remodeled by Albert Speer, and a fortified bunker was added underneath. The Villa was heavily damaged during the war, and subsequently torn down after the war. The construction of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe began in 1998 where the Villa once stood, and during the initial construction phase, remnants of Goebbels bunker were unearthed. Aside from being filled with water, rusted munitions and other debris – nothing of value was found. The bunker was sealed and the monument was constructed on top of it.
Goebbels Villa in Schwanenwerder
By 1934, with the Nazis in complete power and flush with cash, Goebbels bought himself an exclusive lakeside property on the Wannsee island of Schwanenwerder. He actually owned two properties – the Inselstraße 8 and Inselstraße 10. The former was used to station SS Troops and as a garage for the many cars that Goebbels owned, the later property house his actual villa. Schwanenwerder was a popular location for high ranking Nazis as Ernst Udet, Theo Morell (Hitler’s Doctor) and Albert Speer all owned properties here. The Reichskanzlei supposedly even acquired a property for Hitler on the island.
After the war, many of the former Nazi “owned” properties were given back to their former owners. Goebbels villa in Schwanenwerder was eventually torn down and replaced with a new building by the Aspen Institute (which moved out of the property in 2007). The SS Staff building from Goebbels Villa was used by the German Wasserschutzpolizei (“Water Protection Police”), but the building was torn down in 2008 after the police had moved out.
Goebbels Blockhaus at the Bogensee
By 1936, Joseph and Magda Goebbels already had 3 children – and the couple stylized themselves as the perfect aryan family. And despite already having his spacious ministerial home in Berlin Mitte and the Villa in Schwanenwerder – Goebbels wanted something more secluded for himself. In 1936, Goebbels celebrated his 10 year anniversary of being made the Gauleiter of Groß-Berlin – which also coincided with Goebbels 39th Birthday, so the NSDAP saw fit to present him with an opulent gift: A secluded cabin next to the Lake Bogensee in Wandlitz.
The NSDAP and the city of Berlin were gracious enough to foot the bill for the birthday present. The construction of the Blockhouse alone would cost 70,000 Reichsmark (roughly €301,000), not including the costs for the grand furnishing, the 200 hectares of land as well as the exorbitant costs of installing and upkeeping new water and electricity lines.
The Cabin itself was based off a design by the architect Fritz August Breuhaus, who had presented it at the the “Deutsches Volk – Deutsche Arbeit” building exhibition in 1935 in Berlin. Goebbels apparently liked the design enough to remember it a year later and use the design for his Blockhütte at the Lake Bogensee.
While the propaganda papers celebrated the gracious gift at the time, it was actually – as to be expected – far from the truth. The reality was that Goebbels demanded a private retreat for himself and the Berlin NSDAP obliged and presented the entire thing as a tribute to their gracious leaders anniversary. Another persistent rumor surrounding Goebbels and Bogensee was that he was given ownership over the property and lands – but he was merely awarded the right to use the property and lands as he wished during his lifetime. The city of Berlin retained all ownership rights over the property (including the provided inventory of the building).
Despite propagating himself and his family as the role model family of Nazi Germany – Goebbels was far from being a faithful husband. Since the early 1930s, Goebbels was known to have been unfaithful to his wife, having multiple affairs with young actresses vying for roles in the German film industry – and having a secluded lovenest at the Bogensee – away from his family was the perfect solution. Goebbels had a well known long term affair with the czech actress Lída Baarová, which he only broke off in 1938 after Magda threatened to divorce him and Hitler himself had to intervene.
The Villa Bogensee
While Goebbels used the Cabin to entertain his multiple affairs, he also began to host other politicians and celebrities there (much like his Nazi Compatriot Hermann Göring in his far more opulent Carinhall Estate). He soon realised that the Blockhütte wasnt representative enough and ordered the construction of a new abode.
Goebbels had planned the construction of his new home on the opposite end of the Bogensee in 1939. While he had initially wanted to expand his property to over 850 hectares, the district authority had refused to give Goebbels planning permission as the forest had been put under nature protection when it was “gifted” to Goebbels in 1936. While this didn’t stop construction – Goebbels crew simply started without the necessary permission – Goebbels did have to go to his Nazi chum Goering to mediate.
Göring wasn’t just the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe but also the Reichsforstmeister, who was in charge of forestry, hunting, timber management, and nature conservation. The property size was reduced to 210 hectares, and several other smaller concessions had been made – thus giving the entire affair e touch of legality.
Construction of the Waldhof am Bogensee
The architects Hugo Constantin Bartels and Jürgen Schweitzer were tasked with the in construction of the Waldhof am Bogensee. While Bartels was a member of the Social Democratic Party, he continued to work as an architect and would eventually design the headquarters of the National Socialist People’s Welfare in Berlin in 1937. Both Bartels and Schweizer had extensive prior experience designing country houses and villas – many in the more wealthy suburbs of Berlin, which made them a suitable choice for Goebbels.
Goebbels wanted a country style house designed and built in the “Heimatschutzstil” – essentially the antithesis to the Bauhaus philosophy, and heavily propagated by the Nazis. For those interested – we delve into this topic in our post about the “Nazi legacy of the Grazer Damm“. In short – the aim of the Heimatschutzstil was the development of historicism with traditional, regional-typical designs, using local materials (i.e. Bricks in the north of Germany, Wood in the alpine areas).
While the state had funded the construction of Goebbels Blockhütte, the Universal Film AG (the primary german Film Company) jumped in and footed the 2.7 million Reichsmark bill (roughly €11.6 million). When construction of the Waldhof am Bogensee was completed in early 1940, Goebbels had ended up with an extensive compound. Not only did he have his “Waldhof” which was equipped with over 30 Rooms, including a cinema, but he also had several service buildings, garages and guest houses.
On the Left: The “Great Hall” in Hitler’s Berghof, 1936 | Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1991-077-31 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
On the right: The entrance hall of Goebbels “Waldhof”
While Goebbels Waldhof might have outwardly oriented itself towards a conservative and “outdated” design, it was filled with the latest technology. Over 60 telephones were installed and the saloon facing the Bogensee was equipped with floor to ceiling windows, which at the press of a button could be retracted completely in the floor. While this was technological luxury at its finest – Goebbels was actually not the first high ranking Nazi to use this technology, instead it was Adolf Hitler.
Goebbels took a lot of inspiration from Hitler’s aesthetics, specifically the Berghof in Obersalzberg starting with the name. While Goebbels project was initially known as “Haus am Bogensee”, it was officially titled Waldhof am Bogensee upon its completion – with the name being embossed on the entrance in giant gothic letters. It’s very obvious that Goebbels was trying to make an ideological and hierarchical connection with the naming convention. The interior, specifically the main hall was also designed with the aesthetics of the Berghof in mind.
The name “Villa Bogensee” is a popular misnomer that somehow stuck, as hardly anyone these days will refer to Goebbels old haunt as the “Waldhof” – but everyone knows it by its other name, Villa Bogensee.
From the Villa Bogensee to the Führerbunker
Goebbels would spend more and more time at the Waldhof, entertaining guests, organizing movie screenings and crafting on the Nazi propaganda that was going to be fed to the masses. It was during a stay at the Villa Bogensee in early 1943 where Goebbels would write his seminal essay ” The Total War”, which would inspire his dramatic speech in the Berliner Sportpalast 4 weeks later.
With the allied air raids over Berlin ever increasing, and with his own home and family in danger in Schwanenwerder, Goebbels decided to relocate Magda and his (now) six children in August 1943 out to the Waldhof. His children – at least those of school age were sent to school in the nearby Wandlitz, and the family lived out a “scheinidylle” – an alternate peaceful reality of sorts – in the beautiful forests of Brandenburg. The thought of getting caught in an air raid seemingly didn’t leave Goebbels mind as a bunker was added to the complex in 1944.
The tide of the war turned quickly and Nazi Germany was rapidly collapsing. No amount of talk about the “Endsieg” could turn things around. Berlin was declared a “fortress” on the first of February 1945 – sealing the fate of the city and its inhabitants. Goebbels was adamant to go under with the sinking ship, with everyone onboard included. Goebbels family moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin on the 22nd of April 1945 – and unlike Görings carinhall, which was emptied and subsequently blown up by his own troops as to not fall into enemy hands – the Waldhof aka Villa Bogense was left completely intact after the Goebbels family left.
Despite Hitler asking Goebbels to flee berlin on the 28nd of April 1945, Goebbels was adamant to stay by his side. Goebbels was declared Hitler’s successors – according to Hitler’s last will – on the 30th of April 1945. On the 1st of Mai, Goebbels unsuccessfully tried to negotiate an armistice with the Soviets, who rejected the proposal and demanded a total surrender. Following the rejection, Goebbels and his wife murdered their children and then commited suicide the same day.
Their partially burned corpses were found by the Soviets outside of the Führerbunker, who at a later point buried them at a unspecified location in Brandenburg. Under orders of the head of the KGB Juri Andropow, his corpse was exhumed, cremated and then ashes dumped in the river Ehle close to Biederitz in Saxony Anhalt.
From Nazi Villa to School for the Socialist Elites
The Soviet Red Army “captured” the Waldhof more or less completely intact and fully furnished – and repurposed the building as a military hospital. The Soviets handed over the building relatively quickly again in 1946 to the “Zentraler Jugendausschuss” – a national anti fascist youth organisation created by the Soviet Military Administration, and essentially the precursor of the East German “Free German Youth“.
With Moscows blessing, the Free German Youth was officially established on the 7th of March 19467, and immediately took over control of the Waldhof and transformed it into the “Zentraljugendschule” – a political school to raise a new generation of socialist leaders. The axuillerially buildings were converted into homes for the staff, a shop as well as into a kindergarten.
The Zentraljugendschule at the Bogensee was not only spacious enough to host large classes, it was also still fully furnished with Goebbels furniture, including the giant globe frlom his office. Not only did they keep his furniture, the Zentraljugendschule kept the inscription “Waldhof am Bogensee” above the entrance – which was only replaced in 1950 when the school was renamed Jugendhochschule Wilhelm Pieck. Zentralschule der F.D.J. (named after the first and only President of the GDR Wilhelm Pieck).
In 1951, the GDR decided to massively expand the complex and began construction of a gigantic campus which would include central school building as well as a boarding school (for over 500 students) and “Palace of Culture” – all in the much vaunted stalinist architecture style (by the same architect who would design the new Stalinallee in Berlin). The former FDJ Youth College at the Lake Bogensee deserves its own separate article and will be covered extensively in a follow up blog post.
The Jugendhochschule became an important political and educational tool for the GDR, and was a point of pride for the political elite as it attracted hundreds of international students from socialist as well as capitalist countries. The complex was expanded again in 1980, and the Waldhof – having lost its usefulness as an educational building, was turned into a restaurant. The signage above the entrance was removed once again and replaced with the “Bogensee” lettering that we can still see today. The statue of the naked couple in front of the Villa Bogensee was added at the same time, and makes it a relic of the GDR, rather than a leftover from the Nazis.
The Villa Bogensee after German reunification
The FDJ Jugendhochschule am Bogensee was shut down with the German reunification and placed into the hands of the notorious Treuhandanstallt – the agency set up to reprivatise all East German State enterprises. Former employees of the Jugendhochschule initially set up a Education and Tourism Center, until the Internationale Bund – a non political youth education organisation – moved in to train young people for social work, as well as using one of the buildings as hotel.
The central building was used for multiple purposes over the years, all of them being a giant money pit for the state of Berlin. Virtually all operations ceased by 1999, though the Berlin police apparently used the main building for a yearly congress until 2005. As for the Waldhof – after 1991 it was seemingly never used again – aside for being used as a filming location for the (strangely popular) german TV Series Tatort.
As for Goebbels Blockhut at the other end of the Bogensee: It was used by the Jugendhochschule as well, though for what remains unclear. In 1995 it was used by the local forest ranger – who lived in the building for 12 or so years.
The Berlin Senate had zero interest in Goebbels Waldhof or the Blockhütte and had already put plans in motion to tear down at least one of the buildings. While the Waldhof and the Jugendhochschule had been placed under monument protection in 1996, the Blockhütte hadn’t. After the forest ranger moved out in 2007, he – at least according to media reports – began to slowly dismantle the building. When the Denkmalschutz got wind of this they stopped the process and put the Cabin under monument protection as well.
Villa Bogensee: A short Video Tour
As usual, we’ve created a very short video about our visit to the Waldhof am Bogensee, just to give a general impression of what the property currently looks like. Feel free to leave a like/comment under the video.
The Villa Bogensee Today (2022)
The entire property – including the Villa Bogensee – was put up for sale in 2008 – as the rumored yearly running costs €250,000 and the lack of a concept were becoming too much of burden for the Senate of Berlin, which was already struggling with the concept running the capital. Over the years, several offers for the property had been made, though all of them failed as they did not fulfill the cities development requirements (and the city was being careful not to sell it to convert neo nazis who would turn it into a shrine of sorts).
The offer was pulled in 2015, as the city seemingly wanted to retain some sort of control over the historically complex property, and was now looking for something more like a long term renter/developer for the property.
Goebbels blockhütte, which was listed as a protected monument in 2007 fell victim to an arson attack in 2015, and was so heavily damaged that it had to be torn down in 2019. One building less for the city to worry about.
In 2020, a foundation under the name LKC Bogensee signaled serious interest and handed in a proposal. After the media looked into the group, it turned out that one the main members was also part of the “Königreich Deutschland” movement. The group issues their own ids and documents and while they acknowledge the state of germany, the believe they are part of the Kingdom of Germany (the KRD shares many similarities with the reichsbürger movement and the sovereign citizens in the US). The talks were shut down after no viable financing model was presented.
As of September 2022, the Jugendhochschule seems to be undergoing extensive renovations with scaffolding erected on many of the buildings, as well as the entire property being fenced in.
Goebbels Waldhof and the auxiliary buildings , while locked, are still freely accessible from the outside. The Waldhof, all things considered, is still in relatively good shape, with only a small broken window in the front door being the only visible damage. The majority of the windows are covered with shutters, but the you can still peer through the entrance – as well as into the living room with the retractable windows. None of the visible interior seems to be original and most likely dates back to the restaurant conversion in the 1980s.
Some of the service buildings have been converted into a Waldschule, which aims to bring children closer to nature and help them strengthen their personal and social skills, and you can clearly tell that they have been kept in good condition. Some of the other adjacent buildings are fairing less well, though they appear to post 1945 additions.
Both the Waldhof and the Jugendhochschule are tourist magnets – with dozens of visitors traversing the property on any given day – an interesting feat seeing as its not easily reachable by public transport. It is also very clear that the Villa Bogensee is attracting people specifically for its Nazi history. Nearly everyone I met there and spoke to was well aware of who had lived here and curious about its history – and sadly it’s also very evident that Neo Nazis frequent the area, as I personally met a bunch during my last visit.
It’s a shame that the city of Berlin cant or wont come up with a useful concept for this property (think of the House of the Wannsee Conference), and shows that for all its honest repentance and “maturity” for dealing with the past, Berlin is still unable to do exactly that. Rather than trying to sweep its uncomfortable history under the proverbial rug, or let a convenient arson attack deal with the issue – it would do the city some good to provide more than just lip service to educate and preserve our shared historical responsibility.
Villa Bogensee | Waldhof am Bogensee Address
Platz der Freundschaft 1A, 16348 Wandlitz