It was the end of April when we went to Zossen and Wunsdorf the see some old bunkers there. I came across this bunkers while I read Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor and decided it would be a good place to spend an afternoon.
After some research, I realized that the place is now a museum and you can book bunker tours and this is what we ended up doing. Wunsdorf is a quite unique location since there isn’t any other place where a german kaiser, Hitler, and the soviet military left their mark.
Wunsdorf, Military City
Everything started back in 1910 when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to build a military camp as a training area for the upcoming World War. A few kilometers south, a military hospital and gymnasium were also built. During the Third Reich, this gymnasium became part of the army sports school and it ended up being used as a training place for the 1936 Olympics.
During the soviet presence, the building served as a culture centre for the soviet officers garrisoned there. This is the place where the Lenin statue stands that you can see in one the pictures in this post. In addition to this buildings, there was also a huge training area.
In the centre of it, Zehrensdorf village used to lay but it had to disappear to make way for the military. Today the name is the only thing that remains from the village.
The Maybach Complex on Bunkers
When you start the bunker tour, the first thing you see are the bunkers built between 1937 and 1939 for the army command. Here is where the plans and orders during the Second World War were prepared.
These bunkers were called Maybach One Complex and the 12 bunkers were disguised as houses. This is why the bunkers you see on the pictures below have this triangular shape. Close by, you can see the Zeppelin, the underground communication bunker also known as Exchange 500, was the place where the military orders were sent out.
This was where the telephones and every communication to the german front was made all over Europe. These two bunker complexes were linked by underground tunnels. There was also Maybach Two, the command centre for the Wehrmacht and the army rear services.
This used to be located a few kilometers south and it was supposed to be connected to the other bunkers but it was not completed by the time the war started.
Visiting the Bunkers in Wunsdorf
During the twenties, Wunsdorf had a period of peace since the Versailles Treaty put an end to german military aspirations after the First World War. Because of that, the main camp was used as a summer camp for the Berlin children. It is kind of weird to think about this place being used and a fun place for children.
The military importance of Wunsdorf started to grow again during the Third Reich first years for two main reasons. The first was the fact that the fifth armored regiment was stationed a few kilometers away. That regiment made a huge contribution towards tank warfare and linked name as Heinz Guderian, Walther Nehring and Oswald Lutz to Wunsdorf.
The second reason for its importance was that this is where the Oberkommando des Heeres, the Supreme High Command of the German Army, was stationed. When the Red Army arrived in Wunsdorf in the end of April 1945, they took control of the area without any fight. This happened because the only defenders left there were four soldiers. Three of them surrendered immediately and the fourth couldn’t do a thing because he was dead drunk.
With the Potsdam Agreement and the Allied Control Council decision to destroy all major military structures belonging to Nazi Germany, the soviets started to destroy the massive complex of bunkers. It was only in 1953 that the Soviet Forces decided to turn Wunsdorf into the Soviet Army Headquarter in Occupied East Germany. The whole area of surrounded by a concrete wall and still stands today. The main road through Wunsdorf was blocked and this is how the city became a forbidden city to everyone other than the military serving there. During the peak periods, the number of people stationed there was between 35 and 40 thousand, including military, their dependents and civilian employees.
Because of that, Wunsdorf became Little Moscow with a direct rail link to Moscow. The military force had everything at their doorstep. Since the officers had their families with them, schools, shops, cinemas and anything else they might need were built there. They also had their own newspaper and tv channel, as well as those from the Soviet Union.
All of this disappeared in August 31 1994, when the last russians officialy left Wunsdorf, following German Reunification. Back them, the Brandenburg government had plans to convert the military garrisons into something more useful and with peaceful purposes.
Unfortunately, the project fell apart after the state owned companies responsible to implement the project became bankrupt a few years later. Nowadays, nobody really knows what will happen with the military complex in Wunsdorf.
And we are pretty sure it will remains a centre of contradictions with converted military buildings where families live comfortably side by side with ruins from the german military history.
The Maybach One Complex
This huge complex of bunkers survived the russian efforts to demolish it. They look like they had rough experiences but they still stand today, almost 70 years after they were blown up. But how did this happen?
These bunkers used to have four levels where the military officers used to work. Two of them where below the ground and two of them above the ground level. A meter thick layer of iron and concrete stood between the levels and I don’t think this was supposed to be easy to destroy. A lot of effort went into concealing this bunkers.
They were shaped as houses and they need to be seen as houses. This is why there were tiles over the roofs, chimneys that housed the air filter systems and false windows painted on the walls. These windows even had flower boxes placed under it during the summer months. Despite all the effort to camouflage and conceal the importance of this place, the allies during the Second World War knew that the Oberkommando des Heeres was situated there. There are even air photos taken by the american forces and reports from the Royal Army Force detailing what happened at Wunsdorf.
Senior officers debated about bombing the place but they never did, they knew the bunkers were close to indestructible. The only bombing raid that target Wunsdorf happened on March 15 1945, when 600 american aircrafts bombed the area without damaging the bunkers.
Plans for the operation Barbarossa were worked out in details in these bunkers. One of the buildings housed the army’s general department dealing with foreign affairs. General Gehlen, one of the officers that worked there, later, founded what would become the Bundesnachrichtendienst.
In another building, General Eduard Wagner, the quartermaster-general of the German Army, commited suicide after the failed attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944. He was member of the resistance to Adolf Hitler and arranged the airplane that flew Stauffenberg from Rastenburg back to Berlin after the July 20 plot bomb had exploded.
Zeppelin, the underground communication bunker
When you enter Zeppelin, you start to understand what a bunker is. The place has heavy blast doors that are huge and the noise they make when they close is almost scary. There are also shower rooms for decontamination and gas protection doors. This was the most important communication bunker for Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The complex was used until early 1945 when the Red Army took control of the place. Nobody knows for sure what the germans left behind but we know that the soviets started blowing up the place as soon as they could. Starting at the lowest level.
Since the germans built these bunkers to be indestructible, the Red Army couldn’t do much to destroy this and they ended up with half destroyed levels that were being filled with water. It is also weird to think about how this bunker used to be a high tech location more than 70 years ago. The Zeppelin used to have automatic dialing system for telephones, telegraphs with pulse systems and electric systems with fuses. This might not sound great but civil houses didn’t have access to this until the late fifties. The bunker complex is deep and way longer than I expected. Sometimes you walk for minutes in long hallways after you realize that you must be 20 meters deep into the ground.
And, after you see the three meter thick iron and concrete floor that protects the place from bombs, you understand how it is practically impossible to destroy these bunkers.
Maybach Bunkers in Wunsdorf
We were inside the old Forbidden City for over two hours, touring the bunkers and exploring the place. It was great and I think everybody interested in the Second World War should go there at least once. It is truly an amazing place to visit. There are a few different tours, in english and german. We did the Tour 1, around the bunker complexes Maybach I and Zeppelin (former military staff and communications bunker of the High Command of the German Army).
I don’t remember how much we payed for it (something around €10) but it was more than worth it. But if you don’t like doing tours, you can read about what the guys at Abandoned Berlin did there. You can see more pictures from the bunkers in Wunsdorf on my flickr account. All the pictures here are from Marcela Faé.