How can I silence military dog ​​tags

When the military becomes a monument

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

The possible use of the Kummersdorf-Gut / Sperenberg military facility

By Claudia van Laak

Bunker remains in the Kummersdorfer Heide (Carsten Preuß)

Brandenburg is historically richly endowed with military facilities. After the withdrawal of Russian troops in East Germany, huge contaminated sites remained on an area as large as the Saarland. For example the former military property Kummersdorf-Gut / Sperenberg. It is the largest military monument in Brandenburg. An unusual coalition of monument conservationists, homeland friends and nature conservationists is now campaigning for civilian use of the site.

Kummersdorf - just under an hour's drive south of Berlin. For 120 years this site was firmly in the hands of the military. First the royal Prussian artillery, then the imperial army, later the fascist armed forces, and finally the Soviet army.

More than any other military property in Germany, Kummersdorf stands for the orientation of all areas of life towards war. Everything that Germany needed for its military conflicts was tested, researched and further developed here - from dishes for field kitchens to boots for gunners, from grenades, tanks and artillery shells to rocket drives. The military also had dogs fit for war bred and trained here.

Georg Frank: "I think it's important to realize that it's not just any shooting range."

Georg Frank from the Brandenburg State Office for Monument Preservation.

Georg Frank: "... but that it was a really central research facility of the army that affected all areas of the army."

The Army Research Center in Kummersdorf also stands for the fascist ideology of total war.

Georg Frank: "Yes, they really tried to develop weapons that were supposed to bring about the final victory. That was also propagated and used accordingly for propaganda purposes, including the presentation of the first rockets that could then fire."

But today there is little reminiscent of the monstrosity of this war on this approximately 5,000 soccer field area. Between the sparsely grown Brandenburg pines and dry grass, some gray concrete structures protrude into the landscape, reminiscent of small bunkers.

Martin Schnittler: "Now we are here at the test center in the east. And the test center in the east is also assigned to rocket development."

Martin Schnittler from the Museum Association Kummersdorf leads across the area, which is normally closed to the public. Only the museum association has permission from the Federal Agency for Real Estate Tasks to enter the former army test site and show it to interested parties.

"There were test rigs here in Kummersdorf, so from 1930/32 they began to work intensively on rocket development. There were a lot of people and a lot of interested people who were dealing with this problem at the time."

One of them was Wernher von Braun - rocket technician, space pioneer and SS man. He was often in Kummersdorf, worked here in the eastern test center, ignited the rocket engines - protected by concrete walls half a meter thick - and watched what was happening through the viewing slits. Just like 7 year old Richard today.

"This is a pane of bulletproof glass that was in here so that nothing really can happen there. You see that."
"I want to have a look."
"Be careful, otherwise you cut yourself, this is really thick bulletproof glass."
"Can't a bullet get through there?"
"Not that fast anyway."

The small concrete bunkers are connected by underground passages.

Richard: "You can run from there or from there. You can see that there is still a passage going off there."

The car continues along the twelve-kilometer shooting range. They are now overgrown. There are also only remnants of the 55 observation stations from which the military followed the trajectories of the artillery shells.

Martin Schnittler hesitates. He spotted a white van parked on the side of the road. Perhaps robbery graves, which the members of the museum association meet again and again and which they then shoo from the site. Or participants in a scavenger hunt using GPS devices to find their way around. They also have no business at the former Kummersdorf Army Research Center. Moving back and forth across the site is dangerous because the ammunition has not yet been cleared.

Martin Schnittler: "You have people who are just looking for trophies, for certain badges, for identification tags, who are out there. Then you have people who follow up on certain insider tips, who are looking for some kind of technology. That's roughly how you have to imagine it . "

Martin Schnittler gives the all-clear. The white transporter belongs to the district forester, who goes for a walk with his dog and makes sure that everything is in order. More than four fifths of the 3,500 hectare site is covered with forest. To the right and left of the path are birch trees, planted by soldiers from the Soviet Army, who brought a bit of home to the GDR with them. After 1945, the Soviet military no longer used the area as a test site, but as a truck base and airfield. Martin Schnittler points to the right into the forest, where the remains of a garbage dump can be seen. Rubble, ash and bulky waste pile up.

Martin Schnittler: "The Soviet troops had it that way: wherever there was a hole, it was tipped over. And accordingly, it is still a matter that is not one hundred percent completed."

Poisons from the landfill and fuel seep into the groundwater, but the federal government, as the owner of the area, is making no move to rehabilitate the landfill. The district of Teltow-Fläming asked him to do so, and even obtained a corresponding court judgment, but nothing has happened so far. The Federal Agency for Real Estate Tasks is counting on time and on the fact that sooner or later the area will be handed over to the State of Brandenburg anyway.

But Brandenburg also takes its time. The Ministry of Finance wants to wait for an expert opinion on the contamination of the area with contaminated sites and ammunition before starting to negotiate with the federal government.

The former terminal building of the Soviet military airfield is falling into disrepair. Windows and doors have long been removed and allowed to go with them, the rooms are empty, yellow bricks are peeling off the roof. Grass grows between the concrete slabs of the runway. In 1957, the Soviet army put the airfield into operation, says Martin Schnittler.

"Mainly as a transport airport, but passenger traffic was also handled here. In other words, the officer families who were stationed in Germany just came here by plane, but mainly for the exchange of troops."

The path becomes narrower and worse, the grass is half a meter high. Nobody has driven this way for a long time. The typical Brandenburg sand and pine landscape disappears, large ferns line the path.

Martin Schnittler: "So, here we come to the more humid areas. (Rumble) Hops, the car is used to grief. It will be over soon. A lot overgrown now. So, let's walk a bit." (Door knocks)

Suddenly it looks like Saxon Switzerland. Rocks pile up, overgrown with mosses. Purple thistles bloom in between.

But the first impression is wrong. On closer inspection, the rocky landscape turns out to be man-made. It is the so-called "United Tank and Vault Target".

Martin Schnittler: "The material that was needed had to be brought here, in other words primarily with the horse and carriage as a means of transport at the time, but then also with field railways that were laid here. Granite stones, cement that was poured, however also the bricks for the vault, which formed the basis. The vault was first walled up, over which a two-meter-thick hard granite concrete layer was added to give this entire complex the appropriate protection. "

Erected in 1884, shot at with 152 shells three years later and reduced to rubble. This taught the Imperial Prussian military how to build strong fortresses and how best to conquer and destroy them.

"We can take a walk around it to get a feel of what this facility looked like as such."

For Martin Schnittler, the "United Tank and Vault Target" is the most impressive building ensemble on the site. It has been a listed building since last year, together with a total of 160 structures from the Kummersdorf Army Research Center. This also includes the Gottow research facility. Nuclear physicists carried out nuclear tests there during the Second World War. A still unexplored chapter, says Georg Frank from the State Monuments Office.

"Our problem is that we do not have the great capacity to do comprehensive research on a listed monument. That would certainly make sense now. If I want to present that, I have to say more about it and perhaps more systematically can represent than the club can usually. "

The association "Historisch-Technisches Museum Kummersdorf" has set up a small exhibition in the former village consumption. In the showcases there are tank models, training grenades and special gun shoes with thick wooden soles. Club members have recreated the shooting ranges in small format, black and white photos of everyday life in the army test center hang on the walls. Do you have to be a militarist to be involved in this museum in your free time? Martin Schnittler reacts to this question with a bit of a sniff.

"I always find it a bit strange and it hurts me a little personally when you're a 'militarist'. That term is always so negatively connoted."

No, I'm not a militarist, the 40-year-old says firmly. He and the other members of the association see themselves as local researchers. And their homeland is shaped by 120 years of military history. They consider this to be so important that they would like to declare the former military research center in Kummersdorf a World Heritage Site and place it under UNESCO protection.

"From our point of view it is important that you deal with the story, that you talk about it, and that you find your point of view on the happenings, on the events. Just keep silent, that cannot be the measure of all things."

"From Kummersdorf, if you develop it for tourism, messages of peace should go out into the world. And you should definitely show what people are capable of, and if you don't care that things can turn out really badly."

Says Carsten Preuss from the Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation in Germany (BUND). Nature conservationists have also discovered the site of the Kummersdorf Army Research Center. Rare animals and plants feel at home in such large, uncut areas. The military was active in Kummersdorf for a long time, but only in the peripheral areas of the extensive area. No farmer distributes pesticides or fertilizers, and the area is shielded from the outside world.

"That is also the attraction of this area, that I have a colorful mosaic of biotope types. On one side the heather, a few hundred meters further on is the Picherluch, there I have damp areas. So the sum makes up what makes the value. "

The state of Brandenburg has declared parts of the site a nature reserve. Endangered species such as the white-tailed eagle, the smooth snake and the otter live here. The old bunkers serve as quarters for bats. The "United Tank and Vault Target" has become a substitute rock for rare plants. The state of Brandenburg recently proposed the area for inclusion in the "National Natural Heritage List". One reason for this is the large heathland, which can also be used for tourism in the future. The biologist Frank Meyer prepared a corresponding report on behalf of the Teltow-Fläming district.

"It is true that Brandenburg has the highest proportion of heather in the country, but the heather fanatic visitor, I put it in quotation marks, the heather-interested visitor still has to go to the Lüneburg Heath to have a look at the heather Example in Kummersdorf are right on the doorstep. They are not accessible and the visitor looks into the tube. "

In his report, Frank Meyer comes to the conclusion that monument protection, nature conservation and tourism complement each other perfectly in Kummersdorf. A historical educational trail could lead from one military object to another, supplemented by a natural history hiking trail. The prerequisite for this is the remediation of the contaminated sites and the clearing of the ammunition, an expensive undertaking.

The district of Teltow-Fläming has a positive view of the idea of ​​using it for tourism. First, however, it must be clarified who will own the site in the future. We do not want a private owner, say local history researchers, environmentalists and monument conservationists from the region.

Carsten Preuß: "Since it is usually the case that the highest bidder wins, we have no influence on whether or not he is comfortable with the development we want it to be. And we want the future Don't leave development to chance, we want to be able to plan it. "

The three associations therefore advocate a foundation or the public sector as the owner of the area. For expert Frank Meyer, the question of the owner is less important.

"It is a treasure that needs to be raised and preserved. This place should simply not be sold, but also made accessible for future generations. So that would be my very clear plea. With whichever owner, you have to talk. "

A decision before the local elections in September is what the museum association, local history researchers and nature conservationists want. In all probability this will not happen. The federal and state governments are in no hurry to transfer ownership. "Nothing burns here," says the Ministry of Finance in Potsdam.

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