- James Drury
'The Forbidden City'
An hour south of Berlin lies the town of Wünsdorf, once home to the largest barracks on mainland Europe. Originally built in 1871 for the German army then used by the Nazis in WW2 until finally passing over to the Soviets in 1945 serving as headquarters for Eastern Europe. 'Little Moscow' as it was also known, became the largest barracks on mainland Europe, home to 75,000 Soviet men, women & children until 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I was unaware of this place until I read this article in the Guardian just over five years ago. The incredible history and the character of Jürgen Naumann sparked an interest that never dimmed. Despite our best efforts we couldn't make this trip happen; at one point we even had his mobile number but think he retired about 3 years ago. All that now remains is the 'Das Haus der Offiziere' (Officers Complex), many of the surrounding barracks have been demolished or renovated into housing. A chance Google search about a year ago, returned a Berlin based company who run six hour self guided tours. Perfect.
Main Building: Dates from 1871 but with an incongruous Soviet addition 'bolted on' post 1945 and of course a statue of Lenin, standing proudly out front. The interior is largely stripped but there are many photogenic long corridors, a few murals, objects of 'significant detail' (books, gas mask, microfiche reader) and elegant wrought iron staircases either end. The double padded doors on one whole floor, identical to those in the Stasi museum were quite unsettling though.
Pool and Ballroom: It's odd wandering around abandoned swimming pools, once places of such noise and frenzied activity with a strong whiff of chlorine; now silent, faded and smelling of damp.
Theatre, Gym and Fencing Hall: The Theatre had a musty damp smell to it but was fascinating. I loved the detail of seat numbers with Roman and Cyrillic lettering side by side. The trampoline was an odd sight at the back of the Theatre but I suspect was one of the few locations with sufficient headroom for a bounce.
Some nice footage here courtesy of the BBC
Thanks for reading