How do you abandon a village? Does the last one lock all buildings and throw away the keys? Check if they forgot something? Or just leave it behind as it is, so nature can reclaim the forest? Because that is what has been happening in the amazing, abandoned village of Vogelsang for the past two decades.
It is quite a journey to get there from Berlin, Alexanderplatz. Some 70 kilometers from the German capital, the Russians decided to build a base in 1951 in the middle of a forest. During the warmest days of the Cold War, some 15’000 soldiers had their home here in around 550 buildings.
This was a storage and exercise place for tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, tactical missiles and, yes, nuclear missiles as well. Around 1960 at least, and very likely two decades later as well. Then Perestroika came, the Wall fell, and the rest is history. If history doesn’t repeat itself, anyway.
Nature takes over
The Russians left the barracks in 1994. It is a huge complex, covering some 5’800 hectares. Now nature is slowly taking over, giving this whole area an almost majestic feel. It is gratifyingly silent, you really sense you’re far away from the civilized world. But then, these buildings are scattered all around, reminding you that there was a civilization living here for forty years, not even so long ago.
There is so much to see and discover, that it’s almost impossible to cover everything on one day. Though there is a project going on to give the site back to nature (and thus demolish all the buildings), there will be plenty to see still in the coming year at least. Old Soviet murals and signs, rusty engines, awesome old lamps, buildings slowly falling apart, watchtowers, army barracks, and some good old-fashioned wildlife: we saw deer and goats, but wolves and boars are apparently also walking around.
It’s almost a tragedy this place is falling apart. The continuing efforts to erase the fact that Russians had a huge influence on East German life are understandable, but buildings such as the school and the commander’s headquarters could easily be renovated and preserved, and turned into a memorial site for long foregone days. Or maybe a place for people to contemplate and stay over for a couple of nights, instead of wasting EU money to tear down history.
Anyway: go see it whilst you can. Ciara Fahey wrote an excellent article and in the comments section you will find a lot of tips and updates on the current state of the site. From Berlin Friedrichstraße you need to take the S1 to Oranienburg (40 minutes) and then the RB12 to Vogelsang (another 40 minutes, push the button so the train stops there). Bring your bike, because the site is huge and the main points of interest are another 45 minutes walking from the train station. Enjoy!