Kaserne Krampnitz, Germany

View looking through a juvenile forest growing in the assembly square at another desolate 4 storey building

Ghost Town: One of the many crumbling Soviet blocks constructed to house troops

Designed by Robert Kish and constructed between 1937 and 1939, Krampnitz was intended as the home of the German Motor Cavalry, which had been outgrowing it’s Hannover base since 1872. In 1941 it was renamed »School for Rapid Troops« and then »Motorised Infantry School 2, Krampnitz« in 1943. It was comprehensively cleared by retreating German troops on 26th April 1945, and taken over by Soviet forces the very next day.

Now home to the 35th Guards Motor Rifle Division, the Red Army wasted no time in adding a number of signature barrack blocks, expanding the site considerably until the fall of the Russian empire in 1992. Plans to redevelop Krampnitz into a football and wellness park came to nothing after the investors went bust in 2006, leaving the huge complex abandoned once more. Several buildings have been used as film locations, notably for Inglorious Basterds, Enemy at the Gates, and Mein Führer.

We visited on day two of our Berlin adventure back in January 2013, hoping for a break from the arctic weather that had followed us around Beelitz on the previous day. No chance. If anything it was snowing harder than ever, but at least that helped us spot fresh vehicle tracks and numerous footprints amongst the buildings as soon as we gained entry to the massive site.

During the course of the day we were to meet many friendly explorers in groups of varying sizes, starting with a couple of Americans right in our first building, the officers’ casino. This impressive stone building up on a slight hill must have been quite an imposing sight before it was covered in graffiti, but has suffered badly since. After the casino we tried several of the newer looking buildings, but we quickly learnt that these are all the same and there’s not much going on here photographically except for the occasional mural around the front door or some cyrillic road names on the corners. One large block had a chair outside with a soldier’s jacket draped over the back, which made us wonder what was left to be discovered on this enormous site if time wasn’t a factor.

The boiler house proved to be more interesting, with some very large machinery, impressive graffiti, and a huge, cavernous basement still partially filled with coal. We also came across a pretty realistic looking wall which turned out to be papier-mâché, no doubt part of the set from Enemy at the Gates.

We’d turned up at Krampnitz pretty early in the morning, and as the light began to fade out of the afternoon sky we were painfully aware we’d not yet set eyes upon the one thing we really wanted to find: an intricate mosaic showing the Nazi eagle sitting on a swastika. Opinion on the authenticity of this artefact is divided, with some people claiming that it must have been constructed as a film prop because an original Nazi mosaic would never have survived 49 years of Soviet occupation. Others are quick to point out that a piece of craftsmanship of such magnitude would cost €10k and take a year to build, not to mention being illegal in Germany.

Anyway, only having heard about the mosaic as rumours we had no idea which building to look in. None of the people we met seemed to know anything about it, which meant that they were either being very discreet or it was quite well hidden. By now it was getting dark and one grey 4 storey squaddie block was beginning to look like the next … except that one. For some reason, one building had been adorned with an upstairs balcony, probably wide enough for a dozen cronies to carry out a public address.

Photographers with tripods gather underneath a ceiling mosaic showing swastika and reichsadler

We strolled in through the open front door, clapped eyes on the marble staircase, and quickly realised we’d struck gold. Sure enough, first floor ceiling contained exactly what we were looking for, and there was even some nice red carpet on the floor below so that we could be comfortable while snapping away. As it was twilight by now I had to settle for a spot of light-painting, but I’m very happy with the result.

Detail view of ceiling mosaic showing swastika and reichsadler

The Eagle has Landed

I’ve mentioned before that Krampnitz is quite a big site, but I was still surprised to discover that, at the end of an entire day, we’d really only covered about a measly third. The picture below shows our movements and should give you a pretty good indication of scale.

Return visit? You bet.

A yellow track is superimposed over an aerial image of the site, revealing how little was actually visited.

You ain’t seen nothing yet