On a recent visit to Germany I was pointed in the direction of an interesting third reich ruin: the REIMAHG facility near Kahla. Like nearby Lehesten, this was another case of the Nazis using forced labour to construct technologically advanced weapons towards the end of the war, imposing tremendous cruelty and suffering on their captive slaves in the process.
The product this time around was the Messerschmitt ME-262, a revolutionary jet fighter capable of outrunning allied planes at 530mph. 1,200 units were to be produced each month deep in the bowels of Walpersberg, a wooded mountain in Thuringia with a curiously flat top, before being hoisted to the summit using a specially built ramp and then launched off to another location for final fitment. The ‘runway’ wasn’t long enough for a landing however so each launch was effectively a make or break affair, and by the end of the war just 27 aircraft had been produced.
The site today is easy to find and access. Originally a sand quarry supporting the local porcelain manufacture, Walpersberg today features a small museum with a highly informative website. Tours are organised monthly, and rather than try to keep people out at other times I found the door open. Dotted around the terrain are small plaques giving background history and showing old photos – a nice touch which goes some way toward making up for the fact that you can’t actually access the tunnels any more; 20km of caves, halls and access shafts have been closed for years and form an important habitat for local bats.
After wandering around for a while and studying the plaques I decided to strike out for the top of the hill in order to see whether any trace of the runway remained. Tourist-friendly as the site was, the operators stopped short of providing a path or even a handy signpost, so I had to put my faith in Google Earth and start stumbling about. The aerial view of the site clearly showed where the runway had been and also a line thinner woodland leading down from the plateau, presumably the site of the escalator which was used to move finished jets to the top of the mountain. Whilst walking to what I took to be the base of the elevator I noticed a kind of channel running up the steep slope to my right, so I decided to explore that instead. I soon found myself in a 3 foot deep diagonal trench built from cobbles, presumably to act as some kind of drainage for the runway at the top. Pieces of metal we pressed into the ground here and there, some had the appearance of being sections of track from a small vehicle, and I couldn’t help thinking yet again how much rich history is buried right here with nobody to bother it.
The runway itself couldn’t have been more of an anticlimax had there been a gift shop. Of course nature doesn’t stand still, and of course swathes carved in woodland tend to close up, but I hadn’t expected the forest to be quite so comprehensive when there’s still a trace of runway visible from the air.