In Germany in the small town of Bernau, which is 15 kilometers (just over nine miles) north of Berlin, there is a collection of fascinating abandoned buildings called the Bernau Panzerkaserne.
This complex once housed a German clothing factory where uniforms for the military personnel of the Wehrmacht were tailored. After the war, Soviet troops used it as a military base, an event that led to this place sometimes being called the Russian Panzerkaserne.
The Nazis had a whole department in Berlin known as the Heeresbekleidungsamt (the Army Clothing Directorate) which oversaw the production and supply of military uniforms.
When the Nazis brought in compulsory military service, the need for military uniforms increased exponentially, and so the Bernau Panzerkaserne complex was designed.
The vast complex, spread over 20 hectares (49 acres) of land, was built between 1939-1941. As soon as it opened in 1942, around 1,300 employees were transferred from the Berlin Heeresbekleidungsamt to Bernau.
The Bernau Panzerkaserne was not only the place where new uniforms were made but also where existing uniforms were cleaned and mended. The Nazi plans for this service were so immense that the Bernau Panzerkaserne ended up being split across two sites. One of them consisted mainly of warehouses while the other site housed the main offices, factories, and administration buildings.
The eight main buildings were two-stories high and were interconnected by various walkways. They had large windows installed and all the structures were made of reinforced concrete with an outer facade of bricks. The roofs were made of self-supporting reinforced concrete beams.
Although the Bernau Panzerkaserne had been built as a clothing factory, it was only used for its intended purpose for three years. On April 20, 1945, Soviet troops took control of the complex and used it as a base for military manoeuvers. Instead of clothing, the former factory was now filled with Soviet tanks, weapons, and soldiers.
Despite its new use to which they put the site, the Russians didn’t make many changes to the Bernau Panzerkaserne itself. Generally, they added in some garages and other mechanical buildings and used the warehouses for storage.
However, the Soviet army did make some changes to provide more recreational facilities. Not only did they install a sports ground and a football field on the site, but the attics were converted into basketball courts for use by the soldiers.
The Bernau Panzerkaserne has its place in military history, too. In August 1968, Soviet tanks advanced from here to the Czechoslovak border and conducted Operation Danube. This operation lasted a month and put an end to the reforms of the Prague Spring.
The Soviet armed forces were withdrawn from Germany in 1991. The former factory that had become a Soviet military base was abandoned and remained empty in the middle of the forest, slowly becoming overgrown with vegetation.
After the troops left, the complex was transferred to the ownership of the state of Brandenburg, but the government did not take any steps to protect or preserve it. The Bernau Panzerkaserne buildings began to fall into ruin, a state accelerated by the vandalism they suffered.
Street art also began appearing on the walls, and many urban explorers who visited the site commented in their articles afterward how impressive some of it the art was. In addition to the street art, on the walls can be found military art as well as newspapers, both of which have been documented and admired by urban explorers as well.
While the paving stones of the parade ground are still there, they are now almost completely covered with green vegetation. Old pictures of the complex show that, under German occupation, there was a sizeable pond in one area which was home to swans. However, no recognizable trace of this can be found today.
Reports from local news websites suggest that this abandoned place might have a new lease of life in the near future. In 1997, the site was handed back from the Brandenburg state to Bernau. For many years, the city of Bernau had no idea what to do with the Bernau Panzerkaserne, particularly as part of it had been contaminated by a toxic chemical spill.
Then, in February 2018, a plan was already in place that would see this site restructured into a new urban district with amenities, including a school, day-care, shops, and residential complexes. It is anticipated that around 2,000 homes will be constructed in the next few years.
However, to achieve this renovation, it was necessary to cut down the abundant vegetation and demolish some of the buildings to clear the site. When construction work began in 2018, those buildings constructed by the Soviets were demolished while the main German buildings, which have protected status, were left as they are.
By 2020, the project had reached the stage where another 8-10 million Euros was needed to help decontaminate the site. Official construction is due to start in 2021 with the hope that the area will be fully developed by 2031.
A big thank you to Alexandr and his LiveJournal account for sharing such amazing photographs about this site!
Alex lives in Germany and has got an account where he writes about different locations. He has written his own article about this location where you can find more of his photos. You should definitely check out his LiveJournal account and Facebook page.