We went to Zossen to see the Wunsdorf Bunkers at the end of April 2014. I came across these bunkers while I read Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor and decided it would be an excellent place to spend an afternoon.
After some research, I realized that the place is now a museum, and you can book bunker tours, and this is what we ended up doing.
Wunsdorf is quite a unique location since there isn’t any other place where a German Kaiser, Hitler, and the soviet military left their mark.
Wunsdorf, Military City
Everything started in 1910 when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to build a military camp as a training area for the upcoming World War. A few kilometers south, an army hospital and gymnasium were also made. During the Third Reich, this gymnasium became part of the army sports school and ended up being used as a training place for the 1936 Olympics.
During the soviet presence, the building served as a culture center for the soviet officers garrisoned there. This is where the Lenin statue stands, which you can see in one of the pictures in this post. In addition to these buildings, there was also a considerable training area.
In the center of it, Zehrensdorf village used to lay, but it had to disappear to make way for the military. Today, the name is the only thing that remains from the town.
The Maybach Bunker Complex
When you start the bunker tour, you first see the bunkers built between 1937 and 1939 for the army command. The plans and orders during the Second World War were prepared here.
These bunkers were called the Maybach One Complex, and the 12 bunkers were disguised as houses. This is why the bunkers in the pictures below have this triangular shape. Close by, you can see the Zeppelin, the underground communication bunker also known as Exchange 500, which was the place where the military orders were sent out.
This was where the telephones and every communication to the German front was made all over Europe. These two bunker complexes were linked by underground tunnels. There was also Maybach Two, the command center for the Wehrmacht and the army rear services.
This was located a few kilometers south and was supposed to be connected to the other bunkers, but it was not completed by the time the war started.
Visiting the Wunsdorf Bunkers
During the twenties, Wunsdorf had a period of peace since the Versailles Treaty ended German military aspirations after the First World War. Because of that, the main camp was used as a summer camp for the Berlin children. It is weird to think about this place being used as a fun place for children.
The military importance of Wunsdorf started to grow again during the Third Reich’s first years for two main reasons. The first was that the fifth armored regiment was stationed a few kilometers away. That regiment contributed considerably to tank warfare and linked Heinz Guderian, Walther Nehring, and Oswald Lutz to Wunsdorf.
The second reason for its importance was that this is where the Oberkommando des Heeres, the Supreme High Command of the German Army, was stationed. When the Red Army arrived in Wunsdorf at the end of April 1945, they took control of the area without any fight. This happened because the only defenders left there were four soldiers. Three of them surrendered immediately, and the fourth couldn’t do a thing because he was dead drunk.
With the Potsdam Agreement and the Allied Control Council’s decision to destroy all significant military structures belonging to Nazi Germany, the Soviets started to destroy the massive complex of bunkers.
It was only in 1953 that the Soviet Forces decided to turn Wunsdorf into the Soviet Army Headquarters in Occupied East Germany. The whole area is surrounded by a concrete wall and still stands today. The main road through Wunsdorf was blocked, which is how the city became forbidden to everyone other than the military serving there. During the peak periods, the number of people stationed there was between 35 and 40 thousand, including the military, their dependents, and civilian employees.
Because of that, Wunsdorf became Little Moscow with a direct rail link to Moscow. The military force had everything at their doorstep. Since the officers had their families with them, schools, shops, cinemas, and anything else they might need were built there. They also had newspapers and TV channels, including those from the Soviet Union.
All this disappeared on August 31, 1994, when the last Russians officially left Wunsdorf following German Reunification. Back then, the Brandenburg government planned to convert the military garrisons into something more practical and peaceful.
Unfortunately, the project fell apart after the state-owned companies responsible for implementing the project became bankrupt a few years later. Nobody knows what will happen with the military complex in Wunsdorf.
And we are pretty sure it will remain a center of contradictions with converted military buildings where families live comfortably alongside ruins from the German military history.
The Maybach One Complex
This vast complex, known at the Wunsdorf bunkers as Maybach One, survived the Russian efforts to demolish it. They look like they had rough experiences but still stand today, almost 70 years after being blown up. But how did this happen?
These bunkers used to have four levels where the military officers used to work. Two of them were below the ground, and two of them were above the ground level. A meter-thick layer of iron and concrete stood between the groups, and I don’t think this was supposed to be easy to destroy. A lot of effort went into concealing these bunkers.
They were shaped like houses and needed to be seen as houses. This is why there were tiles over the roofs, chimneys that housed the air filter systems, and false windows painted on the walls. These windows even had flower boxes placed under them during the summer months.
Despite all the efforts to camouflage and conceal the importance of this place, the allies during the Second World War knew that the Oberkommando des Heeres was situated there. There are even air photos taken by the American forces and reports from the Royal Army Force detailing what happened at Wunsdorf.
Senior officers debated about bombing the place, but they never did; they knew the bunkers were close to indestructible. The only bombing raid that targeted Wunsdorf happened on March 15, 1945, when 600 American aircraft bombed the area without damaging the bunkers.
Plans for the operation Barbarossa were worked out in detail in these bunkers. One of the buildings housed the army’s general department dealing with foreign affairs. General Gehlen, one of the officers who worked there, later founded the Bundesnachrichtendienst.
In another building, General Eduard Wagner, the quartermaster-general of the German Army, committed suicide after a failed attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944. He was a member of the resistance to Adolf Hitler and arranged the airplane that flew Stauffenberg from Rastenburg back to Berlin after the July 20 plot bomb had exploded.
Zeppelin, the underground communication bunker
When you enter Zeppelin, you start to understand what a bunker is. The place has enormous, heavy blast doors, and the noise they make when they close is almost scary. There are also shower rooms for decontamination and gas protection doors.
This was the most critical communication bunker for Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The complex was used until early 1945, when the Red Army took control of the place. Nobody knows for sure what the Germans left behind, but we know that the Soviets started blowing up the site as soon as they could. Starting at the lowest level.
Since the Germans built these bunkers to be indestructible, the Red Army couldn’t do much to destroy them and ended up with half-destroyed levels filled with water.
It is also weird to think about how this bunker used to be a high-tech location more than 70 years ago. The Zeppelin used to have an automatic dialing system for telephones, telegraphs with pulse systems, and electric systems with fuses. This might not sound great, but civil houses didn’t have access until the late fifties.
The bunker complex is deep and way longer than I expected. Sometimes, you walk for minutes in long hallways after you realize that you must be 20 meters deep into the ground.
And, after you see the three-meter thick iron and concrete floor that protects the place from bombs, you understand how it is practically impossible to destroy these bunkers. And the Soviets tried. Really tried.
We were inside the old Forbidden City for over two hours, touring the bunkers and exploring the place. It was great, and everybody interested in the Second World War should go there at least once. It is truly a fantastic place to visit.
There are a few different tours in English and German. We did Tour 1, around the bunker complexes Maybach I and Zeppelin (former military staff and communications bunker of the High Command of the German Army).
I don’t remember how much we paid (around €10), but it was worth it. But if you don’t like doing tours, you can read about what the guys at Abandoned Berlin did there.
Our Visit to the Wunsdorf Bunkers
15806 Zossen – Germany