Germany Holidays: Cold War sites

They may not be the normal man-made tourist attractions, but Cold War sites are part of the history of eastern Germany.

Back in 1989, a hole in the Berlin Wall was the catalyst for enormous political change, and over the ensuing two decades Europe has moved from hole to whole. In terms of travel to Germany that means we now have far more choice for cultural and rural tourism, and Berlin has become a major city-break destination, but it is still possible to sleep in a bunker, criss-cross the Wall and walk across bridges where spies were exchanged. In other words do the sort of stuff that, 20-odd years ago, might have got you killed.

It is still possible to sleep in a bunker, criss-cross the Wall and walk across bridges where spies were exchanged

Massive underground bunkers, kept secret for many years, are opening to the public. There are several in the state of Brandenburg, particularly at Wollenberg and Garzau, to the east of Berlin. Garzau was an information processing centre, full of clunky computer equipment, built sufficiently strong and deep to withstand a nuclear bomb. Wollenberg was a communications centre, equally mightily defended, and also restored with authentic equipment. Both were Cold War operational, and are open as private museums, but Brandenburg Tourism can organise visits. And then there’s also Kossa, north of Leipzig, an underground command centre completed as recently as the 1970s and which was dug by soldiers who had no idea what they were building.

In some of these places you can stay overnight. Guests of the Waldhotel Rennsteighöhe near Erfurt in Thuringia, for example, can book the ‘Reality Adventure’ package and sleep in a former bunker operated by the Ministry of State Security, their stay complete with changing of guard re-enactments and early morning parade.

Closer to Berlin, the Glienicker Brücke, across the river Havel in the city of Potsdam, home of the 1945 Potsdam conference which divided Germany between the Allies, was one of the key border crossings between east and west. Up until the political change of 1989 this bridge was a point of exchange for secret agents of both political systems who had been taken prisoner. Since then it has become a popular backdrop for television commercials, and it is a beautiful vantage point for Potsdam’s palaces, parks and church towers.

And then in Berlin itself there’s all kinds of stuff, and not just the obvious route of the Wall. There’s the US listening post on top of the hill at Teufelsberg, in the west of the city, originally intended to spy on the east, and now derelict. And there’s the likes of the Beelitz Heilstätten hospital, a giant abandoned former Soviet military hospital which treated everyone from Communist party members to the disgraced head of the East German government who was sent there after being forced out in 1990. Today, the majority of the complex has been abandoned and left to decay back into the surrounding forest. In 2002 it was used as a set for the Roman Polanski film The Pianist. As none of the complex is guarded, it is a popular place for urban exploration, drinking teenagers, and people looking to give themselves a good scare.

For Wollenberg and Garzau, Brandenburg Tourism can arrange visits: 0049 331 298730

More information on Kossa.

Contact for the Waldhotel.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Eastern Germany

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