Krampnitz’s fascination for the urban explorer lies not in any memorabilia left behind by the residents – there simply isn’t any – but in the place itself: the quiet streets and the buildings that line them, the dark hallways and peeling paint, the occasional brightly colored mural with an inspirational message written in Russian or Latin.
In the outskirts of Postdam lies one of Brandenburg’s most magnificent urban exploration spots. The barracks of Krampnitz Kaserne were built in 1937 during Germany’s rearmament period and used as a training center by Wehrmacht until the last months of the World War II. Today, with more than 50 abandoned buildings, it is the very definition of concrete jungle: cold, massive, difficult to navigate and full of secrets waiting to be discovered. The interesting thing about Krampnitz is that it has been a ghost town not once but twice. On April 26th 1945, the Nazis had to evacuate the area on a very short notice as the Red Army was closing in from the East. The Soviets arrived exactly one day later to a town empty of all life. In true iconoclastic fashion they took to destroying all signs of the complex’s former life with a few notable exceptions. On Holy Saturday 2015, accompanied by an old friend, I went in search of those exceptions. Because no Easter break in Berlin is complete without some light, wholesome outdoor recreation involving ghosts of dead Nazis, right?
Its current state of abandonment Krampnitz owes to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. As the Red Army vacated the premises, they took everything they humanly could with them, leaving the place even emptier than the day they arrived. Krampnitz’s fascination for the urban explorer lies therefore not in any memorabilia left behind by the residents – there simply isn’t any – but in the place itself: the quiet streets and the buildings that line them, the dark hallways and peeling paint, the occasional brightly-colored mural with an inspirational message written in Russian or Latin. It’s rumored that several films including Resident Evil have shot scenes in Krampnitz. Out in the grass-covered courtyards, it was certainly easy to believe; the unreal stillness of the place coupled with relative lack of graffiti owing to the remote location made it feel like a movie set, only one hundred times scarier. Luckily, I had my friend to hold my hand as we ventured into the forgotten town in hopes of unearthing its hidden treasures – and a perfect spot to have a nice lil’ picnic. These “hidden treasures” are special locations scattered over the 1,215 km2 area, most of which comprises of fairly unremarkable residential buildings. They include a casino (an officers’ entertainment hall, no actual gambling took place in there), a gymnasium and, most legendarily, a House of Officers which boasts an impressive mosaic depicting the Nazi eagle. Of course, nobody will tell you how to find these spots. There are no maps that point the exact locations, although many offer some hints as to the general area you can expect to find them in. Through cross-referencing these maps and keeping our eyes open for architectural clues such as tall windows and impressive facades – there is no way the Nazis would place highly symbolic mosaics in any old soldiers’ dormitory – we did indeed manage to find everything we were looking for. The Casino retains a lot of its former glitz. In its spacious mahogany halls we discovered Socialist murals, an intricate non-eagle-depicting mosaic (on the left), an eagle-depicting sculpture (second picture below) and, somewhat bizarrely, a giant rhino head that the internet tells me is a movie prop. Besides Resident Evil, Inglorious Basterds and Enemy at the Gates are supposed to have filmed in Krampnitz, but I don’t remember any of these films to have featured any rhinos…
Out of everything we saw, I think my favorite was the gymnasium. A fairly nondescript building, it nonetheless had colorful murals and other wall art celebrating the Socialist virtues of physical excellence, sportsmanship and the friendship of nations (cough cough). It was there that I did a stupid thing. I was so excited about the photo ops that I failed to regard the obviously fragile floor. Striding into the great hall, I immediately felt the wood give in under my right foot. Shit. I fell around half a meter, which was the distance between the floor and the solid ground directly under it. That may not sound like much but the pain in my ankle was real. I hadn’t quite sprained it, but I had come very close. #1 rule of urban exploration: don’t be a dumbass like me. Know the risks.
Finally, we found the eagle mosaic exactly where we thought we would. We had accessed the large building through the basement and ascended to the second floor, yours truly slightly limping, when we suddenly came face to face with it. I must echo the other bloggers who have described the moment as almost surreal, like actually finding a needle in the haystack. A very, very evil needle that is out to murder like 50 percent of your closest friends and probably you too.
Now, there is some speculation as to the authenticity of the mosaic. Why would the Soviets, who systematically destroyed everything connected with the Nazis on the site, have saved it? Some suggest they considered it a trophy, the one relic of a falling regime to be saved for show. Could it be a movie prop, like the rhino head at the Casino? Why not, but it does not actually appear in any of the films that are supposed to have filmed here. Do I believe it’s real? Literally no clue, though I feel inclined to think yes. Somebody had tagged the mosaic rather clumsily. Normally I’m opposed to such vandalism, but this time I felt an almost smug satisfaction as I thought of the unusual brutality the time and era that (possibly) birthed the work of art. Here was a masterpiece (maybe) produced by the top talent of a sick empire, meant to convey its unyielding power, only to be painted over by some talentless hack of a graffiti artist mere decades later while the Thousand-Year Reich lies in ruins. There was a certain poetry about it I couldn’t deny. And that concluded our day at Krampnitz Kaserne. We found ourselves a spot by Lake Krampnitzsee across the street from the barracks and shared the last of our wine as light April rain started to fall.