I can’t help it – I just love abandoned places. I have visited many abandoned places and have even created a blog about my passion. There is a scholarly designation for the fascination with deserted locations that have fallen into ruin. The term is Ruinenlust.
Ruinenlust is basically no different than any other obsession. It seizes hold of you and either you give in or remain unhappy for a long time.
It always used to be quick and easy. Simply fill the backpack, remember to take the camera, grab a falafel sandwich, and go. A few hours later, I’d be in Beelitz sitting on the rooftop laundry facility of an abandoned sanatorium for lung diseases. I could breathe in the fresh forest air, while the late summer, violet evening sky sailed by high above my head. It was wonderful.
Having a baby means that it is no longer so easy to follow this game plan. The backpack is now filled with diapers, wet wipes, and nursing pads and left in the hallway until the right day comes. A day when the previous night wasn’t so bad, when the baby doesn’t have a bellyache, or when we are not all dead tired. It can be a long time before such a day arrives. And if the Ruinenlust is still there, you have to act fast.
For our first excursion with the baby, we chose the abandoned Soviet military city of Vogelsang. “Why can’t you be like every other mother and just take your child to the playground?” says my irate mother on the phone. “Of course I can,” I answer. “Vogelsang is a fantastic playground. A place where parents can have fun.” My mother displays an allergic reaction to such remarks and hangs up.
The derelict garrison of Vogelsang lies hidden in the Brandenburg Forest. The abandoned places community has no mercy with members who post exact site locations, so you really have to carefully research coordinates beforehand.
After a two-hour drive from Berlin, we park our car at a tiny, disused train station in Brandenburg. The autumn sky shines high and clear above our heads. The baby slept the entire journey, which was a blessing for us all.
The best thing about abandoned places is that you never know exactly what to expect. And that is precisely what makes for a real adventure.
The former Soviet garrison of Vogelsang was the largest outside of the Soviet Union. For almost 40 years, over 15,000 soldiers lived here with their families. The city had an organized infrastructure. It had cinemas, schools, hospitals, and even a jail. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Group of Soviet Forces was withdrawn from Germany. Since 1994, Vogelsang has laid abandoned and has fallen into ruin.
After a short hike through the forest, we discover grey, crumbling barracks. A sign warns us that this is a “restricted military zone.” Is this it?
We are surrounded by the rustling sound of massive fir trees and, in the distance, a deer crosses our path. The fragrant forest shimmers with beautiful autumn colors. Our baby has his hand in his mouth and chews on it contentedly. It looks like the first tooth is on its way.
Even if we don’t find Vogelsang, the excursion has already been worth the effort. There is nothing better than being out in the middle of nature.
We continue our hike along the narrow forest path. We are almost about to give up hope of ever finding Vogelsang, when we discover an open barrier and catch sight of the first houses of the abandoned city.
Vogelsang was built according to socialist architectural aesthetics. It has a central avenue and a large square, from which the city’s streets radiate. Today, magnificent birch trees grow on the sidewalks and ferns sprout through the broken asphalt surface.
The Internet says that there are a few highlights that one absolutely must-see. The derelict school, for example, and the old sports gymnasium with its Soviet murals. Both locations remain free from graffiti and vandalism.
Born in the last millennium in a country that no longer exists, I feel myself all at once at home here in Vogelsang. The spirit of the Soviet Union is omnipresent. Hello Lenin and Communist slogans. Hello Kremlin star, military heroism, soldiers’ boots, and everything else that stood for the madness of the Soviet system. Time has been preserved here and I feel as if I have to cry, as I stand here with my own child, looking back upon my own childhood.
We can see that many houses have already been torn down. The state of Brandenburg decided to return part of Vogelsang back to nature. Clearly a case of boundless idiotism, as nature has already been reclaiming everything in its own wonderful and bizarre manner. Trees are flourishing on the rooftops, while thick, succulent green climbing plants glisten on the facades. It can truthfully be said that Vogelsang is the Angkor Wat of eastern Germany.
We have a rest in front of the old event hall. As we spread out our picnic blanket, we hear some dreadful moaning coming out of one of the open windows. It soon becomes clear that someone is shooting a porno film. Soon afterward, an actress appears at the doorstep and lights up a cigarette. She is wearing shiny boots and a Russian military uniform on top. In between, she is stark naked. She gives us a friendly nod and checks her mobile phone. Upon seeing our baby on the blanket, a wide smile lights up her face and she starts to wave at us as if she is completely out of her mind. We all wave back.
After another walk around the garrison, we give up all hope of seeing everything in one day. The area is much too large and our pace is much too slow.
We just have to plan another excursion. On a day when the baby doesn’t have a belly ache or is teething. A day when the previous night wasn’t so bad. A day when we haven’t forgotten to charge the batteries for the camera. It is only a matter of time. And this day will most certainly come.