I grew up in East Germany – the former socialist part of the now re-united Germany. It was officially called the GDR (German Democratic Republic). Actually we East Germans called it DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). I was 11 when the wall came down in 1989. I saw with my own eyes how a whole country transformed into another within a couple of years – or completely vanished in many ways.
Within a short amount of time the East German identity was turned into a West German one. The laws, money, health and school system, clothes, food and cars all were Westernised. Many factories and army barracks in the East were also closed as they were either too old to function effectively or they were just not needed any more.
In many cases no one wanted to buy the old buildings, because they were in too uncommercial areas or too expensive to modernise. And very often no one even had the money to knock them down. Hence they were just left behind – waiting for nature and vandalists to do the job. Now more than 20 years later you can drive through the country and discover amazing ruins – the last remains of a hole country.
A few weeks back on a holiday with my family in Prerow – a little resort at the Baltic Sea part of East Germany – I stumled across one of them. My father who used to be a soldier in the East German border patrol (Grenztruppen) recognised it instantly as a barrack from the NVA (Nationale Volksarmee = National People’s Army).
To my surprise I saw that it wasn’t locked off at all and easily accessible. As a true explorer and fan of old abandoned places it took me no second thoughts and just moments later I dived into this world of the past.
It was instantly visible that I was not the first one to enter this building after it had been left to rott. The place was in many parts completely vandalised. But if you saw past those shattered sinks, smashed windows and broken bunk beds you could imagine how once soldiers lived here day in day out during their army times in the Cold War and after.
From old paper cuts which were lying around and from my research afterwards I learned that the barrack was left in 1993. Which means the last 3 years of its use as army base was already in the re-united Germany – wich explains the traces of new Westernised products in some of the rooms.
During the 18 years since its closure the building had become the home of completely different occupants though. Many of the rooms and walls were covered with bird droppings. Swallows seemed to have found the ideal nisting grounds there. They had build their nests on top of the curtain rails or in the former soldiers wardrobes.
Me and my brother who also took out his camera – wondered around the place from the cellars to the roof top. It was for both us quite a surreal but also a bit sentimental experience – as we recognised things from when we were little. Of course we had never been in the East German army – thankfully there were no child soldiers in our country. 😉 But some things like the typical East German designs of the furniture or the wallpapers were still very familar to us.
As a true socialist my father actually refused to enter the place. He said it would still hurt him too much to see a part of a system that he believed in so destroyed.
I am curious to see what will happen to this building in the future. Will it be there forever until gravity will pull it apart or will it eventually be replaced by a hotel resort or super market? One does not know. But maybe, just maybe, these photos and our memories will be the last that remain from this part of East Germany.