Inside Germany’s ‘Forbidden City’ left as it was in Soviet times

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Nestled deep in the East German countryside is a site like no other, a place stuck in a time long gone where statues of Vladimir Lenin still stand strong and the red star of the Soviet Union shines bright.

Wünsdorf, or Little Moscow as it was known, was once home to 75,000 Soviet men, women, and children.

Today, it stands empty but remains in character much as it was when they lived there.

It is made up of an abandoned military complex, known as the Forbidden City, and sits behind a wall of security complete with a heavily padlocked gate.

Empty since the last remaining Soviet soldiers left almost 30 years ago following the fall of the Iron Curtain, few people are permitted to enter its gates and step into the past.

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Some 500,000 Soviet troops were stationed all across the German Democratic Republic — East Germany — during the Cold War, which was part of the Eastern Bloc of Soviet allies.

Wünsdorf sits just 25 miles from Berlin, the capital, which was split between East and West, and was the high command for Soviet forces in Germany.

It was the biggest Soviet military camp outside the USSR and doubled up as an entire community, complete with shops, schools, and leisure facilities, with daily trains leaving for Moscow.

Living conditions and allowances for regular Soviet troops were fairly poor. Local guide Werner Borchert told CNN that they had “no vacations, no visits from girlfriends or family”.

Hovever, things were different for the Soviet top brass who were allowed to live with their wives and children, and enjoyed luxurious parts of the base like the grand pool and theatre — though they often lived there for up to 12 years at a time.

The Officer’s House is the base’s centrepiece, outside of which a decrepit statue of Vladimir Lenin stands and keeps watch.

Though the building wasn’t built by the Soviets — it dates back to 1871 — they did extend it so that a nightclub was added to its rear.

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By the start of World War I, Wünsdorf had become the largest military camp in Europe, and after the war ended, an Army Sports School was established where Olympic hopefuls underwent intensive training.

The Nazi’s entire World War II campaign would be directed from an underground communications bunker near the base, and provided direct contact with Stalingrad, France, The Netherlands, and as far away as Africa.

In April 1945, the base fell out of the Nazi’s hands and into the Soviets, and Russian Marshal Georgy Zhukov made it his headquarters.

Locals were moved out of the area and it soon became a restricted site, known among the community outside as Die Verbotene Stadt, the Forbidden City.

However, there were ways to get in – illegal ways. Juergen Naumann, the site’s caretaker, told The Guardian that East German troops could often be bribed by German locals for access to the base.

People wanted access to some of the goods in the base’s shops, as Mr Naumann explained: “There were some things you couldn’t get outside. A lot was cheap, because the Soviets didn’t pay VAT. So cigarettes were cheap, schnapps was cheap.”

However, he added: “You could get in but, of course you had to be careful to be back out again punctually.

“So, if you went in in the morning you had to be out by around 4pm at the latest. Anyone who missed it had bad luck. You’d be held for 24 hours and made to peel potatoes for the troops.”

When the Soviets finally handed the Forbidden City back to the local government, it soon fell into neglect.

Time has taken its toll on the buildings and statues, along with weather and unwanted visitors.

Today, Wünsdorf is Europe’s last Cold War vestige, a forgotten trace of the Iron Curtain which once descended across the continent.

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