Testing the world’s first stealth bomber
Flugplatz Oranienburg was once home to fearless pilots, engineers, mechanics, military advisors, warmongers, soldiers, planes, bombs and all sorts of other dastardly equipment.
Now it’s home to Rewe, or rather, the supermarket chain’s logistic center, which supplies 355 supermarkets in the region with 10,000 different grocery types. A cement supplier and home depot have also taken up residence on the former airfield. Such is progress.
Not much remains of the Flugplatz which was built between 1936 and 1939 and used almost until war end by Heinkel-Werke Oranienburg to develop and build warplanes for the Luftwaffe (Germany’s air force).
Heinkel also had facilities in nearby Germendorf and Reinickendorf in Berlin, helping give rise, literally, to beasts like the Heinkel He 111, Heinkel He 177 and Junkers Ju 88 from a patch of land now occupied by tins of soup and shrink-wrapped lettuce.
Flugplatz Oranienburg’s biggest claim to fame is as a test center for the legendary Horten Ho IX/Horten Ho 229 Flying Wing, the world’s first ever “stealth” bomber. Designed by brothers Reimar and Walter Horten, it was an answer to Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring’s call for a plane meeting the magic 3×1,000 standard – namely capable of carrying 1,000 kilos of bombs 1000 kilometers away at a speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour.
The Horten Ho IX reached 960 km/h in tests with Junkers turbojet engines at Flugplatz Oranienburg in the summer of 1944. Göring was pleased, and increased his order for production.
Only a few prototypes were built, however, and the end of the war cut short its development – for Germany. The Americans nabbed the plans and one of the models closest to completion in Operation Paperclip, which was put into operation to secure German weapons research before the Soviets did. The Americans found plenty of use for stealth bombers later on…
Allied bombing put paid to the Heinkel works In April 1945, and the Russians moved in after the war, commandeering the site, as they did with so many others, and using it as a military airfield until they left. It seems anywhere the Soviets found a Nazi airfield or military camp, they moved in and used it for themselves.
“It was nice here when the Russians left in ’94,” said an oul’ wan out for a walk when I was poking around.
She had a dog in a basket that she was pushing along on her bike. That has nothing to do with anything but I thought it worth mentioning all the same.
“There were loads of buildings around the place,” she continued. “And lots of animals too, plenty of boar and deer, foxes and hares.”
“And now you have Rewe,” said I, pointing to the rectangular monstrosity with a floor area the size of 28 football pitches.
“Ja, huh! Now you have Rewe.”
A motorway runs through most of the original runway, though some of it remains. But the tower building is gone – I presume it was sacrificed for Rewe – and all that’s left now are a couple of windowless buildings, one with Russian stuff written over the door, and those triangular wall-things that you see at airports sometimes. I’ve no idea what they are or what they’re for. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.
One of the buildings still standing, however, is the giant hangar, presumably where planes were built before being sent to do their destructive business elsewhere. It’s in good enough condition – there are still pulleys and contraptions hanging from the beams overhead and the doors are HUGE, making you wonder just how tall Germans must have been in those days.
So while cars and supermarkets may have taken their toll elsewhere on the site, it’s good to know there’s still a hangar a hangin’ after all these years, as hangars like to do.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Flugplatz Oranienburg (Oranienburg Airfield), once home to daredevils and their machines. Test center for the famed Horten Ho IX/Horten Ho 229 Flying Wing, the world’s first ever “stealth” bomber. Now the former airfield is home to turnips and their brethren..
- Where: Flugpionierstraße, 16515 Oranienburg, Germany.
- How to get there: Get the S1 S-Bahn in the direction of Oranienburg, but get off at the station before, Lehnitz, and cycle northwest to Saarlandstraße, follow that street all the way along until you hit Birkenallee, turn right, then over the bridge, right at the roundabout, and you’ll see the REWE monstrosity on your left. What’s left of the good stuff is further on, to the right. Here’s a map showing the route. The cycle’s about 5km altogether.
On the way back I suggest cycling along the canal and getting the train back from Oranienburg. Just, whatever you do, do not buy a beer from that wagon in the store on the left as you walk into Oranienburg S-Bahnhof. She wanted €1 for a Sterni and then, when I only had €1 and nothing more, another 8 cent for the Pfand, making it (for those of you who can’t count) €1.08 for a Sterni. For a STERNI! I didn’t have the extra eight cent and the scabby cow wouldn’t let me away with it so I suggest you take your custom elsewhere.
- Getting in: OK, I’ve calmed down now. It used to be quite easy to get it to the hangar building (on the first visit in 2012), but now some geniuses have put a big sturdy high fence all around it. So now have to climb over the fence. Be careful! It’s the type of fence that would have no qualms about ripping your jeans as you jump down.
- When to go: Day is best if you want to look around, but I imagine you could have the party to end all parties in the hanger at night. Of course, it would have to be a techno party, with strobe lights from the ceiling, with the added excitement of knowing you could get killed at any moment.
- Difficulty rating: 6/10. This used to be a 1/10 but the dastardly fence has made things more difficult. The cycle here used to be the biggest obstacle, but at least now you can lock your bike to the fence and use it for a leg over.
- Who to bring: An airport buff who can explain what the weird triangley things are to the side of what remains of the runway. It’s not particularly romantic but there’s nothing stopping you bringing your girlfriend/boyfriend. And if you’re having a party it might be a good idea to bring a few friends.
- What to bring: Camera, beers (so you don’t have to buy them off that specimen in S-Bahnhof Oranienburg), a torch for dark holes, a bag of pistachios for non-beer related nourishment.
- Dangers: I didn’t notice any. Either that means there are none or I’m becoming seriously flathúlach the longer I carry on at this, well, carry on. Still, watch out for nosy neighbors, Polizei, there’s a farmer next door, and any other people who may turn out not to be your friend. Having said that, I only met an oul’ wan with a dog in a basket and she was friendly enough.
More high jinks
West Berlin’s lifeline during the Soviet Blockade, Tempelhof Airport has since become the city’s biggest park. Berliners will fight to keep it that way.
Germany’s Luftwaffe used Flugplatz Schönwalde for the war. The Soviets took over afterward and left their traces after abandoning the airfield in 1992.
Flugplatz Brand was strategically important for the Soviet Air Force. Thankfully its battalions of flying fighters remained on ice for the duration of the Cold War.