Fürstenberg’s military traces
Little could he have known as he made his way surreptitiously through Germany in 1917 that stone statues in his honor would be discarded in what remained of the country 100 years later.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was traveling back to Petrograd with the blessing of the German government, then at war with Russia, after hearing of the February Revolution and resulting abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in his native land. It was the end of the Russian Empire.
The Germans recognized that this upstart, better known as Lenin, could be useful in destabilizing their enemy to the east – World War I was still raging – and so they arranged travel for him and his entourage in a diplomatically-sealed train, described later by Lenin as an “extraterritorial entity,” from Zürich in Switzerland to Sassnitz on the island of Rügen.
From Sassnitz he caught the ferry to Sweden and made his way to the north of the country where he crossed into Finland – still Russian at the time (though not for much longer) – down via Helsinki back to Petrograd, as St. Petersburg was then known. It had been renamed with the outbreak of the war to remove the German words Sankt and Burg.
Back in Petrograd, Lenin roused his Bolsheviks and called for another revolution, left, returned, left again amid claims he was a German stooge, then returned again to lead the October Revolution. That fella couldn’t sit still.
The Bolsheviks took over and the rest, as they say, is history. Who knows what would have happened if the Germans hadn’t assisted him?
Lenin was able to observe the German countryside as the train trundled northwards. It wasn’t literally sealed. But surely he could not have foreseen that the German Empire would also meet its end the following year, its territory greatly reduced, and what remained would be split in two with the eastern part under Soviet influence.
Today, Lenin’s stone likenesses attest to the craziness of it all. They’re scattered in various places in and around Berlin, not as numerous as they once were. Two fine examples can be found in Wünsdorf, and there’s another in Fürstenberg, where he still seems to be awaiting the return of his comrades, clutching a note in his right hand, a look of puzzlement on his face.
Years after he died, Lenin’s successors brought him back to Germany for what they assumed was the long haul. The Soviet military had barracks dotted everywhere and Lenin statues were ubiquitous. In the end, the German Democratic Republic (DDR) lasted only 40 years before it was voted out of existence by its own representatives.
Most have been commandeered by investors and converted into German family homes. Maybe Lenin would approve. The proletariat needs somewhere to live after all.
Back in the day, Fürstenberg was home to the Soviet 2nd Guards Tank Army – 25,000 Red Army soldiers. They set up tank barracks, chemical warehouses and clothing warehouses, while the 24 houses that once housed SS guards on the shores of the Röblinsee were used by Russian officers.
But the only army behind Lenin now is the army of ravenous mosquitoes that attacks before you’ve had a chance to declare your credentials. Mosquitoes are the worst kind of toes, and these toes know something is afoot.
There haven’t been too many visitors since the last Russians and other former Soviets left in 1993.
They left the Haus der Offiziere and the barracks behind it to crumble in the intervening years, wallpaper flaking off to reveal the newspapers beneath. Some were celebrating 40 years since the heroic victory over the fascists with details of a great parade on Red Square, praising the courage, bravery and sheer general wonderfulness of the Soviet people and the Red Army and anyone in between.
If you need to catch up on the news from the 80s, just head to one of their old military barracks – they’re all plastered from top to bottom with patriotic newspapers from the Soviet Union.
This is how you can still come face to face with heroes like Ivan and Lyudmila… “From the field to the factory – without waste! This is the current attitude of the beet growers working in the Kharkiv region today,” the caption says.
“At the Pervyhinskov plant, Ivan Alekseevich Sybbota is laboring away. He is in charge of cutting beets, and successfully completes his given tasks. In the picture on the right is the operator of mechanic milking and Komsomol (a youth organization controlled by the Communist party) member Lyudmila Mahankova from the collective farm in the name of the Kirov Oktyaborskogo, within the Kursky region. She is a winner of the socialist milkmaid competition held in the area.”
No less important to the Soviet Union than Lenin was, Ivan and Lyudmila still wait with him now in Fürstenberg, all holding their breath to see what happens next.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Lenin and Haus der Offiziere, pretty much all that remains of the Soviets’ time in Fürstenberg, where once up to 25,000 soldiers were based on the shores of the Röblinsee.
- Where: Steinförder Straße, 16798 Fürstenberg/Havel.
- How to get there: Get the regional train to Rostock from Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Gesundbrunnen and get off at Fürstenberg. It’s a bit of a walk from the train station, just over two kilometers, so consider bringing a bike. Come out of the Bahnhof and walk (or cycle) to the main road, then turn right and walk down till Steinförder Straße branches off to your right. Get on that and keep walking till you see the clearly abandoned villa obscured by trees on your left. Here it is on a map. Lenin will be there to let you in.
- Getting in: There’s a chance Lenin won’t let you in and you’ll have to get in yourself. Go around to the back of the villa. On my first visit the door down through the underground bunker was open, but it was closed again a month later. So you’ll have to poke around and find your own best way of getting in. Someone came along and sealed the entrance so it’s clear that someone still pays attention. Be careful.
- When to go: Daytime. And soon – now that it’s autumn, the mosquitoes are less ferocious.
- Difficulty rating: 5/10. A bit out of the way. Getting into Haus der Offiziere is easy if it’s open, difficult if it’s not.
- Who to bring: Bring your girlfriend/boyfriend for a romantic stroll by the lake. Fürstenberg is actually quite pretty. You can rent canoes and stuff like that.
- What to bring: Bring a torch for the bunker, so you can see where you’re going and you’re not bumping into stuff in the dark. Also snacks, sandwiches perhaps, a raincoat, whatever you’re into. Don’t forget your camera obviously, nor some euros for a few beers. Be warned: There are no Spätis in Fürstenberg.
- Dangers: Apart from the aforementioned mosquitoes and some dodgy floorboards that will collapse as soon as you step on them, there are not too many concerns. Watch out for busybodies as usual, keep a low profile and you’ll be fine. Check the news before you go – Lenin is always eager for the latest.
Wünsdorf was the Soviet military forces’ HQ in Germany, Little Moscow, the Forbidden City. The Nazis used it before that for their underground army HQ.
Vogelsang still clings to its nuclear secrets. One sneaky deployment of bad weapons was so damned secret it was even kept from the Soviet soldiers involved.
Lenin can’t have imagined he’d be spending his 150th birthday alone in a parking lot in West Berlin. But that’s where he is, outside Zapf Umzüge removals.