Flugplatz Schönwalde: Airport left to ghosts and geese

Filed 3/4/2016 | Updated 9/4/2016
Berlin has more airports than sense. It goes through them faster than your average Berliner goes through Sterni. They’re scattered around the city like discarded bottle-caps, use fulfilled, quickly forgotten. Tempelhof, Oranienburg, Sperenberg, Friedrichsfelde, Johannisthal and Rangsdorf are just some of the airports Berlin has thrown away. Now there’s another to add to the list – Flugplatz Schönwalde.
Built by the Nazis in the middle of nowhere north of Berlin by 1939, the Flugplatz was abandoned by the Soviets in 1992 – not that they had made much use of it as an airfield. It has had even less love since, left to crumble in the gloom of its own decay, aching under the weight of unappreciation and disappointment.
Whatever you may say about the Nazis, they were a sneaky bunch, up to no good from an early age. One year after taking over in 1933, they already had secret plans in place to construct an airport to the southeast of Hennigsdorf in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. That treaty prohibited a lot of military activity after World War I. Europe’s history of treaties should prohibit it from making treaties.
The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM, Ministry of Aviation) bought large tracts of land here in 1935, when wooden barracks were constructed to house the workers. They got to work fairly promptly and by 1939 had constructed a proper airfield featuring a concrete runway with lights, radio control tower and several hangars. There was also a rail connection to the Bötzowbahn, a since-abandoned line from Spandau to Bötzow, and to nearby barracks. A kitchen, casino and swimming pool were also built.
The Sportflugplatz Hennigsdorf – as it was originally known – became a pilot school for the German Luftwaffe up to 1943. The 14th air corps made it their home after that with the war in full swing.
Of course the Soviets took over once the swinging stopped. Troops from the 1st Belorussian Front took over without any resistance on Apr. 24, 1945. Hitler would kill himself six days later, not necessarily due to the loss of Flugplatz Schönwalde, but because he was upset all his dreams were shattered.
Flugplatz Schönwalde’s dreams as an airport were denied too. Because it was in one of the air corridors into West Berlin, it couldn’t really be used by the Soviets as an airfield once the dust settled after World War II. They would have had to inform western flight control operators of their movements. Not only that, but the runway wasn’t long enough for the increasingly popular jet-propelled aircraft.
So they killed it. They pulled the plug on aviation at the airport, like denying a butterfly its wings, a fish its gills, or words any readers.
They only used it as an airfield till the mid-1950s, when the first Soviet jet aircraft were stationed here. There was an oul’ helicopter here till 1965, but from then on it was only used by ground troops. The airport was grounded.
I was in one of the hangars when the first shots rang out. BANG BANG!! Then another, louder. BANG!!! Fuck, what's going on?! I froze, camera drawn halfway to my eye, heart drawn halfway to my mouth.
Who were they shooting at? Me?! I hadn't checked the place, wasn't sure if parts were still being used by the German army or another bunch of nutters in a gun club. Maybe one of the Russians was still there, itchy-fingered, bitter after more than 20 years jealously guarding his patch. I pictured him, gaunt and skinny, a quarter-century’s stubble on his face, naked but for a loyal old pair of boots, with a long-empty vodka bottle beside him and just the leaves for company.
Then I thought if I were in his position I wouldn't be shooting people away. I’d be glad of company and the prospect of a drink. But these Russians are crazy.
I proceeded away from the direction of the shots and ascertained it was just some idiots in a drag car or something, racing up and down and the bangs were from the engine. I would have preferred the Russian soldier.
By now an altogether more dangerous enemy was closing in – darkness. I certainly had no desire to stay the night. I set back off in the general direction from which I’d come, pushing through the trees, defying branches, cursing the thorns. There are no beaten tracks but for the road, best avoided say the fresh tire tracks. Before I knew it I was hopelessly lost. All the buildings look the same and I’d no idea what way to go. I bashed my way on, and on, and on, encountering what seemed the same damn building each time.
Finally I spotted the chimney. A landmark! I could attempt to retrace my steps. On I ploughed, through the trees, the bushes, the grass, and on, ever mindful of the diminishing light. And there was my trusty steed, finally! I was never so happy to see my bike. I hopped on and hopped off, much like the Easter bunny who delivered eggs to everyone but me.
A flock of geese was resting where the planes no longer land. At least they were making use of the runway. They looked at me and I at them. Howya geese.
Then, once they saw me reaching for my camera, they took off. Gone! I followed them with my lens but it was a wild goose chase, hopeless. You’ve more chance of catching the ghosts of long departed airmen.
Flugplatz Schönwalde. One of Berlin’s many abandoned airports and airfields, while the city proceeds with building the hopelessly over-budget and overdue BER international airport. We all know it’ll never open and even if it does, it’ll be abandoned for another better airport on the other side of the runway…

An den Bauernhörsten, 14621 Schönwalde-Glien, Germany.

How to get there
It’s a bit tricky. You’ll need yer bike and an S-Bahn. Get the S-Bahn (S25) to Hennigsdorf, then take the road south until you find Bötzowstraße, turn right onto that, and keep going straight until it becomes Schönwalder Straße, keep going until you can keep going no more.
You’ll get to a forest track. Keep going, keep going, keep going, then you’ll eventually come to a fork, turn left onto some weird DDR-era road, head south, keep going past the silage walls and till you see the chimney over to your right.
Once you find the little track branching off to your right, take it! It’ll bring you over a rickety bridge you’ll be amazed is still bridging, and then the Flugplatz is only a little further on.
The fences have been knocked down. You’ll encounter similar resistance to that which the Russians encountered all those years ago. Flugplatz Schönwalde is desperate for anyone to come and realize its dreams as an airport. Here it is on a map in case you want to make those dreams come true.

Getting in
Just go. There’s no one to stop you. At least there wasn’t on Easter Sunday. The fence is battered down, there are holes in it, no resistance.

When to go
Go during the day so you can see what you’re looking at. Go early in the day if you really want to explore and see things.

Difficulty rating
3/10. Very easy once you find it. Most of the buildings are sealed up in some way or other, but all, as far as I could see, have doors open and windows open so you can get into any which place you may feel like getting into.

Who to bring
Like-minded explorers. Don’t bring any unlike-minded explorers because they’re not really explorers at all. It’s not a very romantic setting, what with all the greyness, doom and gloom, so I wouldn’t recommend making this place a first date.

What to bring
A (working) compass would be handy so you don’t get lost like I did. Otherwise bring the usual things, beer, rum, wine etc. A camera if you want to take photos, a torch and, you know, whatever you want to bring. This isn’t a Safari expedition. Bring yourself and you’ll be fine.

Geese, non-existent Easter rabbits, Soviet ghosts, Nazi vibes and weird strangers with no business hanging out where they do. Seriously, watch out for anyone that isn’t you. There’s definitely someone roaming around regularly as can be ascertained from the tire tracks, so keep your eye out for security, nosy neighbors, Polizei and anyone else who may want to spoil your fun.

Many thanks again to the overworked pedant Mark Rodden for casting his eyes over the copy. As always, any mistakes and/or typos are his fault and his fault alone.
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A fascinating post equipped with wonderful photos. Thank you so much for sharing.

Yesterday (friday) I was there for the second time in May and was kept by security. During my first visit on a sunday 3 weeks ago I met about 20 other visitors and haven´t seen security. Yesterday in 6 hours I met no one but suddenly a white car crosses the roads and hit me. Take my name and adress. Will see whats happens...

There today, no problems, a lot to see and explore. Did not see any security.

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