Wild horses, cattle, and goats graze peacefully in a landscape that could be in a film by Russian director Andrei Tarkowski: Döberitzer Heide just outside the gates of Berlin. Just 30 minutes from Berlin's main railway station, this moor offers plenty of fresh air, peace, and quiet. The genista is a bright yellow next to the ruins of the athletes' village built for the 1936 Olympics. German troops under both the Kaiser and Hitler once did their military exercises here, followed by the Soviet Army after the war. Then the Berlin Wall fell and the GDR and the Red Army became a thing of the past. But the unique landscape of Döberitzer Heide remained.
The 1936 Olympic Village
Prussian kings Frederick William I and Frederick the Great already used these fields for military exercises three centuries ago, although, at the time, the city limits of the Prussian capital were much further away. Kaiser Wilhelm II then established a military training grounds at Döberitz in 1892. Berlin's Heerstraße ("Army Street") still bears witness to this fact, as it leads directly from the former military training grounds to the Kaiser's palace on Museum Island.
Then the Olympic Village was erected here for the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin. Nearly 4,000 athletes called it home during the competition. In addition to a fancy reception building, more than 140 residential buildings, separate kitchens, a sports hall, a swimming pool, and a hospital were built here. Particularly striking is the semi-circular House of Nations which featured 38 dining halls.
Of course, the Nazi regime did not put in so much effort without an agenda. The peaceful use of the space for the Olympics was part of a deceptive manoeuvre, because an infantry school and military hospital took over the grounds right after the Olympic Games, as part of Germany's secret preparations for war. The Olympic Village is now a listed site and can only be viewed during guided tours.
After the end of World War II, the Red Army used the site for extensive military exercises until 1992, which left its impact on the landscape. The site is now a valuable open landscape with moors, sandy areas, and dry meadows. It is a habitat for thousands of animal and plant species, some of them very rare or even endangered.
As early as 1987, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviets had declared a part of the military training ground a nature reserve and the work of conservationists was tolerated, as evidenced by a document written by then Soviet Commander Solnikov.
Naturschutz-Förderverein "Döberitzer Heide" e.V.
Since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1992, this special landscape has been at risk of growing over with weeds. The newly founded conservation association began to take care of it, first by grazing Galloway cattle on the landscape. This was later followed by the local species of moorland sheep (Heidschnucke), donkeys, horses, and goats. The association is rehabilitating a Russian tank training range for use as a nature conservation and landscape maintenance centre.
If you want to learn more about the Döberitzer Heide and its rare flora and fauna, you can take part in guided hikes. Groups, hiking clubs, and school classes can also arrange special hiking days, complete with snack or coffee on request. Have a relaxing day getting to know the wild side of Eastern Germany!
The Sielmann Döberitzer Heide Nature Landscape
The Heinz-Sielmann-Stiftung has attracted several nearly extinct species of wild animals on its 3,600 hectare site. Today, European bison, Przewalski's horses, and red deer now graze the moors at Döberitzer Heide, where they are gradually returning to the habits they once had in the open wilderness. Visitors can explore the landscape in this protected area on 55 km of hiking trails and 13 km of horse trails. There are picnic areas and a lookout tower that offers a unique panorama of the landscape even over to TV Tower in Berlin.
Karls Erlebnis-Dorf in Elstal is like stepping into a whole other world. Together with the tasty strawberries on sale here from May to October, there is a lot more for young and old to experience. There are also plenty of treats from the wood-fired bakery as well as homemade jams and candy. The corn maze, the haunted house, and a world made of real ice figures all guarantee plenty of unforgettable experiences. The farm market also offers everything imaginable made of strawberries together with some lovely things from the region, handcrafted toys, and country-style decorations. The farm kitchen and the pancake forge also make sure no one leaves with an empty stomach.
Highlights in Elstal
- 1936 Olympic Village
- Naturschutz-Förderverein Döberitzer Heide e.V.
- Sielmann-Naturlandschaft Döberitzer Heide
- Karls Erlebnis-Dorf
Tips for your visit
If you take the RE 4 regional train from Berlin central station towards Rathenow, you'll reach Elstal in less than 30 minutes. Elstal is located about 30 km west of the central Berlin in the Havel Lake district of Brandenburg.
Naturschutz-Förderverein Döberitzer Heide e.V. offers hikes and other events. You can find more information online at: http://www.doeberitzerheide.de
For further information on Sielmann Naturlandschaft Döberitzer Heide, go to: https://www.sielmann-stiftung.de/veranstaltungen/
More about Karls Erlebnis-Dorf can be found online at: http://www.karls.de/elstal.html
Guided tours through the Olympic Village can be booked between April and September. Please contact the DKB at +49 (0) 33094 - 700 565 or by email: email@example.com