fri 13 jul 2012 16:00:00 witte de withstraat
went to peenemünde
peenemünde is north of berlin on the baltic sea, and it's where the german rocket program happened in the 1930s-40s. it was led by wernher von braun, who later ended up at NASA. i'm not into military history, but since my early 20s i've always had a strange fascination with peenemünde. of course when i was young i couldn't go there, cuz it was in east germany.
a few months ago i mentioned it to djox and joana, and to my surprise joana said 'let's go there!' they wanted to visit berlin anyway.
we took off wednesday morning in djox's car. i think it was about eight hours, with a few highway pauses to pee and eat bockwurst and buy fuel. the last hour driving was through rolling countryside on a narrow road, approaching the baltic sea (ostsee).
joana had found us a place to stay, a sorta hotel / holiday apartment thing called 'alte wache', right in the town of peenemünde. it was run by a biker named axel. i asked axel how late the restaurant stays open and he said 'until the last ghost'. his english was about as limited as my german. we had a nice dinner sitting outside just after sunset. i think axel was the chef too.
i was nervous thursday morning, the day we planned to go try and find the site of the launch pad of the A4 rockets. i had seen photos of a small memorial stone there, with an old water pump near it. and from the aerial recon photos from 1943 i knew very roughly where it was. that was all.
after breakfast we drove to a spot on the airport road, next to the foresty part of the peninsula. we stood for a while looking at a big yellow sign warning us not to go in here. Achtung! Verboten! Lebensgefahr! etc. in german (no translation) it told us this area was heavily contaminated with munitions, and it was an offense to enter there.
then we stepped around the sign and walked down a path.
from my own map -- i had used photoshop to overlay the google map with the aerial recon -- i knew we needed to turn left and walk north, a long way north. but every left turn was blocked by a steel gate and more signs warning us not to go there. but then we found a gap in the fence. somebody had pulled back the chain link, and not recently either, it was rusted in that position a long time ago. so then we found our way wandering along little pathways with old pavement.
a lovely forest surrounded us. here and there we'd see signs of long ago military buildings. when the russians came in 1945 they found most everything had already been dynamited. we figured if we stayed on the main paths nothing bad would happen to us. but after more than an hour walking, the paths became dirt and mud paths, and they split and curled around. using a mobile phone to compare google map and GPS, we were able to say 'it has to be somewhere right around here.' we found a sort of rectangular pond with lots of demolished concrete and iron sticking out. there would have been such a pool near the launch pads.
then joana called out to me 'collins! didn't you say there was a water pump beside it?'
and yes, joana had found test stand 7! the little rock nearby said this was the 'abschußstelle' of the A4 rockets. an image of the rocket was etched into it. i was glad. it would have really sucked to walk all that way and get bit by all those bugs without finding what we were looking for. i shot some movie clips.
it was a long walk back out of there. i was exhausted. we got in the car and drove to berlin. joana had found us a place to stay there too. they were planning to stay till monday and see the city. but i wanted to get back to my desk, so i left the next morning on a train to amsterdam.