Hiking ruines: Where the space battle starts

One million guests a year, nightmarishly crowded beaches, construction boom and long traffic jams on arrival and departure. The island of Usedom is the Germans' favorite sunny island. The island is only 66 kilometers long and 24 wide in the Pomeranian Bay, a money machine for hoteliers and kneipers. The tree and the concrete - sisters of timeThe tree and the concrete - sisters of time

But beach hiking on Usedom works surprisingly well. When certain rules are observed. The challenge of this trip is clear - no hotel, no campground, no guesthouse and no Airbnb room. Just nature with a tent on the beach or in the forest and open eyes for all the things surrounding us.

New life from old bunkersNew life from old bunkers

Today we are where mankind took the first steps into space - in darkest times.

There was no getting through here 30 years ago. The northwestern part of Usedom was a restricted area for decades. First, the Nazis built their test site for Wernher von Braun's V1 and V2 rockets around the remote area of Peenemünde. Then the National People's Army of the GDR came and erected a cordon behind which no one was allowed to look.

Wernher von Brauns first rocketWernher von Brauns first rocket

No-go land

Only since the end of the GDR has it been possible to visit the area where the Nazis developed their "retaliatory weapons" during the war. A museum receives more than 300,000 visitors every year, and models and remnants of real V2 rockets are scattered around the grounds. In addition, there is an exhibition of wonders of physics and a former Soviet submarine that can be walked on.

Wernher von Brauns last remainsWernher von Brauns last remains

Away from this remnant from the most unfortunate period of German history stretches vast forest and meadow land, 25 square kilometers in size, deserted. Nowhere is there a possibility to shop, have a drink or buy a sausage. The European hiking trail E9 is an old LPG path made of concrete parts, the better choice is always the dike, which may not be entered. Since the 1930s, only locals have walked here, even to this day, because in the traffic chaos of the overburdened island, those in the know take the old farm track as a shortcut, even by car. The guards that used to stand here are gone, but the twelve years that this was a center of the Nazi armaments industry have left their mark.

Amunition around us

It’s dangerous hereIt's dangerous here

Unmistakable. In the forest, signs diplomatically warn of "munitions contamination," and the rubble of former bunkers piles up along the path. The Nazis had been forced to build them on the soft ground because deep bunkers would have made no sense in the sand of Usedom. After the war, the giant half-tonne-shaped sheds were considered part of the German armament and, according to the requirements of the Potsdam Agreement, they therefore had to be blown up.

Bunkers like greek cathedralsBunkers like greek cathedrals

What remains is enough as a tourist attraction. The concrete piles in which parts of the planned "wonder weapons" had been stored are piled up everywhere. Much of it has long since been overgrown by flora that has been able to develop undisturbed since the withdrawal of the NVA.

V2 - father of all missilesV2 - father of all missiles

Silent stone witnesses to world history: it was from here that mankind made its first trip into space on October 3, 1942, when a rocket furnace with 18 mixing chambers ignited and 125 liters of potato schnapps and liquid oxygen burned inside it per second until the 13-ton ""Aggregat 4"" had crossed the boundary into space. At supersonic speed, the rocket reached the boundary of the Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of 84.5 kilometers and hit the Baltic Sea 190 kilometers away.

Where the first rocket launched

More than 10,000 people heard the deafening rumble of the engine rolling across the flat landscape at the time. At 3:58 p.m., the engine lifted off the launch pad and set course for the Bay of Gdansk. At an altitude of 80 kilometers, the tanks were empty. There is no trace of them, but the remains of the bunkers, which look like overgrown barrows, remind us of the transience of all power.

The landscape is stunning - and empty of everythingThe landscape is stunning - and empty of everything

Anyone who rides past here on a bicycle, as few do, or hikes along, which seems to occur to no one, is searching for traces. All these legacies were built between 1939 and 1942 with the help of forced laborers, and since then they have been decaying with agonizing loneliness. Even more impressive than the documents, weapon parts, photography, videos and models in the official show at the museum, the stone remains of the "Heeresversuchsanstalt", where the development and construction of the winged bomb Fi 103 and the first large rocket A 4 were carried out, give an idea of the hubris that reigned here. No one knew that they were about to create the basis for later space travel. The goal was not the conquest of space, but of the Earth.

Depressing thoughts, especially under a sparkling blue summer sky. We'll take a closer look at that in a moment - next day.

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A few more pictures for you:

One more bunkerOne more bunker This is how it looked before the russians try to destroy itThis is how it looked before the russians try to destroy it Peenemünde in Germany is the cradle of the the battle for the starsPeenemünde in Germany is the cradle of the the battle for the stars
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