WÜNSDORF, Germany – During most of the Cold War, the High Command of the Soviet army in Germany was headquartered in the small East German town of Wünsdorf, about 20 miles south of Berlin.
Had the Cold War gone hot, Soviet troops who would have poured across the Iron Curtain would have been commanded from here.
Some 40,000 Soviet soldiers were stationed in Wünsdorf, some with their families. The town and the base were off-limits to East Germans who lived in the area, and, except for the few who worked there, no locals knew what went on in the restricted area.
Today, the troops are gone of course, but the Red Star Museum in Wünsdorf recalls the time when Germany was divided and hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were stationed in East Germany. The museum is housed in a former horse stable, and the rings where the horses were tied up still hang from the side of the building.
Inside, the museum is divided into two sections. One section follows the history of Soviet troops in Germany and the Cold War, while the other focuses on garrison life in Wünsdorf.
The most impressive item on display in the Soviet history section is a giant 3-D painting depicting the taking of Berlin by Soviet forces at the end of World War II, with the Reichstag burning in the background.
Other items on display are flags, pilots helmets, a military newspaper —sort of a Soviet version of Stars and Stripes — and a mid-1970s map that depicts Central Europe showing where NATO and Warsaw Pact forces faced off along the Iron Curtain. There are photos of American and Soviet soldiers meeting each other in dress uniform as the Cold War nears an end and photos of pallets of Western aid for the Soviet people in 1991.
Judging by the items displayed, life in garrison for the Soviet troops might not have been too much different than it was for American soldiers on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But perhaps a little more sparse than that of their Western counterparts.
There were inspections and training, uniforms to be washed and weapons to keep clean. There were toys and schools for their children.
On exhibit are uniforms and weapons along with musical instruments, books and photos of everyday life. Oversized portraits of some of the soldiers are on display as is a cot and a rather uncomfortable-looking field dentistry chair.
Although the exhibits are labeled only in German and Russian, it is pretty easy to decipher what is on display.
As the Cold War ended, the Warsaw Pact collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated, the soldiers at Wünsdorf were no longer Soviet, but Russian, and it was the Russian army that began the withdrawal from Germany, according to the treaty signed with the Germans.
On June 11, 1994, Wünsdorf held a farewell ceremony and parade for the Russian soldiers and the last troops departed on Sept. 9.
Know and Go:
Red Star Museum
Address: Zehrensdorfer Strasse 12, 15806 Zossen-Wünsdorf, about 20 miles south of Berlin.
Times: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Costs: Admission is 3 euros for adults and 2 euros for children.
Information: Museum telephone: (+49) (0) 3370-29600.Wünsdorf had been a garrison town since 1910, being used by the German army until the end of World War II. It has bunkers from that war and the Cold War that can be visited, some by appointment only. For information on the museum and the bunkers there is a very limited English website at http://www.buecherstadt.com/en/