Prüfstand VII – RAF reconnaisance pic. of June 23 1943
On the 3rd of October 1942, for the first time in human history, a ballistic missile, the A4 (or V2) rocket, was succesfully launched and even reached space. A great achievement for mankind. But the fact that this achievement was made by the power of Nazi Germany, involved slave labour with an estimated 12.000 dead in the production process and claiming thousands of civillian lives, makes it controversial until the present day.
At this historical site, where Wernher von Braun (also responsible for it’s creation) had his first major breakthroughs with the A4 and earned himself and other German scientists a quiet ticket out of the war, putting a man on the moon in return working for NASA, you would expect to find a memorable place. But for those who do take the trouble to visit it, an overgrown disapointment awaits behind a wired fence.
Visit Prüfstand VII
The trouble for visitors starts with ignoring all kinds of warning signs hanging from a variety of fences telling them to “keep out” or that “your life is in danger” and that this is an “Area containing possible live ammunition”. It seems enough to keep large crowds away and we didn’t mind that at all. But make no mistake, there is an actual risk involved as the area was used for military purposes until the 1990’s.
After your decision to ignore these signs, the search starts for an opening in the fence or a way over or underneath it. This is no difficult task as the wired fence is cut open in many places or curled up so you can crawl underneath it, thanks to the people that went before you. Once you’re in, it’s easy to disappear into the forest and search for the old main road which will lead you to Prüfstand VII. Just keep walking northeast and you will cross it at some point.
Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – The main road to the test stand
The main road which leads to the NW of the island is made of concrete and is in a suprisingly good condition. It must have been a pretty busy route, regarding the fact that Prüfstand VII or P-7 was not the only destination along this road. A train track used to run parallel to the road and all the way up to the launch site (you can see the railcars and the tracks in the RAF reconnaisance pictures of the test stand). Small parts of the tracks are still visible in the overgrowth next to the road today, but you have to look for them.
A lot of concrete rubble can be seen on either side of the road, but only some of the rubble on the right (going into the direction of Prüfstand VII) actually dates back to the second world war and most of the more intact structures lay further between the trees close to the Ostsee (Baltic Sea) invisible from the main road. The Red Army, who used the island as a naval base after the war, destructed most of the remaining technical facilities not blown by the Germans somewhere between 1948 and 1961. The rest of the bunkers and barracks here were built by the NVA (Nationale Volksarmee) who took over the area after the Red Army left.
Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Concrete structures along the main road
Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A pillbox (nr .12) east of the main road
When you started following the main road from the parking area near the old guardpost, at the crossing of the L264 and the Flughafenring, you have a pretty long walk ahead of you. Eventually the road will make a short bend to the northeast. Here you will find the remnants of the 150x185x100h foot Montagehalle (preperation hangar) and some other structures with concrete and reinforcement steel sticking out everywhere around you.
You can walk multiple ways, but follow the path leading north and you will find yourself walking along the path parallel to the large concrete foundations for the moving platform (Schiebebühne) which brought the rockets to the teststand and ran from the front of the Montagehalle to the west opening of the eliptical slope. To the left you can see the foundations of it’s edge. The trajectory of the platform is now a strip of swamp.
Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Foundations of the moving platform in front of the former Montagehalle (assembly hall)
Turn right and enter the eliptical arena. In front of you is what remains of the 6 metres (20 feet) deep flame pit and the deflector. There is not much left of it but thick rows of concrete foundations sticking out of the water. The rest of the rubble seems to have sunken deep into the marshland P-7 was built upon. For us it was the first evidence on location that let us reconstruct what was actually here in our minds and realize the enormous scale of these facilities.
A maquette of Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde is on display at the Museum Kraftwerk Peenemünde
Stay on the right of the flame pit foundations, walk towards the center and you will find a large valve sticking out of the ground. Next to it is a monument. The stone shows the text: “Abschuss stelle der A4-Raketen” and a black and white drawing of an A4 rocket above it to mark the spot where the rockets were launched. It seems to be the only reminder the German people have allowed themselves of this historical place.
Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A concrete path and the train tracks visible
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A stone marks the place where the A4’s were launched|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemunde – The large valve sticking out of the forest floor near the launch pad|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – The valve and the stone marker in the center of the test stand|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – The eliptical slope covered with trees and bushes, but still visible|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Steel sticking out of the foundations near the fire pit|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Steel cartridge or pipe showing damage of an explosion|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Just to show you the size of this thing|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Patrick spotting an exploded A4 liquid oxygen tank?! Anyone?|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Close up of the tank|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – One taken from above. Is this a liquid oxygen tank of the A4?|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – The east-side of the eliptical slope of the test stand from the inside|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A view on the former “fire pit” and where the deflector used to be|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – The concrete foundations are an ideal place for snakes to warm up in the sun|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A larger view of the “fire pit” in the direction of the west entrance|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Damage of the blasting of the test stand after the war|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Guess which one is ours and win a free T-shirt!|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Another close up of the valve|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A service shaft for pipes and wiring.|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A lid on the entrance of a manhole?|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – A bombcrater near the Montagehalle area|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Reinforcement steel sticking out of the forest floor|
Around Prüfstand VII
You can walk around and follow the slope. There is lots of stuff lying around in the growth to let your imagination run wild. You can climb the slope and walk northeast towards the baltic sea to find Prüfstand X where they also tested the A5 “Wasserfall”. We saw various ammocases (post WWII) lying around everywhere on this route, so beware and leave it there.
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Seems to be a frame to carry a projectile of some sort|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Close up of the top of the wooden frame|
|Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde – Close up of the bottom of the wooden frame|
Or you can also walk back to the point where we found the location of the Montagehalle (remember?) and then follow the path going in the northeast direction. This path will take you around Prüfstand VII and end at the location of the V1 catapult test stands. We found out the excistence of this path the hard way. But more details about that will follow in our next post about Peenemünde.
All in all there is not much left of Prüfstand VII. If you expect to find original structures intact, you’ll probably be dissapointed. But for those interested in it’s history and have the ability to see past the piles of concrete rubble, the overgrowth, the trees and grasp it’s meaning, it will be an important place to visit.