In the 1930s several programs were launched by the German Reich for the construction of the explosives industry. One of them was the “Rapid Plan for the Production of Powder, Explosives and Chemical Warfare Agents, Including Precursors” dated August 13, 1938. This plan included the construction of more than 40 manufacturing sites in the German Reich, including 28 built by Dynamit AG, of them eight factories for the production of nitrocellulose. The factory, construction of which started in 1939 in the Frauenwald between Landsberg and Kaufering was one of them.
The plant was to be a dedicated facility for the large-scale production of nitrocellulose, an explosive and fire-prone material. The factory was expressly built for manufacturing under (air) war conditions and was planned to produce 500 tons of nitrocellulose a month. The planning of the plant therefore took into account the requirements of explosion protection and camouflage, and the construction of the facility was executed with typically German professionalism and perfectionism characteristic of many military installations of that time.
The Frauenwald plant consisted of around 130 buildings distributed along concrete roads in the forest. It was a complex chemical factory with production buildings, power plants, workshops, and social buildings, most of which had flat tiled roofs planted with trees and bushes to camouflage the facility. Construction work was interrupted between 1941 and 1943, and the plant was not completed until the end of the war in 1945. With all the precision and perfectionism poured into building the factory, production was never started, even though the facilities and one of the two power plants were largely completed and equipped with the process equipment.
In 1945, the US troops took over the grounds of Frauenwald and established an air force base there. Because of this, the factory was not destroyed, even though any operational power plants or armament factories in Germany were as a rule demolished immediately after the war. The Frauenwald factory is thus the only materially preserved facility that exemplifies a multitude of factories spread throughout the German Reich. The factory’s power plant in the Frauenwald is also likely to be the only surviving example of a 1930s coal power plant built in camouflage construction.
From 1958 to 1995, the Bundeswehr used parts of the facility for storage purposes. The whole area remained military restricted area during this time and was strictly shielded. In 1998, the city of Landsberg acquired the area with the aim of turning it into a commercial space and a recreational area.
Currently, remaining buildings of the factory in the Frauenwald are being slowly swallowed by the surrounding industrial area – some buildings being repurposed, and others demolished. One such repurposed building can be seen at Celsiusstrasse 17 in Landsberg am Lech and houses a tools manufacturing company. The remaining parts of the facility are cordoned off but as of 2018 could be accessed from the end of Kelvinstrasse in Landsberg am Lech.
More information about the place can be found here (in German).
33 years ago, at 01:23 in the morning on April 26, 1986 reactor #4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant blew up as a result of an incorrectly conducted safety test, causing the meltdown of the nuclear core, and releasing huge amounts of highly radioactive materials into the air. This created one of only 2 nuclear energy disasters rated at the maximum severity classification level 7 (the other one was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster). The Soviet authorities at the time denied the accident not only to the rest of the world, but to its own citizens. More than a 100,000 people in the nearest towns and villages remained in the highly contaminated area for over 36 hours after the accident, and were exposed to lethal doses of radiation before the evacuation started. When it did, people were told this was a temporary measure and were instructed to take only documents and basic necessities, leaving all their belonging behind. They were never allowed back.
Next came the “liquidators” – firemen, army soldiers, reservists and regular power plant workers, who were thrown into the midst of the nuclear inferno, where electronics and machines broke down due to high level of radiation. They were not informed about the nature of the disaster they were called to fight, nor were they equipped for doing so. Nicknamed “biorobots“, most of them died either right away, or over the period of the following years due to all sorts of health problems caused by exposure to inconceivably high doses of radiation.
Now, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone remains a time-capsule of the Soviet era – a haunting amusement park, a monument to the people who left, and an environmental recovery zone, where nature is reclaiming its space. The 30-kim Zone covers an area of about 2,600 km2, and visitors are allowed in the Zone only if accompanied by guides of several tour companies accredited with the Zone administration, who also arrange for entrance permits and transportation.
Before you ask – it is relatively safe. During a 2-day trip to the Zone, one receives the amount of radiation equivalent to a one-way transatlantic flight. The visitors are also provided with a Geiger counter that shows level of radiation, and are screened for radiation when exiting both at the 10 km checkpoint and at the 30 km checkpoint. If you respect the rules and don’t do anything stupid, like roll on the ground (which still remains highly contaminated), or pick up souvenirs to take home, you will be safe and won’t glow in the dark upon return.
I can honestly say, that the 2-day trip to the Zone was one of the most bizarre, and most memorable trips I have ever done. We went to Chernobyl in a small, 6-people group of friends, and had a chance to see the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant per se (with the sarcophagus, covering the infamous Reactor #4), visit the ghost town of Pripyat (once a model Soviet city, built to house 50,000 people supporting the operations of the power plant), and come up close to the gigantic and super-secret Duga Radar facility (an over-the-horizon radar (OTH) system which was part of the Soviet missile defense early-warning radar network). It was the Radar facility and the Pripyat ghost town that made the most unforgettable impressions.
The first thing you realize in the Zone in general is how quiet everything is. You hear nothing, but the wind and the birds. No traffic noise, no people, none of the sounds you normally associate with human habitat. When you enter Pripyat, at first you don’t even realize you are actually in a town. We were there in June, and with all the trees and leaves around, we had a complete sensation of being in a middle of a very dense forest. Only when our guide pointed out the multistoried apartment blocks hidden by the nature happily re-claiming the area, did we notice them.
Getting inside the buildings is not exactly legal, but still possible, and facilities like School #2, or the Hospital Complex #126 give you a glimpse into the Soviet life, forever frozen in time in this ghost town. I even found one of my history school books from the 80-es on the floor of one of the classrooms in the school.
The left-over personal belonging of residents were collected and buried in the aftermath of the disaster, to prevent looting and further contamination spread. Without people or their personal items, the place looks empty and spooky, but the spirit of the 80-ies is still there.
The Duga Radar was impressive due to its sheer size. A huge steel mega-structure with the two out of the original three antennas still standing: 1st 150 meters high, and 550 meters long, 2nd 80 meters high and 220 meters long. The third, a much smaller circle antenna was dismantled and sold for scrap years earlier. The radar system used to broadcast a sharp tapping sound, which earned it the nickname “Woodpecker,” and was so powerful, that the sounds disrupted legitimate radio broadcasts and communications all over the world. Ultra-high-tech when it was built back in the 70-es, it is now horribly outdated (an average iPhone contains more technology than this gigantic structure), and stands abandoned as a remnant of the long-gone era.
We also went inside the huge
concrete dome of the un-finished cooling tower of reactor #5 – it was being
built when the neighboring reactor #4 blew up, and any further construction
works stopped. The echo inside was unreal – bouncing off the slopes of the
cooling tower several times before dying out, it sure added to the surrealistic
magic of the place.
Several tour companies specialize on the trips to the Zone, with the oldest one being “SoloEast Travel“. The 2-day trip organized by them, and our guide Igor was a truly amazing, heartbreaking and unforgettable experience.
The Zone is a one of a kind place, and if you want to visit – do it soon! The buildings in Pripyat, initially designed to last for 25 years won’t last long, and will soon either fall apart, or will get swallowed by the surrounding forest.