Not too long ago last autumn I was searching the web looking for an interesting spot to practice landscape photography around Bremen in Germany where I currently reside. I like using locationscout for this purpose and that’s exactly where I came across this picture of some tanks. Real abandoned tanks just only about 100 km from where I am? Show me a guy who wouldn’t be instantly hooked – I certainly was! So without further ado, one of the following weekends we packed our stuff and left home early in the morning to make it to the tanks just in time for sunrise.
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure I would find the tanks exactly where described. There is surprisingly little information about this place on the Internet. A couple of pictures here and there, a few mentions in some local forums, and not much else. Frankly, most of this info you would probably only find if you knew beforehand what you’re looking for. No articles, no blog posts, or other publications. I guess that’s more of a good thing really – otherwise, the place would likely be swarming with tourists and photographers of all sorts.
As it turned out, there was no reason to be worried. The abandoned tanks are still there, right in the middle of the field 3 minutes away from Sögel. The exact GPS coordinates for anyone interested are 52.871707, 7.438469. In fact, they are plainly visible on Google Maps if you go into satellite view. Armored vehicles are neatly set up in 4 rows, 6 machines in each one… and just left there in the field. There’s no fence around, nor any kind of warning signs, so you can get as close as you like.
I got really curious, so after coming home I did some digging on the Internet, reading through various german sites. Turns out, this field is actually a part of Meppen’s military proving ground WTD91. The shooting range stretches almost 50 km north from the town of Meppen and is quite old. In fact, it was first established in 1877, when a company belonging to the german “cannon king” Alfred Krupp found itself in a need of its own proving ground. The shooting range has seen a lot of extensive use ever since. It was here where the famous Big Bertha was first tested. A few years later, in 1936, Adolf Hitler himself visited the shooting range and ordered its further expansion. This required the demolition of an entire village that happened to be within the new limits of the range.
The remnants of this village and of a local church demolished in 1942 are still visible in the forest next to the parking as you arrive. Interestingly (and undoubtedly contributing to the obscurity of the place), although the tanks are very close to a rather busy road, it is impossible to see them from there. There are no signs on the road indicating their presence, and a stripe of forest hides the war machines from anyone passing by.
Meppen proving ground is actually still in use today for military training and tests. My best guess is that tanks are there exactly for this purpose – to be used during military exercises. Exactly what kind of training that is one can only speculate. Some claim they serve as a training target for helicopter pilot exercise, but I found no solid proof of that. What I do know is that during such events the nearby roads are blocked by the military and it’s impossible to get in. I couldn’t find any schedule for such training, so just keep that in mind when deciding to visit the place. If you get really unlucky and visit the area during military training, you probably won’t see the tanks.
Typically, though, that’s not a problem at all. There is no security, no military personnel, no barbed wire or fences. On the morning we arrived we haven’t seen anyone around at all, not even locals walking their dogs (which is quite common according to one of the sources). For a photographer that’s really as good as it gets – you may shoot however long you like with no tourists or selfie-lovers there trying to ruin your shots.
Those of you who are into history will probably have no difficulty identifying these abandoned tanks. For others, who are more like myself and can’t tell a tiger from a panther, these are mostly American M47 Pattons. The tanks were in service by alliance forces during the Cold War, from 1952 to the early sixties. There’s also a single Leopard tank deeper in the field. Unfortunately, I don’t know what’s the history behind these 24 machines exactly, but they are still in pretty good condition. I highly doubt they can actually drive and there’s a fair amount of rust everywhere. Overall, though, they look pretty good. A bit of cleaning and painting and they would be pretty museum-ready as far as I can tell.
As a photographer, I was mostly interested in the outside look, but I did try to get inside a few vehicles. Unfortunately, that proved impossible – the machines I tried had their hatches shut and welded. I wasn’t too upset about it honestly, since the insides weren’t that exciting to me anyway. Still, I encourage all the curious ones to go there themselves and try all of them. I’ve seen pictures on these tanks with hatches open, so it may well be possible. Just don’t wait too long – who knows how long are the abandoned tanks going to be there. And then there’s also weather and stupid people with paint cans who slowly but inevitably do their damage.
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