In Brandenburg, quite close to Berlin, lies the Döberitzer Heide. The entire area is about 5000 hectares. On about 3600 hectares, the former military training area Döberitz, is now a nature reserve. Most of the heathland lies in the Havelland district between Dallgow-Döberitz, Seeburg, Elstal and Priort. The southern area belongs to Potsdam.
Here, nature lovers can hike and discover the beautiful local flora and fauna.
The heath landscape was not always what it is today. In former times, there was a military training area here.
Military past of the Döberitzer Heide
As early as 1713, Friedrich Wilhelm I used the area near Berlin for the first military exercises. More than 150 years later (1896), the official expansion of the Döberitz military training area began. About 4400 hectares of land were requisitioned for this purpose and the woodland was cleared. The intention was to create a desert-like landscape in order to prepare the troops for similar operational areas.
The Heerstraße, built in 1903-1911, served at that time as a connecting road between the training area and Berlin. In addition, the Döberitz airfield with the flying school and its military use expanded the military training area.
In 1936, the National Socialists used this site for military competitions during the Olympic Games.
Before the Second World War, the military training area was expanded. Modern combat units received their training here. The sandy and dry ground was ideal for testing tank weapons.
After the Second World War, the Red Army used the site. Up to 20,000 soldiers were stationed here. The military use of the site ended with the withdrawal of the troops in 1992. Today, a small area (600 hectares) is still used by the Bundeswehr as a training ground for motor vehicles.
Remnants of this time can still be found in the landscape of the heath. To date, the site has not been completely cleared of possible explosives. There is still danger to life off the posted paths!
Döberitzer Heide Nature Reserve
In 1997, the area of the Döberitzer Heide was tendered as a nature reserve. Today, the approximately 3400 hectares and the nature reserve of the Terbitzer Bruch (about 1200 hectares) form the area of the Sielmanns Naturlandschaft Döberitzer Heide.
As the area had “only” been used for military purposes, an open landscape with heathland, sandy areas and dry grasslands was able to develop here. The flora and fauna is diverse and worth seeing. So far, about 5000 plant and animal species have been identified.
Heinz Sielmann Foundation
The focus of the Heinz Sielmann Foundation’s work is on preserving biodiversity, promoting nature conservation, enabling people to get closer to nature and to appreciate and respect it.
In the Döberitzer Heide, almost extinct wild animal species could be reintroduced with the help of the foundation. An extensive network of hiking trails offers visitors the opportunity to experience nature.
In addition, events are offered at which participants are introduced to special thematic areas of the Döberitzer Heide. One of the foundation’s next goals is to develop the building of the former commandant’s office into a nature experience centre in the near future.
On the way in the Döberitzer Heide
One morning I meet two experts from the Heinz-Sielmann Foundation at the entrance to the nature reserve. They will accompany me into the area and introduce me to the flora and fauna of the Döberitzer Heide. Although I don’t live far away, I have never been to the heath before, a huge mistake as it turns out. It is fantastically beautiful here!
When one hears the term heath, one automatically thinks of landscapes such as the Lüneburg Heide. The Döberitzer Heide presents a completely different picture. Here the soil is dry and sandy and, contrary to my expectations, partly very rugged.
Apart from heather, there is a lot of broom. This grows mainly on nutrient-poor soils and is not actually a native plant. Nevertheless, it blooms yellow everywhere and the shrubs continue to spread in the Döberitzer Heide.
I learn that the animals living here do not eat the broom. The increasing spread can only be regulated by pruning and this is not exactly safe away from the paths because of the danger of the ammunition remains lying there and can only be done with special equipment. Similar problems are caused by black locust and cypress spurge, which is also spreading more and more in the landscape.
It is quite amazing how many different plant species I am shown growing in the nature reserve during my visit: for example, heather, silver grass, hawthorns, sand strawflower, various mosses and lichens, heather-twig. There are about 5000 recorded plant species to be discovered here. A beautifully diverse landscape that offers something new at every bend in the path.
We stop at a fenced pasture. Hornless heath sheep (Heidschnucke) or also called moorland sheep graze here. In the entire area of the natural landscape, about 2000 goats and sheep live together in herds. They are herded from grazing area to grazing area and thus help to maintain the landscape in a natural way.
While we are standing at the willow my attention is drawn to some birds living here. I often can’t see them, but I can hear them. The skylark is particularly conspicuous. It prefers to live in wide open spaces. It breeds near the ground and rises above its nest, sings / sounds the alarm / marks its territory and then sinks back down to the nest.
The hoopoe, the barn swallow and the wheatear are encountered even more frequently during our visit. So far, 200 bird species have been discovered in the area of the Döberitzer Heide. A true paradise for bird watching! Since it is also very quiet here, you can hear the different bird voices very well and through the largely open landscape, the birds can also be observed well with the help of binoculars.
A special feature of the Döberitzer Heide is the wilderness core zone with the associated acclimatization zone. The acclimatization zone is about 50 hectares in size. The self-contained area directly adjoins the wilderness core zone. At present, 3 Przewalski horses and 7 bison with 3 calves live here. They are gradually learning to survive here without human support. In the near future the fences to the wilderness core zone will be opened and the animals will live self-sufficiently. I had hoped that maybe the animals would show themselves at the only feeding place, unfortunately they did not do me the favor.
The wilderness core zone is about 1800 hectares. For the protection of people and animals, there is a multi-secured fence around the area. In 2008, the first animals were poached. Today, 90 bison, 30 Przewalski’s horses and 90 red deer live in the area.
Those who wish can hike around the area. The circuit is about 21 kilometers long and with a little luck you can also spot animals. We could see a herd of bison lying in the undergrowth at one point. When some of the animals stood up, I was very surprised. Even on the distance the animals looked huge.
Our tour took us to a place called Desert. Here, on a small viewing hill, you can look far over the heath landscape. In the past, when the area was still a military training area, there was hardly any vegetation here, as it is in a desert. In the meantime, the vegetation has reclaimed the land. Besides deciduous plants and grass, broom and hawthorn also grow here.
From the lookout hill I spot some Galloway cattle and a herd of Konik horses in the distance. These live in the nature experience ring zone on delineated grazing areas. This zone surrounds the Wilderness Core Zone and is about 1800 acres in size. In this area, farm animals are used to maintain the nature conservation areas. This area is also crossed with about 55 kilometers of trails, there are resting and viewing places.
I was really fascinated by the tour to the Döberitzer Heide. I did not know how beautiful this landscape is and a little annoyed that I have not yet hiked this area and used for a short break. But I’m sure that will change!
Address for access and parking in Elstal:
Zur Döberitzer Heide 10
14641 Wustermark (OT Elstal)
There is also a bus that goes there:
Bus 668 from Elstal- Wustermark station to “Zum Erlebnis-Dorf” then about 15 minutes walk
Bus 663 stop Olympic Village, then about 25 minutes walk
There are other accesses to the site!
Disclosure: The visit and the expert guided tour through the grounds of the Sielmanns Naturlandschaft Döberitzer Heide was at the invitation of the Heinz Sielmann Foundation. Thank you! the report reflects my experience and opinion.