Over the past 200 years, Döberitzer Heath has been trampled down by soldiers, pounded by artillery fire and plowed by tanks. The Prussian army was the first to use the 3,500 hectares of shrub land, heath and forest west of Berlin for military training. Then came the army of the German Emperor, then the Nazis with the Wehrmacht and then, after World War II, Soviet troops took possession. And then, an ecological miracle happened.
After the Russians had left Germany in 1991 following reunification, Döberitzer Heath paradoxically appeared to have gone back into a deeper natural state. When ecologists examined the area they found sand dunes that had been typical of this inland area only after the last Ice Age. They discovered spiders like Yllenus arenarius and birds like stonechats and hoopoe that are rare in the rest of Germany. To their surprise, the constant military action had carved out an ancient type of open and barren landscape long lost elsewhere.
This is why the Sielmann Foundation, a private conservancy group, has stepped in and bought large parts of the area in order to maintain its special biodiversity. The foundation has released large herbivores like Przewalski's horses, originally from Mongolia, and European bison to continue the work of the tanks and shells to keep the landscape open. So should you come to visit Berlin, there's something more exciting than Brandenburg Gate: Döberitzer Heath, where Mongolian horses graze next to bunkers: nature made by the military.