On Missile Hill

In the village of Gessel-Leerßen near the town of Syke, there is an elevation called Hoher Berg (High mountain). “High” in this case meaning 58.5 meters above sea level. Nonetheless, the Hoher Berg is the highest elevation in the area, a relic left over by the glaciers of the ice age overlooking the Weser glacial valley.

However, when I was a teenager, we did not call it “Hoher Berg”. Instead, we called it “Atomraketenhügel” (Nuclear missile hill) or sometimes just “Ami Hügel” (American hill), because the Hoher Berg was the site of a military installation of the US Army from the early 1970s up to the late 1980s. The radar dome of the installation was visible from afar, but apart from that no one knew what exactly the US Army was doing there. Officially, the place was a monitoring station, but that was all anybody knew. Interestingly, the Americans soldiers were rarely seen in Syke and surroundings either, they mostly kept to themselves.

And as usually happens when mysterious going-ons happen, but no one knows anything concrete, rumours soon abounded. The most common rumour was that military installation was actually a silo for short or medium range nuclear missiles, Pershing IIs or Cruise Missiles, those bogeymen of the early 1980s. Nobody knew if it was really true, but the name “Atomraketenhügel” stuck.

Personally, I never really believed that the base really housed nukes. Like pretty much everybody in West Germany at the time with the exception of former chancellors Helmut Schmidt (who lost a vote of confidence over this) and Helmut Kohl, I did not like nuclear weapons, did not see the point and did not want those things on Germany soil, let alone anywhere near me. But unlike many of the other people who were anti nuclear weapons on German soil, I wasn’t anti-American, too. In fact, I quite liked the US and Americans, including American soldiers. So I was convinced that the whole rumour about nuclear missiles on a hill near Syke was just that, a rumour. It was just a small installation, after all, and there wasn’t much in the way of security. Surely, if there really were nuclear missiles there, wouldn’t they have much more security?

As for what it was, I secretly hoped that it had to do with aliens. Monitoring and tracking aliens. Because that would have been so cool. Though the rational part of my mind knew that most likely it was really just a plain monitoring station.

Apparently, some documents have been declassified by now and we actually know what was on the Hoher Berg in Gessel-Leerßen between 1973 and 1989. It was a base for Nike-Hercules air defense missiles, the predecessor of the better known Patriot missiles. And yes, apparently some of them had nuclear warheads. This site about military leftovers in Bremen and Lower Saxony has more information about the base on the Hoher Berg than anybody could ever have asked for. Including that there really were nuclear warheads stationed on the Hoher Berg, which proves the old rumours right. Coincidentally, the site also resolves the mystery why there was an American base without any visible Americans, for the American soldiers were quartered in Delmenhorst, which is quite a bit away. Here is another site by an American who apparently was stationed at the Hoher Berg for a while with some photos of what it used to look like.

The US Army left for good in 1989. Part of the old military installation was still closed off, but the most of the Hoher Berg was turned into farmland and also became the site of some of the earliest wind turbines in the area. I shot a documentary about alternative energy there in my filmmaking days sometime during the mid to late 1990s.

Then, a few years ago, the city of Syke purchased the old military installation, planted trees and created ponds and turned it into a nature preserve. They also installed some benches, a barbecue pit, a playground and a look-out tower. Nowadays, the Hoher Berg a surprisingly peaceful and lovely place, particularly given its less than peaceful history. It’s also a popular site for amateur astronomers, for the very same reasons that the US Army once chose it.

Today, I drove out to Gessel-Leerßen to buy some pumpkins at a nearby farm. And since the weather was so lovely, I also put in stop at the Hoher Berg and brought my camera to take a few photos. Unfortunately, my battery died halfway through, so I couldn’t take any photos from the top of the lookout tower. But below the cut you’ll find the photos that I did manage to take on the Hoher Berg with some bonus pumpkins.

Syke Hoher Berg military installation

Remnants of the military installation on the Hoher Berg, now used as storage for farm machinery and meeting rooms for clubs.

Hoher Berg Syke - Garages

Students from the local highschool have painted the garage doors of the old military installation with images symbolizing peace and European cooperation, probably as a sort of visual defiance of the original purpose of the place. The pictures include Euro coins, a football stadium decorated with flags and a DNA strand, which gives an interesting look into how modern teens define Europe, peace and cooperation. Note the wind turbine in the background.

Syke Hoher Berg - Aeolian harps

An art installation consisting of three Aeolian harps – musical instruments which play in the wind. And there is a lot of wind on the Hoher Berg. In the background, you can see the look-out tower.

Syke Hoher Berg - Aeolian harp

Close-up view of one of the Aeolian harps. If you put your ear close to the wooden board, you can hear the harp playing in the wind.

Syke Hoher Berg - View across Bremen

The look-out tower on the Hoher Berg as well as the view across the Weser glacial valley. On the horizon, you can see Bremen, some 20 kilometers away.

Syke Hoher Berg - Windmills

If you look South from the Hoher Berg, you can see farmland and a lot of windmills. The four smaller windmills in the foreground were among the earliest wind turbines installed in our area. I did a documentary film about them in the mid 1990s. You can see lots more windmills on the horizon.


A pumpkin display at Hof Klocke in Gessel-Leerßen.

Pumpkin snakes

These pumpkins have been laid out as snakes.

Vomitting Jack O Lantern

More pumpkins and one of the ever-present Findlinge. The Jack O Lantern in front has pumpkin pulp coming out of its mouth. I guess it’s supposed to symbolize flames or maybe a tongue, but it also looks a little like the pumpkin has just vomitted onto the grass.

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2 Responses to On Missile Hill

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