Now live rare animals where tons of ammunition was stored

Pristine nature in a former military facility

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The outer walls of a former US military bunker at the Mina site in Münster have been sprayed with graffiti. Photo: Andreas Arnold (DPA)

Photo: DPA, Andreas Arnold

A herd of bison stands at the Mona site in Münster (Darmstadt-Dieburg district). At the beginning of World War II, the Wehrmacht built an ammunition factory here. After the war, the site was used by the US Army. It was returned to the federal government in the late 1990s. Now it is the land of the tie. Photo: Arnold (dpa)

Photo: DPA, Andreas Arnold

Wild horses and majestic horses roam the area. Bats, owls, woodpeckers and orioles live here. The wild forest with dead woods, beech, pine and thick old oak provides a habitat for many species. A poet of animals and plants – and humans hardly ever interfere with nature.

However, this demon carries with it mortal dangers. A fence of 3.5 meters high will encircle the site of approximately 250 hectares. The Mina munitions factory in Münster, in the south of Hesse, is a restricted area. Ammunition was stored here for decades during National Socialism and the Cold War.

Due to the explosions, remnants of ammunition and failed ammunition lie on the surface in many parts. “Ten percent of the area is very polluted,” says Matthias Polmayer, deputy director of the Federal Forestry Corporation Schwarzenborn. “We have really polluted hot spots.” There are explosions every month. Workers in the Federal Forestry belong to the Federal Real Estate Mission Agency (BIMA), which is responsible, among other things, for the conversion of former military facilities to civilian uses. “We are the Green Division of Pima,” Bolmayer explains the missions of the Federal Forester.

The system was built by the Nazis in the mid-1930s, says the head of the Hessen County Forestry Office, Federal Forester Harald Fuhrlander, who knows all about its history. There are no plans from that time. In order to keep the factory secret, the power holders brought workers from Bremen and Bremerhaven to southern Hesse on trucks. At that time it was the site of the Luftwaffe. The ammunition of aircraft and air defense was filled here. “The Americans never found Mona,” Fuhrlander says. It was only discovered by the Allies shortly before the end of the war and thus was not bombed.

During the Cold War, the Americans would put rails on the munitions factory and build a fortified pavilion with watchtowers, a triple security fence, and machine gun posts in the middle. Nuclear weapons may have been stored here as well. The last American departure in 1997.

“There was no forestry here because the military got hold of it,” says Polmayer. There are a few hundred oak trees on the site with a trunk diameter of one meter or more. “This is extremely rare in German forests.” This oak tree drops 100,000 acorns in a good year. “These are potential new trees.” Many of these valuable trees were cut down in areas not closed by forests. “In terms of forestry technology, Muna Münster is a gem.”

“It’s very important that we protect ancient forests,” Polmayer says. Deutsche Bahn has been involved in this protection for six years now. According to its own data, the railways are required to finance compensation and replacement actions for all construction actions. “Mona” is an offset area for the planned ICE route between Frankfurt and Mannheim. According to Deutsche Bahn, there were a total of 7,258 projects nationwide at the end of 2021.

The railways bear the operating costs as well as the costs of removing munitions, dismantling about 40 buildings such as the old munitions factory, and filling and greening bunkers. The vault should now be converted into a bat vault. The former heavily guarded wing of the Americans was only recently dismantled and removed. According to Bolmer, thousands of trees will be planted there. A nature discovery trail is also under construction on the outside of the area with a viewing platform to an enclosure where bison are most common when not roaming through the woods.

According to Bulmer, one of the main problems is the planned bat repository. The interior walls are covered with graffiti. Federal Forestry sees lower risks of wildfires due to wet soil and deciduous trees. Instead, there are always uninvited guests. “There are always people cutting down the fence,” Fuhrlander says. According to Bulmer, this is very dangerous. Not only are there old grenades and other ammunition on site, but during an illegal night visit you can stand in front of a bison.

According to Bulmer, ammunition does not pose any danger to wild animals, animals have their own ways and will always look for safe terrain. You will never play with any ammo parts. Not once did an animal die because of ammunition that was found in these or similar areas.

Bison came to the site well two years ago. “We have 7 wild horses and 14 bison,” says Johannes Mies, bison project manager. This year alone there were three calves. I started with blisters and eight cows. Of course, animals must be adapted, only due to possible treatments by veterinarians. Otherwise, they would live completely wild in the area. However, viewers can only see the majestic animals through the combined Nature Adventure Trail of Munster and Pima Railway. It is expected to end next year.

Oliver Beechman

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