Russian soldiers visit construction of the OPAL natural gas pipeline at the former Battle of Halbe site

Baruth/Kassel. At over 470 kilometers, the OPAL natural gas pipeline is the longest construction site in Germany. On its way from the Baltic Sea coast near Greifswald to the Czech Republic, the pipeline will also cross through the former site of the Battle of Halbe in Brandenburg. Tens of thousands lost their lives here at the end of the Second World War - civilians fleeing from the bitter fighting in Berlin as well as German and Russian soldiers.

Members of the Russian army who are currently visiting Germany on an initiative of the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) visited the construction work of the German-Russian long-distance pipeline project today at the former battle site south of Berlin. The WINGAS Group signed a cooperation agreement with the Commission for the construction of the pipeline.

“The natural gas will have travelled for about five days and covered a good 3,000 kilometers by the time it has finished its journey from the large Russian natural gas fields in Siberia through the Nord Stream Baltic Sea pipeline to the region round Berlin-Brandenburg when the pipeline comes on stream in October 2011,” Bernd Vogel, Managing Director of OPAL NEL TRANSPORT GmbH, explained at the construction site at Baruth (Teltow-Fläming district). The company is part of the WINGAS Group and will perform the tasks of network operator for OPAL. This pipeline will connect the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline with the European gas pipeline system. With an annual transport capacity of 36 billion cubic meters and a diameter of 1.4 meters, OPAL is the largest natural gas pipeline to be laid in Europe. The delegation from the Russian army were able to see first-hand at the pipeline construction site what is involved in transporting the Russian natural gas to Germany and where it will go from there.

To this day, the majority of the human remains and a vast quantity of munitions and scrap left over from the war lie undiscovered in the region’s forests.

“For us, the laying of the natural gas pipeline is also an opportunity to recover numerous human remains of Russian and German war victims. If we find clues on the identification of the remains, we will also unravel the personal fates of the victims,” Reinhard Führer, President of the German War Graves Commission, explained. Since the start of January several experts on the transfer of human remains from the Commission have been available on stand-by. If the munitions salvage team on the 36-meter wide right-of-way finds signs of human skeletons, they will inform these experts so that they can recover the remains. If the human remains belong to war victims, they will be transferred to the war cemeteries in Lietzen, Halbe or Spremberg, where they will find their final resting place.

The soldiers of the 90th special search battalion from Mga (40 kilometers south-east of St. Petersburg) are currently on a 12-day exchange in Germany. During this time the delegation of the Russian army will maintain graves in Berlin and Brandenburg from the Second World War together with soldiers from the guard battalion at the Federal Ministry of Defense, and assist with the burial of those killed in action at the German war cemetery in Halbe and the Russian war cemetery in Lebus. These bilateral assignments of German and Russian soldiers have been taking place in both countries since 2007.

German soldiers were in Mga as recently as July this year. The main task of the battalion there is to look for the remains of fallen soldiers, as well as weapons and munitions, at the battle sites of the Second World War in the Russian Federation. For example, German soldiers restored the Soviet memorial at the Sinjavino Heights together with Russian soldiers as part of their work and buried the remains of Germans killed in action at the war cemetery in Sologubovka near St. Petersburg. 

The German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V.) is a humanitarian organization whose task is to register, maintain and care for the graves of German war dead abroad. It counsels relatives in questions relating to the maintenance of war graves, provides advice for public and private agencies, supports international cooperation in the field of war graves and promotes meetings between young people in cemeteries for those killed in wars.