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It was a cold grey morning, I had a day off from working while out in Germany. I wanted a trip out somewhere. So after a drive around I ended up here.
I looked out over the cold grey water, I could see various water birds bobbing about in the relatively calm waters. I thought about the amount of people who lost their lives here on May 16th-17th 1943, I thought about what it must have been like for those Germans standing where I was now standing. I thought about the villagers in the valley below who lost their lives when the dam was breeched. I also thought about the pilots and aircrew who launched the daring raid to breech the dams.
** So where am I ? **
I am visiting the Mohne dam, which along with the Eder dam, and the Scorp dam were attacked by the RAF during World War 2. This became the famous Dambusters raid, of which there have been films and books written about.
** Where is it? **
The Mohne Dam is situated in Gunne a town which is about 25 miles from Dortmund in Western Germany. The dam is used to contain water from the main catchment area around, which is over 400 square kilometres. The lake feeding the dam is situated in large wooded valley. There are running, cycling and walking trails all around, so you could spend hours walking, running and cycling all around.
All around the lake shore are small hamlets, some have bars, some have hotels, so if you go for a drive, there are plenty place to stop. If you are into water sports, there are sailing clubs, windsurfing clubs and such like. I guess if you have a canoe you could always bring that! There is also an indoor swimming complex (which I never found!) In the summer quite a few people swim in the lake (there was ice in some areas when I was there, so I guess swimming wasn’t an option!)
To get to see the dam you need a map, as direction signs are hard to find. You eventually find brown tourist signs pointing to Mohnesee. Once you are near the dam, there are plenty of information signs, telling about what is there, and what to see.
Also on the roads around the lake there are plenty of lay-bys, so you can always stop and take in the views.
Mohnesee is to the east of Dortmund, and the nearest Autobahn is the E3. Turn off to Soest (E63 route from Dortmund. The Mohnesee is about 9 km to the South, near Korbecke.
** About the Dam **
The dam was built from 1909 until 1913, it is built from limestone rubble masonry. The dam holds back 135 million cubic metres of water. The dam is 112 feet high. At the bottom of the dam the wall is about 130 feet thick, which tapers to about 25 feet at the top. The dam wall is 2100 feet long. The lake which the dam holds back covers an area of some 3300 acres.
** The raid **
As mentioned the raid took place over May 16th-17th 1943, the Mohne dam was breeched by the famous “Bouncing Bomb” which was designed by Barnes Wallis. The idea behind the raid was to totally disrupt the ability to run any industry in the Rhur valley, as the outflow from this dam was used in the generation of hydro-electricity.
The breech caused many Houses below the dam to be lost, in fact over 1200 people lost their lives when the dam was breeched, also all the dams 30 miles downstream were breeched by the water rushing through the valley.
It actually took the Germans four months to rebuild the dam!
** What is there? **
So I am just really concentrating on the area around the dam. There is a large car park adjacent to the dam, this costs 2 Euros to park for however long you want to, you pay a man in a kiosk, his English wasn’t good, but he was really helpful. Walking towards the dam, there are a couple of stalls selling various knick knacks, such as guns, swords, and generally trinkets (funnily enough there were no Lancaster Bombers!)
Built into the wall off the dam by the car park are the toilets (there are disabled facilities there), you pay 30 cents to use these. I found them to be exceptionally clean.
You can now walk up the stairs to your left, this brings you to the entrance to the dam wall. Here you will find a café, which sells tea, coffee, and light snacks. They also sell sweets and postcards. I didn’t have anything here, but the cost looked very reasonable, nothing was more than 3 Euros! There is also an outside seating area, which I didn’t use, as it was February!
** Looking at the dam **
From the shop, you walk onto the dam wall, the first thing you notice is the dam wall curving away from you, you then see the two towers that you have to walk through to get to the other side.
Here there are some information boards, they are in both German and English, it tells you about the history of the dam, how the electricity is generated,then right at the end is a mention of the RAF raid, 1200 people killed, and 65 RAF aircrew killed – seeing fact like this laid out in front of you starts to put the loss of war into perspective, and it got me thinking, one small part of Germany, 2 days nearly 1300 people killed, how many others were killed in the war on those two days? It seemed to me to be a large loss of life for a minimal gain!
Moving onto the dam you are struck on the right hand side by the vast expanse of water that you can see far off into the distance, the left side you look down into the valley below, you can see the small lake (which you can walk round!) The best way to understand what I’m trying to say is to look at the photos!
I was struck by the sheer scale of the whole thing. It took a while to walk across, as I was stopping, looking, thinking.
Anyway once over the other side, you can follow many trails into the woods, or you can do as I did, which was to walk down the slopes to the valley floor. Once on the valley floor, you look up and really get a true perspective of the size of the dam. (see the title picture for this view)
Dotted around the path round this small lake are various information boards, the one I found most poignant was the one that showed the valley before the Dambusters raid, with photos of all the buildings that were there on May 15th 1943, those that were washed away, their location was marked on a map, it also showed those that survived.
Following the path round, you then come to the village. I was looking around, looking up thinking how long did people get to actually try to escape!
There are shops and pubs in the village, which I found to be a nice place to stop off, I didn’t venture too far, as I had other things I wanted to do! Further round the lake side there were a couple of Bars, they seemed quite busy, I would have thought that it is really nice here to sit outside in the summer.
Before you get back to the dam, there is a road which if you want an easy walk back to the car park this is where you need to go! A few hundred metres more and we are back at the dam, there are few interesting bits of engineering here, which are part of the turbines that have been replaced. There are some information boards tell you how it all works.
It is quite a steep climb back up to the dam, if you are slightly unsteady I wouldn’t suggest you go up there.
So that is it we have just walked about 2 miles round the bottom of the dam. The thing that got me was how peaceful and tranquil the whole place felt. Considering what went on here 60 years ago. Even without that War connection, this is a really nice place to visit, OK I went in February, and it was quite cold. I think this would be a wonderful place to visit in the summer, when you could wander for hours in the woods, or take a boat trip round the lake.
Thanks for reading this, and if you end up in this part of Germany try to stop off here, you won’t be disappointed.
I have been to Dortmand and didn't even realise how close these dams are. If ever you come to France then please visit Saint Leu D'esserent. V1 storage caves: http://monsite.wanadoo.fr/st-leu/ next time I go to Germany I'll make sure of a visit! Cheers
pinkmatchstick 31.07.2005 16:36
Very interesting. I just finished reading a book about the raid but it doesn't mention much about the surrounding area like you have written about here.
cwestern 02.03.2005 22:31
I was stationed at RAF Gutersloh in the early 80's and spent a lot of time in the area around the Mohne Dam. Your review brings back the splendor of the place and teh sense of history which surrounds it.