Souls of the Past – Voices from the Beyond

A Photography Series
about an old hospital
for German Air Force soldiers
suffering from tuberculosis in 1943-1945
and a Sanatorium for the US Army
to treat displaced persons
and concentration camp inmates
after the II. World War

In 1938-1939, an anti-aircraft barracks was built on Unterbrunner Straße in Gauting near Munich (Starnberg District, Bavaria) according to a design by the German Air Force Construction Office together with the architect Würsbach, which was converted into a hospital for German Air Force  soldiers suffering from tuberculosis in 1943-1945. After the end of the war, the lung clinic was used by the US Army to  treat displaced persons and concentration camp inmates suffering from Tuberculosis. Today in the front part of the extensive grounds, Asklepios operates a hospital for pneumology, thoracic surgery, intensive care, sleep and respiratory medicine and is dedicated to the treatment of Covid-19 patients. The site also houses a Corona vaccination centre for the district. In the area is also based The Clinic Fünfseenland, a Specialist Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.

The site and its buildings are and have been used for numerous national and international film productions, including: an episode for the German crime series "Soko 5113. The actress Emma Watson, known from the Harry Potter films, was here in front of the camera for a historical thriller directed by Oscar winner Florian Gallenberger about the notorious Colonia Dignidad in Chile.

Thanks to Hermann Geiger for guiding me through the grounds and to Beatriz Parente for granting permission to photograph on the clinic grounds.

Souls of the Past
Voices from the Beyond

The souls of Luftwaffe soldiers, displaced persons and concentration camp inmates talking to us

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„My melancholic journey to the Souls of the Past was on four very sunny early afternoon winter days in February, 2021. Voices from the Beyond spoke to me through fascinating reflections of trees and houses in all the windows of the former clinic.“
(Michael Nguyen)


The Windows of Wonders

by Thanh Tung

In the 4th grade, there was a lesson in the writing class about metaphor. The example given by our lovely but controlling teacher was windows. Windows are eyes. And eyes are the windows of the soul. Something like that, just like that. We, the passive pupils of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, had to have to accept it, follow it without raising any other opinions. At that point, I was old enough to have my own opinion nonetheless: why aren't windows noses or lungs, because the air circulation is through windows. We open windows to let fresh air in and stagnant air out. However, when we wrote the writing exam of describing our house, everybody including me wrote: "windows are eyes". As I grew much older, I started to be open to everything, to embrace everything, to see and hear things with more holistic perspectives. Every time I look at windows, I discover something new about them. Like I look at the windows in the photographs of Michael Nguyen.

These windows are alive. They are the eyes of these houses. Not only because they allowed their former patients of the clinic and sanatorium to see the world outside, but outsiders today can see what they saw through the reflections. We can see that they saw houses, the beautiful nature there, the trees, the sky, the sun, the change of seasons. We can imagine what the patients heard then, birds singing, wind rustling or a soothing silence. So the windows are also ears. If we were there and opened those windows, we would also hear sounds from inside, because windows are also mouths. And we, the city dwellers, want the fresh air that these lungs breathe in.

By now, I am very much older, enough to see and hear things that are not supposed to be there. There is something invisible from these windows reaching out to me, touching my soul, transporting me to another place and time. Transcendent but tranquil. These windows of wonders by Michael Nguyen.


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The History of
the old Gauting Lung Clinic

by Regine Hilpert-Greger

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The building complex of today's Asklepios Clinic on the outskirts of Gauting reflects a piece of 20th century German history through its eventful development and the fates of the people who lived there for some time.

It all began in 1938/39 when, with the German rearmament in the run-up to World War 2, a barracks for the German Air Force was built in a wooded area between Gauting and Unterbrunn. Five large two-story buildings served as troop quarters, plus an officers' home and a guard building. During the war, four large equipment sheds were added, as well as several barracks and corrugated iron sheds. Together with the large tarred areas within the site, these halls were to serve for an anti-aircraft searchlight detachment and its equipment, but it was never used there. Starting in 1940, young Luftwaffe soldiers were housed here for training.

After the first two years of the war, casualties in the German Wehrmacht increased considerably. The hardships and the poor supply of food and clothing were to the detriment of the soldiers, who fell ill with tuberculosis with increasing frequency. In the search for a location to treat them, the previous military training facility was converted into a special hospital with 500 beds for soldiers suffering from TB in the spring of 1942/43. By the end of the war, increasing demand required an expansion of capacity to 1200 beds.

When the Americans marched into Gauting on April 30, 1945, they found a well-functioning hospital that they intended to use to house displaced persons (DPs = foreign civilians who were in places outside their homeland due to the effects of war; in the case of Jewish DPs, Holocaust survivors).
The German soldiers found there were discharged or transferred to other hospitals, depending on their state of health. Immediately, concentration camp prisoners were admitted who had been liberated on the death march from the Dachau concentration camp in the Bad Tölz area and were in extremely poor condition. These concentration camp prisoners, most of whom were Jewish, were provided with necessities and received medical assistance. They were joined by other camp prisoners and former, mostly non-Jewish "foreign workers" from the countries of Eastern Europe who had been deported by the German occupiers and had been forced to work mainly in German agriculture. Thus, in a small area, a mixture of different peoples and religions was created, who were united by a similar fate.

Contemplation at the cemetery gate: Taken in the cemetery for the Jews victims of WWII in Gauting, Germany on a gloomy Winter day, it reminds us of those dark days of humanity that we must not forget, even though we have never experienced it. Photo by Michael Nguyen

Many patients succumbed to their illness, especially in the first five years after the end of the war. The non-Jewish dead were buried in the Gauting Forest Cemetery; for the Jews, a Jewish Cemetery was established on a plot of land next to it.

In March 1946, the U.S. Army handed over the hospital to the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), which was replaced by the IRO (International Refugee Organization) at the end of 1947. With the support of the Americans, new antibiotics, such as streptomycin, could be used in treatment for the first time. In order to bridge the long rehabilitation periods in the sanatorium and to prepare the patients for a return to normal life, occupational therapy measures were offered and workshops for vocational training were set up.

Despite the serious fates and deaths, life was lively in the sanatorium among those who were no longer seriously ill and isolated. Friendships were formed, marriages were contracted. Events of all kinds took place, a radio station and a cinema provided entertainment, and the Jewish patients, who had quickly organized themselves into a solid group, published a multilingual patients' newspaper.

By the early 1950s, most of the DPs who had recovered had returned to their home countries or emigrated to other states. The hospital passed into the hands of the Landesversicherungsanstalt für Oberbayern (LVA), which, still in cooperation with the IRO, invested in a new large kitchen, new buildings for patients, and couch halls. After the dissolution of other clinic locations, the hospital developed into a center for homeless foreigners who needed inpatient treatment for their pulmonary tuberculosis. Smaller one-story training workshops were built on extensive grounds so that, in addition to occupational therapy, the recovering patients could be offered proper skilled worker training in various trades with assistant or journeyman examinations.

Soon German patients took the places of the homeless foreigners who had been discharged as healthy. The old buildings from the end of the 1930s were still being used and gradually renovated to accommodate and care for the growing number of patients. In the coming years, a district heating plant with a tall chimney was built, old barracks were replaced by newly constructed staff apartments, and a small modern church for Catholics and Protestants was inaugurated in 1967. The area was transformed into a park. In 1965, the institution was renamed "Zentralkrankenhaus Gauting der LVA Oberbayern" and modernized into a pneumological and thoracic surgery specialist clinic. Since 1999, Asklepios GmbH has operated the clinic under the name "Asklepios-Fachkliniken München-Gauting" as a center for respiratory, pulmonary, and thoracic surgery, which enjoys an excellent reputation throughout Germany.

The Church of the Holy Spirit at the Asklepios Clinics

In the meantime, a three-winged building from the early 1950s has been occupied by Klinikum Fünfseenland Gauting - a specialist clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy. The old small buildings on the western edge of the site (formerly a laundry, cinema, and garage) still stand in their old 1930s form and are now rented out to tradesmen. Walking through the site, despite the contrasts between old and modern, well-kept and neglected, the different architecture combines to form a historically grown whole, atmospherically shaped by all the people whose destinies have been fulfilled here.

Regine Hilpert-Greger M.A.
born in 1960, studied classical philology, art history, and history in Tübingen, Rome, and Munich. She worked in the banking sector, and since 2007 is an archivist of the municipality of Gauting. She is in charge of exhibitions and publications on Gauting postcard views, local building history, school history, history of the Gauting Forest Cemetery, the Gauting Jewish Cemetery, and the former DP Hospital.

Read also Heimat Gauting: Waiting for the Summer. World in Reflection. Photographs by Michael Nguyen, Text by Regine Hilpert-Greger

Former Clinic and Sanatorium
The historic clinic and sanatorium is the largest building complex on the site and includes a couple of buildings with, in addition to the patient rooms, various facilities such as the swimming pool and sauna.

Former German Air Force Officers' Casino and Garages
The officers' mess or officers' home for the German Luftwaffe officers was a care facility to which, apart from the staff, only officers and comparable state employees and guests had access.

Former Pigsty, an abandoned place
Shots for the film "Colonia Dignidad" directed by Oscar winner Florian Gallenberger, were made with Hollywood star Emma Watson, known from the Harry Potter films, among others in the former pigsty of the old Gauting hospital, which was later used for years as a plant nursery.

Former Swimming Pool and Sauna
The abandoned clinic site on the edge of the Gauting forest has been empty for decades. Numerous building tracts are on the site, including a swimming pool and a sauna facility. The pictures shows the swimming pool which was badly damaged by vandalism during an illegal party with about 200 young people during Halloween 2020.

Former Laundry, Carpentry, Cinema and other buildings

The old small buildings on the western edge of the site (formerly a laundry, cinema, and garage) still stand in their old 1930s form and are now rented out to tradesmen.

Former Kitchen
The building in which the former kitchen was located stands at the beginning of the clinic premises. Today, it houses parts of the clinic's  administration departments.