On farmland, a few kilometres outside the German city of Neuss, is a circular shaped building, with a plate-like roof that points suspiciously in the direction of Moscow. It is a Raketenstation (rocket station) and belonged to the Belgian Missile Squadron. The Raketenstation complex covered an 11 hectare area and included – along with the rocket station itself – warehouses, hangars, earth walls and underground bunkers. The watchtower was linked with all other NATO missile watchtowers, and formed part of an umbrella. The radar here could detect planes and missiles from miles around.
The missile base was built and fitted out with Nike missiles in the early 1980’s, a period of the Cold War marked by increasing tension and militarisation. At that time, there were protests against the base, with the German peace movement organising and taking part in multiple sit-ins. These proved little more than a nuisance, and from 1984 onwards the base formed part of NATO’s Nike missile defence system.
Three short years later, in 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at the White House in Washington. The treaty contracted both Russia and America to remove all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, from the countries’ respective borders. The ranges stipulated were 500 kilometres for short range missiles and up to 5000 kilometres for long range missiles. After years of increasing militarisation, the signing of the INF treaty marked a dramatic shift in policy from both of the two superpowers, and set in motion the diplomacy that would end the Cold War. This sealed the fate for the Raketenstaion in Hoimbroich near Neuss, as it did for many of the other missiles sites based in Europe. Soon after the treaty was signed, work commenced and the Raketenstation complex was stripped of its missiles.
After the Cold War ended and the Belgian armed forces had returned home, the missile base was left abandoned. It was bought up, in 1994, by the wealthy Karl-Heinrich Müller, a man fascinated by art. Today the Raketenstation belongs to the nearby Museum Insel Hoimbroich, a part-art, part-nature reserve created by Karl-Heinrich Müller at around the same time that he bought the missile base. The buildings at the Raketenstation are now used to store and display art collections. Several artists are resident at the site, living in the old watchtower and one of the old mess halls. Some of the buildings are still empty, left as they were on the day the Belgians marched out. The Raketenstation is open to the public, free of charge.