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Some young travellers use street-art and galleries to get their cultural fix, some use a pork knuckle and architecture. But there are others, the so-called “urban explorers”, who know that lurking below Berlin’s touristy-surface lies an alternate reality of historical, abandoned buildings just begging for exploration. These infrastructures were deserted decades ago by the Nazis, Soviets or Americans when they occupied West Berlin, and have been untouched ever since. Each is it’s own free-to-air museum, inviting worthy explorers to experience a snippet of history without having to navigate the crowds… you just have to know where to look…(and how to jump a fence)!
Abandoned Berlin Historical Sights – A Guide
Go Undercover to Saddam’s House – The Abandoned Iraqi Embassy
What an eerie sight: papers strewn everywhere, chairs overturned and walls blackened or graffitied. I mean these people didn’t even bother packing their shit before abruptly departing the premises some twenty years ago. What’s creepy is every single thing is still in place. Granted, it’s either rotting, rusted or broken but it’s all there… every fridge, every cabinet, even the murky-green typewriters on the desks. It’s like a fire drill went horribly wrong. Except there was no fire, there wasn’t even a bomb.
These days it’s hard to spot the tri-level concrete building through the thick overgrowth surrounding it. You’ll need to dress appropriately for walking on shattered glass and navigating half-assed barbed wire fencing at the entry (FYI there’s a split in the wire at the main gate). Once inside, the abandoned embassy is a veritable goldmine of wartime propaganda. There’s even a soiled poster of a smiling Saddam Hussein himself and frankly, time hasn’t been too kind on him.
The Iraqi’s left the embassy post-hast after the reunification of Germany (and the new government ordered them out due to the [1st] Gulf War). They seem to be in no hurry to deal with the mess from their new digs in Zehlendorf. “No comment,” says an Iraqi spokesman. And it’s a good thing too, because when you hear voices echoing hauntingly from other levels of the dilapidated building, you feel just that little bit safer knowing that the Iraqi’s aren’t out to get you!
Travellers Tip: Don’t go at night. Wear enclosed shoes.
How To Get There: Address: Tschaikowskistraße 51, Berlin 13156, Germany. Get the S2 S-Bahn from Friedrichstraße to Pankow, and then get either the M1 tram from there to Tschaikowskistr. or the 155 bus to Homeyerstr.
Teufelsberg – Spy On Berlin From The Highest Hill
Through the enchanting Grunewald Forest, up a long, winding (and might I add never-ending) road, lies the foreboding iron-fence that marks the entrance to Teufelsberg, an abandoned US Spy Station and Berlin’s highest peak at 114.7 metres.
If you explore the graffiti-laden main building and climb right to the top of the sixth floor, the view of Berlin is unlike any other. On a clear day you can see the sail-boats cruising the gleaming waters of the Spree River off in the distance, and far away to the east, the Berliner Dome and Fernsehturm glisten in the sunlight.
It’s hard to imagine this hill is made entirely of war rubble. Yes you heard correctly, the hill was formed from WW2 rubbish. During the Nazi period the shell of a Military Technology Faculty building lay dormant there – that was until it was blown to smithereens and 25 million cubic metres of Berlin rubble was piled up and left for mother nature to take it’s course. The 60’s saw the US install five large radar domes on the hill and using it as a listening post in the Cold War. These big, decrepit domes are still there today, gawking weirdly at the city below. Since the Wall fell, Teufeslberg has become popular for summer picnics and dreamy sunsets. And if you climb to the very highest dome and shout an obscenity it’ll echo for days.
Travellers Tip: You can no longer just jump the fence to enter Teufelsberg, you must purchase an hour-long guided tour for 7 euro.
How To Get There: Address:Teufelsbergchaussee, 14193, Berlin. Get the S-Bahn, S9 or S75 to Heerstraße, or S1 to Grunewald and walk/cycle from there.
Beelitz – The Haunting Remains of Hitler’s Hospital
Almost an hour southwest of Berlin you’ll find a ghost-hospital of Nazi’s past. The unsecured and easy to break into Beelitz-Heilstatten – or Beelitz Sanatorium – has been left untouched after the hospital was finally abandoned in 2000… only now it’s a whole lot more rusty. There’s paint slowly peeling off the walls of this 60-building treatment complex originally built in the late 19th Century to help rehabilitate the growing number of tuberculosis patients in Berlin. The telescopes and gurneys in the wards are now falling apart and the gigantic empty corridors reveal a sense of the foreboding pain its inhabitants would have been feeling at the time of admittance.
One such inhabitant just happened to be Hitler, who was treated for a thigh-injury after the Battle of Somme in the Great War of 1916. During the Second World War, many buildings were bombed by the Allied forces and in 1945, the hospital was occupied by Soviet forces and remained a Soviet Military hospital even after Germany united in 1990. After the Soviet Army withdrew in 1995, several attempts were made to privatize Beelitz, but to no avail, and only a handful of sections remained open until 2000 for neurological research.
Its ‘ghost town’ air has appealed to more than the “urban explorers” among us, and the abandoned hospital has been used as a set for Oscar winner The Pianist and the 2008 film Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise.
Travellers Tip: Allocate a day to explore the massive facility. And the best way to get there is by hiring a car.
How To Get There: Beelitz-Heilstätten, 14547 Beelitz, Germany. You can get a regional train directly from Ostbahnhof, Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstraße, Hauptbahnhof usw. It takes 50 minutes from Alex. Get off at the conveniently named Beelitz-Heilstätten Bahnhof. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the derelict buildings surrounding the station.
Amuse Yourself at Spreepark – An Abandoned Amusement Park
What do Socialism, ferris-wheels and a crack-deal gone wrong have in common? Spreepark, the abandoned Amusement Park of course! What was once the German Democratic Republic’s (Socialism East Germany’s) biggest amusement park located in the middle of Berlin on the Spree River, is now a surreal fantasyland filled with creaky rides, giant swans and a creepy Wild West Village.
How it came to be abandoned is literally a fairytale gone wrong. The GDR opened the park in 1969 but after the fall of the wall in 1991, the Berlin senate sold it to notable businessman Norbert Witte (owner of Spreepark Corp.). Unfortunately amusement parks weren’t Witte’s forte, and the company went insolvent in 2001 owing 15 million in Euro debt. Witte tried to flee the country to start afresh in South America by unsuccessfully sneaking some of his rides across the border with him. In 2004, trying to make ends meet, he entered a drug-deal and tried to smuggle 167 kilograms of cocaine into Germany. He should have learned from customs the first time around because not only was he caught and jailed, but his son, who unknowingly signed the shipping documents, still serves his prison sentence in Peru to this day.
Today, the gates of Spreepark open only for special events like fashion shoots, film nights and gigs. There hasn’t been guided tours for a year now, but if you’re keen you can sneakily jump the fence and explore this infamous abandoned wonderland. Just make sure you don’t get caught!
Travellers Tip: Bring your friends and find the giant swan boats!
How To Get There: Get the S-Bahn to Plänterwald or Treptower Park and walk from there.
Stefanie Acworth acknowledges she drew reference from the Abandoned Berlin website during her visit to these sights. The directions used are taken directly from Abandoned Berlin.
Spreepark Imagery taken by Rachel Horan
Iraqi Embassy Image via Abandoned Berlin