After visiting a friend in Berlin, Germany, I had one last day to spend in the city before catching my bus to Dresden that afternoon. In deciding what I ought to do, my friend had mentioned that just outside the city there was a large park in which is Berlin’s largest hill (and therefore best lookout point) was located. According to his guidebook, this hill just happened to be man-made from a pile of World War II rubble. However, his guidebook happened to leave out the best part (which I learned from google)…. at the very top of said hill, there was AN ABANDONED US SURVEILLANCE POST FROM THE COLD WAR!! In my mind, there were few things that could possibly be cooler. As I’m a big fan of abandoned things, I set to work researching a bit more about the place and learned some useful things from a free, online encyclopedia that will remain nameless.
Although many man-made hills of rubble surround Germany (after all, after WWII there really was a lot of it), Teufelsberg, or “Devil’s Mountain” in German, is unique in that it was literally built over the top of a Nazi-military training school. Instead of destroying the school (as it was too sturdy to bomb), they covered it with nearly 400,000 (!!!!) houses worth of rubble caused by allied bombing… which would explain how it came to be the tallest hill in Berlin.
Although located in the British sector, our dear and ever-present friend today, the NSA (the American National Security Agency), took the claim and, utilizing its strategic location and height to better intercept signals, they began building this surveillance post in the early 1960s. It was then used for around 40 years throughout the Cold War and up until the fall of the Berlin Wall.
However, while there was plenty of information about the what, in trying to figure out how to get there, I was afraid I had met my downfall. The results were vague, not recent, and offered lots of conflicting information. For one, no one really specified how exactly to get get to the top (and, with my awful sense of direction, I need explicit directions) and only kind of elaborated on what to do when you arrived. Some people said that there were so many holes in the fence surrounding the complex that it was easy to just hop through one and explore yourself. Others said that yes, this was possible, but that there were also some dicey and unofficial-looking “security” guys that would demand exorbitant amounts of money if they caught you. Instead, others suggested that if the “guards” were feeling generous, they would let you in if you offered them a bribe. Others still said that there was a tour group that would bring you to the site but, upon further research, I could find nothing saying this was true. So, I head off not entirely sure how successful my day would be. I figured, though, if worst came to worst and I wasn’t able to enter the site, at the very least I’d have a pleasant stroll in the woods. It was worth a try, wasn’t it?
I began by taking a half an hour train from the center of Berlin to Grunewald, a massive park just outside the city. After getting off the train, the little I had gleaned from my “research” had told me to go under the highway bridge and then turn left at the cafe until I saw the wide path suggesting the entrance to the park.
Now, as this was supposed to be the “largest hill in Berlin,” my directional dependency was lying in the expectation that I would be able to identify the hill and orient myself towards it immediately upon entering the park. Well, I learned the hard way that it really isn’t too much of an achievement to be considered the “largest hill in Berlin” as there was no hill in sight.
In an effort to not get hopelessly lost in the woods, I opted to take the wide, well-beaten path driving straight through the center of the park. After about 12 minutes of continuing down the path, I spied some white, golf ball-resembling structures lining up above the trees that I didn’t imagine could be anything but what I was looking for. I was immediately surprised about how, well, blatant these things were. After all, shouldn’t a surveillance station have a bit more discretion?
As I continued straight, I watched the white globes disappear into the trees. Eventually, I arrived at what appeared to be a street separating myself from the base of the hill. Noting that there no longer appeared to be a path, I scouted around the base of the hill until I found a promising spot, then plunged into the woods. Shortly thereafter, I found what appeared to be yet another well-worn path.
Now, in the few websites I had read about getting to the top, there seemed to be a consistent theme: “oh, if you just continue walking up, no matter which direction or path you take, you will find it. 30-45 minutes… tops.” Well, I’m pleased to announce that I proved this to be wrong in that it took me nearly 70 minutes to navigate my way to the top. Finally, though, there it was!
Okay, so all I could see was the fence. As I began my stroll along the perimeter, it was clear that they were trying their best to keep out unexpected visitors. In total, there were 3 layers of barbed wire fence and, although, I could identify the locations of where many holes once were, I could tell they had made a great effort to patch them back up, occasionally with more “innovative” items like torn-apart bicycles.
So, I continued along, observing the spray painted “keep out” and “no vandalism” (this one is extra funny as you will see very shortly) signs when suddenly, to my surprise, I spied a blur of color and heard the sound of voices just around the corner! At first I paused, wondering if these were the “sketchy” guards I had read about and wondered if I should loop back the other way. However, I decided to take my chances. As I approached, I realized that there was a pretty good handful (perhaps 8 or so) of people milling about what appeared to be an open gate in the fence. Curious, I asked the lady nearest to me if we were able to enter. She answered that, in about 5 minutes, a tour for 7 euros was about to start. Impressed with my luck and perfect timing, I approached the girl and asked if I could tour the place by myself because, you know, antisocial. She said something along the lines of “safety” issues and told me that no, I could not.
Although I was suspicious of the lack of any sort of tour company name or logo, the fact that her and her other “colleagues'” uniform was nothing more than yellow reflective vests, and that I had been unable to locate any sort of information anywhere about tours operating here, I wanted to go badly enough that I held my tongue. I paid my 7 euros and wrote down my name, email, and address on a sheet of paper… once again, for issues of “safety.” Whether or not I had just got scammed, I will never know.
As we began our tour, two things became immediately apparent. One: that our “guide” was to give little to no information about the site and the little that she did offer was in German (although, to give her some credit, she did warm up a bit later on when I asked her some questions). Two: I know I said before that the place gave the impression of really trying to keep intruders out, but it was quite obvious that this was a miserable failure. The place was COVERED with graffiti and the place was by no means empty; from the top of a tower I saw a man go into a motor home on the property (and I’m not sure if he had a legal claim to it or not), and there were a number of other, we shall once again use the term “alternative,” people hanging around. Naturally, I was a bit peeved at this. If these others were allowed to wander about without a tour, why couldn’t I?
Anyways, continuing on. As I mentioned before, this place had clearly become a graffiti artist’s paradise, the bright and lively colors of the images contrasting bizarrely with the stark white and grayness of the place. Here’s proof that pictures are better than words:
As I was standing outside the largest structure of the sight, taking this final picture and watching the wind rock it back and forth, I heard the following, beautiful words from the guide: “you can go up to the top, if you like. The echo is crazy.”
Trusting her word that the entire thing wasn’t going to topple over, I gleefully scampered my way up the five narrow, light-less (though, from what I could see, still covered in graffiti) passage of stairs to the top, nearly vomited when I looked down the empty elevator shaft from the top, and finally entered into the “golf ball”. As you might have guessed, this was also covered in graffiti…the largest of which being two men whose eyes seem to follow you around the globe.
And, let me tell you, just like the guide said that echo was crazy. As I paced around the circumference, I could hear the sound of my footsteps travel well beyond my stopping point. In being there by myself (quite creepy), once the wind had stopped blistering outside, it was quiet enough that I could hear the echo from my own breathing, giving me the impression that someone else was standing alongside me.
Having enough of that, I head down to one of the “balconies” of the tower to see a lovely, 360 degree view of Berlin, offering up all of the main sites from the center as well as some highlights like the stadium from the 1936 Olympics :
All in all, definitely one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been to despite the struggles to get in.
Well, what do you think of this strange place? Has anyone else out there ever been here? Did you have trouble with security? If you have any other questions or thoughts, feel free to comment below!
*This article was written by the website’s contributing editor and author, Nikki Elliott. Nikki is an American who has several big backpacking trips under her belt and is currently teaching English in South Korea. If you wish to contact her about her article, please comment below.
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