June 30, 2014
My compatriots and I have explored together for several years and we’ve had very good luck – both at finding ways into buildings (our credo is to never break into places, just to look for entrances that already exist) and, most importantly, to not get caught! And especially to not get arrrested. Well, we didn’t get arrested in Berlin, but our luck could not have gotten much worse.
We started out the day heading to an abandoned amusement park. Tours had been given here until recently but unfortunately they stopped them a couple of months before our visit. So, we decided to sneak our way in. We had no trouble finding a way in and were having a great time photographing the derelict beauty. It’s truly one of the most beautiful abandonments I’d ever seen. But then bad luck had to show up in the shape of a portly man who asked if us if we were German. Following our plan that if we were to get caught, Susanne would play mute so her German accent wouldn’t give her away, and Katsy and I would play dumb foreigners, we said no. He spoke little English but had a few lines memorized: “This is private property. You are breaking the law. Follow me.”
As we followed him, our attempts at small talk were met with annoyance. He asked me, “Are you American?” Now, I’d been prepping myself for this question for years and I knew that if I were ever asked, I would immediately answer, “No, Canadian”. Instead, I hear myself blurt out, “Yes” just like Ralphie when Santa asked him if he wanted a football for Christmas. The next thing I know, the creepy man says, “Ahhhhhh, zeeee enemy!” It was just like Hogan’s Heroes! I pointed out to him that Germany had just beaten America in World Cup soccer, so hey, we totally suck! Pity me! Don’t arrest me!
He opened the gate for us and told us to not come back. Some other even creepier guy in a nearby shack yelled something unintelligible and we started walking down the road, grumbling all the way that, dammit, we didn’t even get to see all the cool stuff, grumble, who were those guys anyway, dammit, they didn’t look like security guards, grumble. But… on the bright side, these photos were captured – and you can’t take that away from me, man!
After we were unceremoniously dismissed from the amusement park, we headed over to a historic ballroom that Susanne had visited a scant few weeks before. However, when we got there we found that the formerly wide-open entrance had been freshly bricked over. The ballroom was only interesting from the inside, so the only photo I bothered taking was this one of some interesting graffiti on the outside. Strike two!
Then we moved on to an old abandoned concrete factory that looked really interesting from the outside. As we drove up to it, we admired the interesting shapes of the buildings and I thought even if we can’t get in any of the buildings, they will make for very nice external shots. And then we approached the front gate to see a guard at the gate and workers driving through the area. Foiled again! Strike Three!
You’d think with Strike Three we’d be out? Well, not in this game. Apparently, this is a variation where you get four strikes. And the most painful of the strikes was yet to come…
We headed to the outskirts of town, to an old military base that had been used by the Soviets (what DIDN’T they use?), after the war. This place was incredibly exciting to me because they still had some old Nazi artwork inside some of the buildings, including a swastika on a ceiling! Also, there was a Lenin statue that I was dying to see. I’d heard it had been vandalized recently and they’d clamped down on security but I thought we might luck out anyway.
Wrong. We got there and were able to scale the fence okay, but there was really nowhere to park that wasn’t conspicuous. So we chose to leave the car near the fence… which I’m sure was a dead giveaway that there were intruders inside. We had to cut through several bland empty buildings and thick overgrown fields to work our way towards the middle of the complex, where all the good stuff was. At one point we needed to cross a road that looked down to the entrance gate. We should have been careful here. We should have gone further down through the brush and crossed out of view. And we should definitely not have crossed back over again to take a photograph of some Soviet writing over an entranceway. But we did. Well, Katsy and I went back over the road. Susanne stayed sensibly across. And as Katsy and I were composing our shots, we heard the car driving towards us down the road.
Immediately, we scattered towards the bushes. Katsy to the left, me to the right. I hesitated for a second and I thought that doomed me. I thought for sure the guard that passed by had seen me as I dived into the tall grasses and, as fate would have it, the stinging nettles that greeted my right arm with about 30 little stinging kisses. As I lay there in the grass, Katsy crawled over towards me and we waited. We couldn’t hear the car anymore, but we could hear the footsteps coming closer towards us as our hearts stopped and we lay there, preparing to be discovered. “Where are you guys?” It was Susanne’s whispered German accent and we heaved a sigh of relief. Reunited, we decided this was Not A Good Idea and we immediately headed back towards the fence.
When we arrived at the fence we saw another car was there next to ours and we panicked for a second thinking it was a tow truck. Then we thought maybe it was security. So we jumped the fence, walked down the road a ways, and then circled back up, as if we had just walked down the street to photograph the front gates. Completely innocent, here! Ignore all the grass in our clothing and those stinging nettle bumps. They mean NOTHING!
When we got back to the car, we realized it was just someone sitting there and we had done the whole guise for nothing. But hey, we were just relieved we were sitting in Susanne’s car and not a police car!
These were the only photos I managed to capture during our brief failed foray into that Forbidden Zone.
As we sat in the car cursing our luck, we decided that we’d better just do something legal for a change! It was almost time for the next tour at the Teufelsberg Listening Station – a former spy station that was built by the Americans during the Cold War and is now abandoned and open for tours on top of a rubble pile in the former West Berlin. We drove there as quickly as possible but GPS let us down and sent us the wrong way into the park, so by the time we arrived, it was about 5 minutes after the hour and we had to wait 55 minutes for the next tour. At least they let us wait under cover because it had started raining. While waiting we heard the caretakers talking about their wild pig friend Schweini who had suddenly appeared one day and now walks along with the tours almost every day. I hoped that Schweini would appear and sure enough, he did! That could have been the highlight of the day but Teufelsberg turned out to be a fascinating experience.
“Teufelsberg” means “Devil’s Mountain” and it is an artificial hill that was created from rubble hauled out of Berlin after the war. As the highest point in the city, it was the obvious location for a spy station to listen on East German and Soviet communications during the Cold War, and the permanent Teufelsberg Listening Station was built in 1963. The listening station was in operation until after the reunification of Germany, at which time the radar equipment was removed but the radomes – the round domes that protected and concealed the radar equipment – remained in place. It was a fine way to cap an otherwise troubled day!