From Nazi Military College to abandoned US Listening Station
In the heart of Berlin’s Grunewald forest lies the Teufelsberg or ‘Devil’s Mountain’, an artificial hill that rises 114,7 metres above the surrounding Brandenburg Plain. Today it is a popular sledging location in the winter months, whilst in summer the Teufelsee lake at its foot heaves with (mostly naked) sunbathing Berliners. But this was not always a place of sport and recreation and the hill has a rather bizarre history – something which the over-sized golfball-like structures, now vandalised and decaying, at its peak still remind us of today.
Made of the rubble from when the capital was demolished during the Second World War, the artificial hill covers a never completed Nazi military college designed by chief Nazi architect Albert Speer. Hitler personally laid the cornerstone in 1937. In the 1950s Teufelsberg was a popular winter sports location and a ski lift was even installed.
However, once it was found to be an ideal vantage point to eavesdrop on East German and Russian military, the US National Security Agency set up a listening station at the top in the late 1950s and closed down the ski lift.
At the end of the Cold War, the Americans gave up their post here, closing down the listening station and removing all listening equipment. Well, not quite at the end: they left in 1992, over three years after the wall fell. Maybe they just wanted to make sure.
In the 1990s there were plans to turn the site into luxury hotels and flats with enviable panoramas across the green tree tops towards Berlin. Others wanted to preserve the listening station as a museum, whilst director David Lynch, together with an Indian guru, wanted to open up a “university” for transcendental meditation here.
The projects have all since been abandoned and the buildings have fallen into disrepair, and no new buildings can be erected since the area has been declared forest land. Once a popular location for illegal parties, “urbexing” and intrepid photographers, the site is now guarded day and night. Luckily, you can now book a place on one of the regular tours, where you not only gain access to most of the structures, you also have a well-informed tour guide to fill you in on Teufelberg’s history and keep you out of harm’s way.
Unsurprisingly, numerous films have been filmed on and around the otherworldly-looking structure, most recently the final scene in Dennis Gansel’s lesbian vampire flick “Wir sind die Nacht” (“We are the night”).
After your tour, why not explore a bit of the expansive Grunewald forest itself, which is home to wild boar, deer and apparently even wolves. Head South all the way to Krumme Lanke (pictured above) or Schlachtensee for a well-earned hot chocolate by the lake.