Monday, 9 December 2013

Teufelsberg - Berlin - May 2012

I have a couple of reports that I couldn't stick up on here for a silly personal reason - I'm prepared to let that reason slide now. This report goes all the way back to when I had just got in to exploring. I was young, excited, and, looking back, very inexperienced. Berlin is an amazing place, and very photogenic, so much so I could probably fill another blog with the non-exploring photos I took. Unfortunately I had only had my DSLR around a month at this time, so most came out a bit naff. The weather was grand, the beer was tasty, and after doing our little Berlin tour we headed out to the old NSA listening station at Teufelsberg. 

Visited with my host, a non-explorer. Thank you.

Some history: 

It is an artificial hill with a curious history: It was heaped up after the Second World War from part of the rubble of Berlin, approximately 75,000,000 m3 (98,000,000 cu yd) all over the city, during the following twenty years as the city was cleared and rebuilt. While part of the rubble from destroyed quarters in East Berlin was deposited outside the city boundary, all the debris from West Berlin had to be dumped within the western boundary. Due to the shortage of fuel in West Berlin the rubble transport stopped during the Berlin Blockade.

Its origin does not in itself make Teufelsberg unique, as there are many similar man-made rubble mounds in Germany (see Schuttberg) and other war-torn cities of Europe. The curiousness begins with what is buried underneath the hill: the never completed Nazi military-technical college (Wehrtechnische Fakultät) designed by Albert Speer. The Allies tried using explosives to demolish the school, but it was so sturdy that covering it with debris turned out to be easier.

The US National Security Agency (NSA) built one of its largest listening stations on top of the hill, rumored to be part of the global ECHELON intelligence gathering network. "The Hill", as it was known colloquially by the many American soldiers who worked there around the clock and who commuted there from their quarters in the American Sector, was located in the British Sector. Prior to establishing the first permanent buildings there in the very late 1950s, Mobile Allied listening units had driven to various other locales throughout West Berlin hoping to gain the best vantage point for listening to Soviet, East German, and other Warsaw Pact nations military traffic.

Looking back on this now I consider it to be my first proper explore. I'd done a place or two beforehand, but this was the first one with a proper fence, proper security, and properly impressive. After a reasonable walk up the hill and through the woods we reached the perimeter fence and were inside within seconds. So good, so far. 

The first section took us up an old, overgrown staircase that reminded me of Jurassic Park: The Lost World. At the top of there we reached a road, looking down it to the left I spotted a security vehicle parked up some way away. Not meaning to panic my understandably on-edge partner I decided to walk the opposite way around the complex, getting behind cover quickly. Around the other side of the site though there were plenty of skateboarders on a lower section. Perhaps they knew something we didn't.

Once we were inside the bottom floor it became clear that it had been stripped and tagged extensively. Walls around the edges were mostly non-existent, meaning you wouldn't want to get to close to the edge. 

As we made our way up the interior staircase, which was in the pitch black (naturally I'd forgotten a torch) my partner got more scared, until they heard some people speaking English, and calmed down straight away.

For the next level we found the exterior staircase thankfully, which also allowed us more of a view of the site itself. 

As you may have noticed a reasonable amount of these photos are not up to my usual standard (which admittedly isn't that high!), either out of focus or over-processed. I was very new to not only taking photos, but also the post-processing, so this set has some very varied results. The picture below, which was almost on the top floor, is a good example of me turning up the contrast and colour. 

Somewhere around here we bumped in to some of the locals having a look around, and then the security. A bit of cat and mouse ensued as I tried to snap as many photos as possible, which was ultimately unsuccessful. 

We were told to leave the site, and after getting to the bottom took an alternative exit out, where we had a beer with the mosquitoes as we laid in wait for half an hour, hoping to try again a bit later.

When I had finished my beer I made a move - solo this time - and almost instantly ran into a security man straight away, having to do some proper MGS-style sneaking around his car to make it back to the tallest building to try to get up to the radome. I should mention at this point that there were people drinking in the radome, and on one occasion I saw a bottle was thrown from the very top... 

As soon as I hit the roof I walked straight into another security member who was trying to escort others off of the roof. In my broken German I managed to talk to him long enough to get one shot of the roof off, then took a few more photos on the way down. 

It was a shame I didn't get to see more of the place, but it was a great experience, and I learnt a lot from what I consider to be my first proper explore. I'd love to get back to Berlin and do it again, although I heard that now that the security are offering proper tours. Now where's the fun in that?!

Thanks for reading.


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