Saturday, 7 November 2009


One of the weak points of Berlin is definitely the weather. One might argue that I shouldn't go to Berlin in autumn/winter and expect great weather (and one would of course be completely right), but so far I really think it's been worse than your average European autumn. It's raining more than occasionally, it's clouded 95% of the time, and it's freaking cold. So when last weekend the weather wasn't so bad (you could even distinguish some shades of blue in the sky), we decided we could use that opportunity to tackle the second weak point of this city: topography.
Now I'm aware that this might be a Swiss peculiarity, but I find completely flat regions somewhat depressing, and Berlin and it's surroundings are flat. No idea why so many districts of the town are called something-berg. Kreuzberg, Prenzlberg, Schöneberg, Lichtenberg, but you definitely don't find any "mountains" here. The only thing you find from time to time are small round hills with heights of up to 50 meters that look topographically quite unnatural, such as the two Bunkerberge in Friedrichshain, or the Marienhöhe in Berlin-Tempelhof. So how the heck did these hills get into this otherwise so flat area?
The explanation is impressive, if not shocking: they're so called Trümmerberge, debris hills. After the extensive bombing of German cities by allied forces in the last years of World War II whole quarters were completely destroyed. During the post-war reconstruction of Berlin the debris of these buildings was piled up in several locations until dumping sites became actual hills. The Bunkerberge in Volkspark Friedrichshain (now one of the prettiest parks of Berlin) for example were built out of an estimated 2.5 mio m3 of debris. Makes you feel pretty queasy when you stand on them.
The biggest Trümmerberg of Berlin is called Teufelsberg, and that's where we went last weekend. It lies in the Grunewald forest in the west of Berlin and is about 80 meters high. It was built upon the ruins of a Nazi military college and made out of around 12 mio m3 of debris, which is about 400'000 buildings. Crazy stuff.
Anyway, enough of the historical legacy and back to the present: today the Teufelsberg is a popular place for Sunday afternoon family excursions, and a great lookout point over the surrounding forests. Due to it's relative elevation and it's treeless plateau "peak" it's great for kite flying, and there were dozens of kites in the sky when we got there. In winter there's even a ski lift running to allow lowland people to discover the pleasures of winter sports. The real attraction of Teufelsberg is a different one though: During the Cold War the NSA discovered the hill as an ideal place for an observation station to spy on the communists. First there was only a mobile air activity observation station, but soon they built a whole complex with five antenna domes. On request of the US government they even had to remove the ski station because it disturbed the signal reception.
After the fall of the Wall (coming Monday is the 20th anniversary of that historic date by the way) the station was abandoned and all the equipment removed. In the early nineties and the Berlin boom there was a project on building hotels and holiday appartments on the hill, but it's been abandonned due to heavy protests of environmentalists, and the station is in slow decay since. In 2003 they stopped to guard the fenced buildings, with the logical consequence that people started "breaking in" and exploring the structures, not seldom leaving graffiti or less artistic signs of vandalism. The combination of decaying and vandalized military-looking buildings full of graffiti in the middle of an overgrowing forest makes for an amazing postapocalyptic atmosphere that's probably best described by pictures...: