There is something about abandoned places that attracts us almost magnetically: Broken windows, cobwebs on things left behind, and the dust of many years – they tell stories from times long gone. It seems as if the ghosts of past days were haunting the crumbling walls in order to give us the goosebumps once we are there. When you start looking, you will stumble over many such places in Berlin, but none is more fascinating than the strange towers that overlook the city from an exposed hill west of the capital: the abandoned CIA field station on Teufelsberg. Many a legend exists about this mysterious place and both photographers and conspiracy theorists praise its unique features. After a lockdown of many years you can now finally visit the field station, an experience of morbid charms that will haunt your dreams for a while. Are you daring enough? We from Industriepalast Hostel Berlin went to check out the place for you:
The walls are of grey concrete, covered in graffiti, and they lead up to geodetic domes, wind beaten and bizarrely shaped. Once you’ve passed the barb wire fence it is not hard to feel like you’re right in the middle of a strange spy movie. The obscure place rests on a hill by the suggestive name Teufelsberg – “Devil’s Mountain” – somewhere in Grunewald Forest. You might get the impression that this relict from olden days seems to be watching over the city to its feet, and you are actually not to far off beam. But let’s start at the beginning:
It is hard to believe, but 70 years ago this majestic hill, measuring 120 m in height, did not even exist. World War II had turned Berlin into a scene of destruction, and since the mountains of construction rubbles stood in the way of reconstruction, the debris was brought to a dumpsite west of town. Until 1972 no less than 26 million cubic meters of construction rubble were dumped here and a proper hill had emerged. The city decided that it was time for a renaturation and more than one million trees were planted on the site. A few years earlier however, the American secret service CIA had already discovered the hill as the perfect site for a communication intercepts station. From here radio signals from the entire GDR and many satellite states of the USSR could be intercepted. The US Army began erecting a stately structure with five antenna towers, the so-called Berlin Field Station. What happened here remained top secret throughout the cold war and it is no surprise that many gauntly rumours spread about this place. Despite or precisely because of these stories, Teufelsberg attracted many Westberliners and visitors, especially since the hillsides were open to the public. For a while, a viticulturist even started to grow grapes here, used to press the Wilmersdorfer Teufelströpfchen, a popular wine at the time. During winter the slopes of Teufelsberg were popular among the locals for sleighing and even skiing – to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the city in 1987 Berlin’s first and only ski world cup was held here.
In 1990 the Soviet Union crumbled and Berlin Field Station became obsolete. After the Americans had withdrawn, the radar unit was still in use for civil air traffic control, but in 1999 even this chapter ended. All that remained were some empty buildings and a chill breath of the cold war over the rooftops of Berlin. There were countless ideas for a further use of the site; one investor got pretty far in planning a grand convention hotel on the hill. Environmentalists were outraged and managed to overturn the plan. Only recently the Indic-American Maharishi Foundation wanted to erect a giant “Tower of Invincibility” and a school for transcendental meditation here, but both costs and bureaucratic hurdles were too big. In the meantime, many adventurers, explorers, and ruin hunters fell under the spell of the mysterious site and secretly gained access to the fenced-off area. Among them were street artists from all around the world who turned the gray concrete walls into a huge graffiti gallery.
The spray-painted concrete ruins have quite a unique atmosphere and are therefore a popular set among filmmakers and photographers. But every visitor will find the former field station an exceptional sight far off the beaten track. For a while now, guided tours have been offered on the otherwise closely-guarded facility, so you can chase the ghosts of the age of spies yourselfs. There’s a guided silent inspection every hour starting from noon. Not only can you check out the creatively decorated ruins, but even climb one of the antenna towers with an amazing view over the entire capital. Also, thanks to their shape, the geodetic domes have one of the strangest acoustics you can possibly imagine. On Saturdays and Sundays there’s also a 90 minute guided historical tour at 1 pm. Regular admission is 7 €, the historical tour is 15 €. If you need more information you can check out the website www.teufelsberg-berlin.eu (German only).
To get to Teufelsberg from Industriepalast Hostel, simply take S7 to Grunewald Station, from there it is a scenic walk (about 30 minutes) up to the gate of the field station.
Can’t wait to hear your spine-chiller stories from the abandoned CIA station!
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.