have you ever heard about a place that so captures your interest and imagination that you end up thinking about it all the time and even dreaming about it?
that’s how teufelsberg in berlin was for me for years (similar to
seljavallalaug, which i finally went to in 2016!) and as today’s beautiful, crisp sunny autumn weather seemed like a perfect sort of day to go to grünewald (the large swath of forest to the southwest of the city where teufelsberg is located), i thought of it today. and writing about it.
but you might be wondering – what is teufelsberg? those who don’t have a knowledge of german language might not know that it means “devil’s mountain”, although it’s a hill (at only 120m above sea level) in the northern part of grünewald. why it is so special could be, firstly, that the hill was man-made of rubble leftover from the second world war, but it’s bigger claim to fame is that it happens to be an american cold war-era spy station where NSA personnel used to listen in on east german frequencies, trying to gain intel about possible dangers to the west from the surrounding satellite soviet state that was the german democratic republic (or the “DDR”).
so i’ve been dreaming of the characteristic round towers for ages – the thought of finally going there warmed my little cold war era germany-obsessed heart.
we started out at the heerstrasse s-bahn station and hoofed it into grünewald towards the hill. it was a beautiful warm (but not too warm!) summer’s day and bright green, sunny foliage abounded. even though berlin is considered one of the greenest capitals of europe, you still have to go quite off the path to find this sort of mass of green and nature, and was one of the only places where i noticed lots of wildflowers and common herbs growing. berlin may be wild, but not much of it is, in fact, wild anymore.
i was looking for views all the way up and found none except for one nice view over the grünewald (trees trees and trees). finally, we got the the entrance gates of the teufelsberg tower complex. this site had been abandoned since the 90′s but slowly been again reclaimed and now built into an attraction for tourists. i was a bit dismayed to learn that the actual towers were closed (gah! there goes all of my literal dreams of watching the sunset from the towers) by the city of berlin as they were felt to currently be unsafe for people to climb on, however we got so far, so that surely wasn’t going to stop us from at least taking a look and surveying the area.
we paid €5 each and followed the painted bath to explore what one actually could see of teufelsberg and see if it lived up to my very high expectations.
the first thing i noticed about the complex besides the iconic towers was the nice-looking cafe and kiosk, but the odd bumping electronic music and “light show”. i started to feel as you would when you leave a party and realize it’s actually morning. the second thing you notice: dirt. lots of it. berlin is quite dirty in the summer but the dirt be flyin’ on teufelsberg!
it was interesting to pop into the buildings and take a quick look (although slightly precarious and clearly at my own risk – they make you sign a waiver before you enter). it was quite a large expanse of interesting buildings, artwork and little nooks and crannies to explore, structures to try and climb.
(below, ferdinand & alex – looking particularly hanks-ian. even dogs & kids can come. there were even people pushing prams around the dusty paths)
then i started noticing the people going this way and that, holding various building material or what have you. there is an artists collective now taking up work (if not also residence) at teufelsberg, so they were sort of stomping around the tourists like they owned the place, clearly annoyed with the people getting in their way. at one point, a man threw something large and metal into a dumpster just a couple feet from my head – alex and i exchanged an aggravated look.
similarly, there was another guy passive-aggressively stomping around the tourists holding some boards and clearly trying to make some structure off of another structure. it was as if we were interrupting his so very important work!
i don’t get it.
ultimately, the teufelsberg spy complex experience of 2018 did not fulfill my high expectations – there were neither accessible towers nor beautiful views of berlin. i should have gone ten years ago when everything was free and unencumbered!
all was certainly not lost, however, as we descended the hill and came onto lovely teufelssee (devil’s lake) about a fifteen minute walk down the hill. it wasn’t dog-friendly (womp womp) but it certainly was beautiful! thank you, teufelssee.