The abandoned Echolon listening outpost at Teufelsberg
Recently I flew to Berlin to join a photo walk hosted by the amazing Trey Ratcliff. If you've never heard of Trey, he's among the top 20 most influential photography bloggers online according to expertphotographers.com. He does regular photo walks around the world. If you ever get the chance to join, do it! Treys’ photo walks are fun and educational.
So, I took an early plane from Vienna and landed around 8:30 in the morning. I didn't rent a car this time. I opted to take a car from car sharing service car2go. It won't get much cheaper that this. For € 79,- I got a Mercedes Smart for 24 hours. As my flight back would leave next day around 9am, that was just perfect. Using a car2go, I didn’t have to pay parking fees on public ground in Berlin and neither do I have to pay for gas. It's all included.
To get my car2go, I previously needed to accept the German TOC as my car2go account is registered in Austria. I did that during the 15 minute walk to a nearby gas station, where all the car2go vehicles were located. Before I left the airport I checked if there's a car available using the car2go smartphone app and reserved it. Once I arrived, I opened the car using the smartphone app and drove to Teufelsberg.
Teufelsberg („Devil’s Mountain“) in Berlin is an artificial hill made of debris. Right after the end of World War II, until 1972, this place was used to dump debris of the bombed out city. In 1972, a layer of sand and soil was added and over a million trees were planted creating a huge forrest in Berlin.
In the 1950s, Teufelsberg was chosen as a site for a listening outpost and air surveillance by the U.S.. The listening outpost was allegedly part of the Echolon surveillance network and enabled the NSA to observe Warsaw Pact countries.
From 1991 to 1999, the installation was used for air traffic control before it was completely abandoned and all the equipment was removed.
Today, you can legally visit the ruins. Some of the buildings are used as a street art gallery and for corporate events. Since then, the huge area is also a recreation area with mountain bike trails and a small lake.
The most spectacular place is definitely the tower in the center of the area. After going up a number of stairs and floors, you'll enjoy a wonderful view of the forest towards Berlin.
Update from August 2018: I just read an article, that the main building and the street art gallery are closed and not accessible due to some regulatory issues. Before you go there, make sure to check the official web-site, which is in German, an see if you can access the main building and the tower again. Those are the most beautiful parts!
How to get to Teufelsberg in Berlin
Google Maps lead me to a small and winding road that would take me up the hill. Look out for a small parking space on the way up. I parked my car2go there and followed the rest of the road on foot until I reached the main gate 10 minutes later. There was no possibility to park the car right up there.
I had to pay a small admission fee. If you have drone, you have to shell out some extra $, provided you have proper drone insurance.
I followed the main trail past some old (and locked) buildings and reached the main spot after few minutes: An empty and abandoned hall with three floors, two radar domes and a tower at then top. Nope, no (working) elevator here.
The abandoned radar domes and tower
I went right to the top and after perceived 500 stairs I could enjoy an awesome view over the surrounding forest. Someone even put a beach chair there. How nice. Unfortunately, no (beach) bar service up there.
After I took a rest in that chair I went down again to see the two decayed radar domes. I always wanted to know what material they used for those domes. The domes were decorated with street art inside just like the lower floors of the building.
On the way down I managed to loose the way and suddenly came out somewhere completely different. So what does a photographer do in such a case? Right! Take some photos :)
To get back I switched to Indiana Jones mode and made my way back to the main gate through the forest. Oh yes, be aware of low flying golf balls! They seem to have occasional events where they play golf on the top of one of the buildings.