Last fall, OHNY intern Elis spent a semester abroad in Berlin. One of her urban exploration outings led her to a former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) Field Station on the outskirts of the city. During the Cold War, the NSA used this site as a listening station to eavesdrop on all wireless communication from East Germany. Although there were big development plans for Teufelsberg after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a decline in the economy these plans too were abandoned. What has remained is a not-so-ordinary Field Trip site.

Teufelsberg is not your ordinary Field Trip site. Everything that is derelict about it is at the same time deeply alluring.  Now an abandoned and graffitied Cold War relic – a forgotten shell of what was once a thriving field station – it is exactly the kind of gem you would expect to find hidden in Berlin.

Finding how to get to Teufelsberg is half the fun. The road is asphalted but there are no signs.

Teufelsberg, German for “Devil’s Mountian” is an artificial hill inside Grunewald Forest in West Berlin. At 80 meters (262 feet), it is the highest elevation in West Berlin, built on the rubble of hundreds of thousands of buildings destroyed during World War II. It was originally the site of an unfinished Nazi Military Academy, designed by Nazi architect Albert Speer. After WWII, engineers looking to level the structure found that the structure, built to withstand time, was easier to bury than destroy.

Main Tower

During the Cold War, Teufelsberg was located in British sector of West Berlin. It was found by accident to be excellent site for unobstructed reception in most radio bands from long distances. And given that all radio signals in East Germany converged in East Berlin, there was no better place for a listening station. Thus Teufelsberg was built up one the listening stations of ECHELON, a global network of listening station. Although in the British sector, the majority of the complex was occupied by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), with the British owning only one building (Building M, aka 1455). The NSA staffed Teufelsberg primarily with analysts, researchers, and linguists.

Roof of main analysis and computer building front, British operated building rear

ELINT and SIGINT equipment, as well antennas of various sites used to be scattered on the roofs of buildings at Teufelsberg. In particular, it is known that there were 12 meter (40 feet) fully rotable dish antennas within the two randomes beside the main tower.

View of Main Tower and adjacent randomes from the roof of the British building

Walls of the shaft of the Main Tower used to be covered with the radio transparent materials as the smaller randomes

The listening equipment at Teufelsberg allowed for the interception of all directional microwave link networks inside East Germany, as well as air defense radars, satellite transmission and radio communication. It is rumored that even small radio based room bugs installed throughout Berlin could be picked up at Teufelsberg.

Interior of smaller randome adjacent to Main Tower. Former antenna mount, center

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the NSA left Teufelsberg relatively intact. Some of the original machinery used can be found within and around some buildings.

Pulping and compression units for shredded paper

In the post Cold War boom, millions of dollars were invested in plans to turn Teufelsberg into a high-end apartment complex, but these too were abandoned once the economic downturn set in a few years later.

Main Entrance

In 2007, American director David Lynch purchased the property with hopes of building a university of Transcendental Meditation. Although foundation stone was laid, the regional government barred the site citing that no formal approval to build a university had been granted. To this day, no such approval has been given. When asked to explain the project at a cultural forum in November 2007, Emanuel Schiffgens, Transcendental Mediation guru and Lynch’s partner in building the university, Schiffgens shouted out his hopes of created an network of “invincible universities” that teach transcendental meditation and world peace. However, rather than sympathy, his cry for “an invincible Germany!” was met with deep apprehension for replicating Hitler’s propaganda.

Former walkway that connected all main buildings

Teufelsberg today, after years of abandon is dirty, unsafe, and impressively graffitied. Entrance into the complex is illegal, other than on Sundays when guided tours are provided by local guides through berlingsightout in German and English, and in French, Spanish, and Swedish by appointment. You may be asked to sign a liability release on site by a German official. Wild boars roam the grounds around Teufelsberg, and buildings have no electricity, are filled with debris, dangerous openings, no guardrails, and a number of open elevator shafts. Walking the grounds is thrilling, and the views incredible.

Berlin skyline

From the roofs you can see all of the Berlin skyline, its surrounding lakes, the nearby 1934 Olympic Staidum, Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation, and the most stunning sunset in Berlin.

Sunset. "Artic Dome" rear, radome adjacent to Main Tower right

 

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