Berlin has a rich and cultural history which is evident around every corner across the city. Its interesting past has led to a lot of abandoned locations. Some places have implemented tours to teach the history, some places have been put into use in other ways whilst some places have simply been left to rot. There has always been something eerie and intriguing to me about abandoned places and on my recent trip to Berlin, I got to experience some of the city’s finest.
Berlin was once home to three city airports but amid controversy, Berlin Templehof Airport ceased operation in 2008. Until completion of Berlin Brandenburg Airport later this year, Berlin will remain a two airport city. Templehof has since been converted into a recreational ground for Berlin locals and curious tourists. But what led to the abandonment of the airport?
The area of Templehof was designated an airport in 1923 with construction taking place in 1927. Its future led to it being an iconic pre-World War II airport and the world’s first airport with an underground railway. The airport was not used as a military air base during the war but it was however searched and damaged in 1945. In 1948, Soviet authorities halted all land and water traffic in and out of the western controlled sectors of Berlin. Faced with a choice to abandon the city, the Western Powers instead decided to supply these areas by air, sustaining the city for eleven months through Templehof Airport. It later became the main airport for American military during the Cold War in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, however, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, presence of American forces disappeared and Templehof Airport continued use as a commercial airport. The decision was made late 2007 to close Templehof despite petitions and protests. Since the 2008 closure, Templehof has been used as a recreational ground, home to many fairs and events over the years. The park of Templehofer Feld was opened in 2010 on the abandoned air field and runway and as of September 2015, the airport itself is a refugee shelter.
Templehofer Feld was an interesting place to visit. It is a place you come to explore somewhere interesting or partake in an activity along the runway. In my opinion, it is not a place to relax and chill in the sun as it is quite run down and neglected, however, during my visit, we did notice they do have a designated bbq area so locals can grill up in the summer time and there is also a dog park. The runway itself is taken up by skaters and wind-surfers making the most of the stretch of tarmac. It is a weird feeling actually standing in the middle of a runway, a place usually strictly out of bounds. Along with the abandoned railway track running into the airport, there is a creepy air to the environment but at the same time, it is incredibly quirky and cool. It was a great place to explore and we even witnessed a proposal whilst we were there!
A prison which began its life as a potato storage facility became a hold of political prisoners who faced isolation torture until they admitted to crimes they didn’t commit. The site of Gedenkstatte is a preserved prison with daily tours, some guided by ex-inmates to give you an incredibly informative look into the former Stasi prison.
In 1945, the Soviet Secret Police turned the building, a former canteen block and food store, into a detainment camp. In 1946, the underground cellar was turned into a cell system and used for detention and interrogation. A further prison building was added in 1951 and through time saw thousands of political prisoners pass through the doors. It was located in the centre of a restricted area used by the Soviet Secret Police, disguised as an army base and did not appear on any map of East Berlin. Only when the wall fell, did the West know of its existence.
We attended a group tour on our second day in Berlin and were guided by ex-inmate Hans-Joachim Schneider. He was an inmate in the 60’s whose crime was creating political leaflets which stated ‘Foreign tanks in Czechoslovakia only serve the class enemy. Think about the reputation of socialism in the world. Demand truthful information‘ in regards to the invasion of Czechoslovakia but after seven months inside, was sentenced to two years imprisonment with state enemy propagranda and being the head of the gang of five friends who created the leaflets. During his time in the prison, he saw no one for the majority of his stay. The only time you looked into the eyes of a fellow human was during interrogation. Guards were always behind your back and fellow inmates were unseen. He pretended to commit suicide after several months and was then relocated to a different cell with a companion in which he was overwhelmed with happiness. We explored the cells, corridors and courtyard of the prison whilst we listened to Jo’s first hand perspective of prison life. It was an incredibly informative and chilling afternoon listening to Jo’s incredible, heartbreaking story. A greater understanding of Berlin’s history,the GDR and the Soviet Secret Police is understood from this fascinating visit along with guidance from former inmates, it is truly history coming alive!
English speaking tours are daily at 2:30pm at 6€ per adult and discounted rates for students.
The abandoned theme park of Berlin is unfortunately a location I did not get to visit during my trip, however, I have done extensive research into Spreepark and find it incredibly interesting. If I had the balls, I would love to visit, however I was put off by the reports of strict security.
Opened in 1969 on the GDR’s 20th birthday, the park was opened as Kulturpark Plänterwald and hugely popular. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the GDR failed to pick up the tab for the theme park and the park was sold to Norbert Witte in 1991. The buyer already had a colourful past as a carnival operator responsible for seven deaths when a crane crashed into a carousel whilst attempting to fix the Katapult rollercoaster in Hamburg in 1981. It was Germany’s worst carnival disaster to date with a further fifteen people also injured. The park was reopened as Spreepark in 1992 and new attractions were added. Witte was confident he would attract 1.8 million visitors per year, investing a lot of money into the park, however 1993 saw the highest visitor rate at 1.5 million. Numbers continued to dwindle until the park finally closed in 2001 due to bankruptcy and reports of €11million debt. Witte fled to Peru with his family and six of Spreepark’s attractions to open another park, however, there were problems from the outset and the debt kept climbing. In 2003, Witte was jailed for attempting to smuggle cocaine back to Germany in the Flying Carpets ride. The park was left to rot with Witte moving into a caravan on site after four years in prison and his daughter giving tours at the weekend whilst potential buyers were put off due to Witte’s lease stating the ground must be used as an amusement or recreational ground until 2061. In 2014, the city bought back the park and with the Witte’s moved out, firmer security was put into place.
Explorations by locals since have been reported as accompanied with a thumping heartbeat and weird industrial noises breaking the eerie silence. If you do visit, you need to be on the lookout for guards and ready to run. For personal stories of Spreepark adventures there are plenty of blog posts out there! If you’re not as chicken as me to explore, please tell me all about it and share some photos!
Have you ever explored any abandoned locations? Where is the best place you’ve visited?
*All opinions are my own and just that: opinions.
**This blog post is not sponsored or endorsed in any way.
***Entering Spreepark is illegal and I do not endorse entry. If you do explore Spreepark, do so at your own risk.