Teufelsberg: Nazi college to US spy station to artist playground

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Want to know where the vantage point of one of the best views of Berlin city is? On the site of an abandoned US spy station, atop a mass of rubble from the Nazi period, that is now used as an artists’ playground. It’s Berlin after all, what did you expect?

Welcome to the Teufelsberg

Dome at Teufelsberg. Source.
Dome at Teufelsberg. Source.

Teufelsberg, (German for “Devil’s Mountain”) is a site full of history. During the Nazi regime, it was the site of a Nazi Military Technology Faculty building, designed by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer.

After the war, the Allies tried to demolish it with explosives, but it was too sturdy and they decided to cover it with war rubble instead. Each day thousands of cubic meters of debris was brought to the area. When they finished, more than 25 million cubic meters of rubble were deposited, reaching a height of roughly 120 meters above sea level in the north of the Grunewald Forest in West Berlin.

During the Cold War, the US National Security Agency (NSA) built one of the largest listening stations atop the man-made hill to spy on Russian-controlled East Germany. Mobile units were built in July 1961, followed by more permanent facilities in 1963.

The height above the hill made Teufelsberg a good spot to spy. Source.
The height above the hill made Teufelsberg a good spot to spy. Source.

They used the most sophisticated spying technology at the time, allowing the western powers to intercept satellite signals, radio waves, microwave links and other transmissions. Operation continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The equipment was then removed, but the buildings and domes remained in place.

If you want to learn more about the history of the space, check out this video:

Teufelsberg today: a multipurpose space

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In the early 90s, developers bought the property, hoping to build “exclusive” apartments, a hotel, restaurant and spy museum. Costs proved prohibitory, however, and the project was abandoned.

In the early 2000s, there were some disputes over who was in control of the area. While it was still owned by the developers, there were reports of visitors and tourists being threatened, bullied and made to pay to visit the site. As it turns out, there were some possible squatters that were “security guards” charging admission for entrance. Though the story itself seems to be a bit complicated.

That has thus been cleared up, however, and today Teufelsberg is a popular spot for tourists and Berliners alike. Known most popularly as an artists’ playground, the buildings are decorated with elaborate graffiti, murals and other pieces.

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You can enter the area for €7, but not all spaces are easily accessible. As well, the site itself isn’t in pristine condition, with uneven surfaces, broken glass and debris littering the grounds.

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