Saturday, October 10, 2009

Spy on me, NSA!

An old friend was in Berlin last week, and I used it as an excuse to take a trip to Teufelsberg (or Devil's mountain in English).  It isn't really a mountain, but a hill which was built using rubble from WWII.  Underneath the hill is an old Nazi war college which couldn't be destroyed because it built too well.  But it's what's on top of this hill that is most interesting now.

At some point during the cold war, the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States realized that it was the best spot in West Berlin to eavesdrop on Soviet and East Germany communications.  They then built the current structures which were abandoned after the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany.

We left my apartment in the early afternoon after a big breakfast, and took the S-Bahn to Heerstrasse.  It was just a 15 minutes walk from the station to the fence surrounding the buildings.  There were three fences encircling the top, and you can see where people have cut holes, and where someone has come behind and repaired them.  After walking around for about 5 minutes, we finally found a hole in the first fence behind some bushes.  It was then just a short walk until we found holes in the next two fences.

Once we got inside, it was pretty overwhelming.  The wind was causing these pieces of canvas which once covered one tower to flap and make odd noises.  (Before we could see the complex, I thought it was the sound of a highway or airport.)  We decided to start with the smallest of the buildings, and quickly found our way to the top.  Actually getting into the radar dome required some suspenseful dangling about 20 meters above the ground.  In the dome, the sound was incredible, and I took some videos on my camera to try to record it.

Next we moved on to the second largest building, but it took us a little while to find the staircase.  We didn't have a flashlight with us, and inside of the buildings it was extremely dark.  I was using my camera flash and cell phone to try to light the way, and also then we could see if there were any "dangers" up ahead.  Jason had matches, but they burnt out quickly.  This dome was the second-highest, but it was made out of canvas, so the sound was not as great as the first dome.  Walking around the edge gave you a really good view of the city.

Finally we decided to tackle the tallest building, and it took us a while of exploring passages to find the staircase.  Once we started climbing, it seemed like forever to reach the top--there were nine floors, but it seemed like less from the ground.  Before the dome at the top, there was a metal door that seemed to be locked or stuck.  We pulled hard, but we didn't have any tools which might help us open it.  We almost turned back, but I eventually pulled it open.  Inside the dome, the sound was incredible.  Sounds echoed about five times, and it didn't take us long to start experimenting with trash that people had left behind.  Even slightly tapping the floor with your foot would create a thunderous noise.

It looked like it was about to storm, and it was getting cold so we headed back.  It would be fun to come back with a flashlight, and maybe even spend a night in one of the buildings.

Teufelsberg Photo Album

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