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From a pile of debris to a focal point of espionage: The eventful history of the Teufelsberg in Berlin

by Johanna Scheffer • 2018-04-25 • Report • Berlin
  • On top of the Teufelsberg at the former radomes
    On top of the Teufelsberg at the former radomes
    Photo: Johanna Scheffer, Outdooractive Editors
The five radomes of the former listening station of are widely visible even from afar. During the Cold War Americans and Brits used the man-made hill to spy on the countries of the Eastern Bloc. Since then (and despite the fact that it has been turned into leisure destination with an entrance fee) it has remained its mysterious atmosphere.

Made from debris

Historical Site · Berlin

Teufelsberg Berlin

Historical Site Der Teufelsberg aus der Luftperspektive
Berlin
Die mit 120 m zweitgrößte Erhebung Berlins entstand in den 1960er Jahren durch die ...
by Johanna Scheffer,  Outdooractive Editors
At the beginning of the 20th century there was nothing but forest and moor at today’s site of the Teufelsberg («Devil’s Hill»). In the 1930s, the National Socialists planned a defense technology faculty here. The facility, that was never really finished, was blown up after the war. Then began the gradual transformation of the place into Berlin’s second highest hill: For the next 20 years war debris from the heavily destroyed Berlin was dumped here daily. Up until the year 1972 roughly 26 million cubic meters of war debris were piled up. Sand, soil and about one million trees were added to the hill and eventually created the 120 m high Teufelsberg whose name derives from the nearby Teufelssee («Devil’s Lake»).

Futuristic domes

View from the domes over the Grunewald
Soon, futuristic domes were built on top of the green hill – the five radomes of the listening station that characterize the scenery. Already during the 1960s Americans and Brits tried to spy on the East with these antennas. Later, a fixed flight monitoring and listening station was created. The installation was mainly operated by the NSA, but also other British intelligence services and the surveillance program Echelon.

Espionage in a three-shift operation

Almost the entire Eastern Bloc was monitored via satellite antennas, from the central committee of the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) to the Soviet military installations: conversations in German, Czech, Russian and Polish. 1500 people worked here around the clock in three shifts. Roughly two tons of paper with unusable information were shredded and burned every single day. There are some indications that while Americans and Brits worked side by side, they did not necessarily together and information was not always shared. In fact, little is known about the details of espionage. The US files are to be released in 2022.

And after the Cold War ...

Street art on the increasingly decaying buildings
The satellites at the so-called Field Station kept rotating until 1989. While the electronic devices were dismantled after the withdrawal of the Americans, the site was still used for air traffic control. After the city of Berlin sold the area, a community of investors planned a huge recreational area which failed due to legal objections and the resistance of environmentalists. For a while the Teufelsberg was deserted and became a «Lost Place» until it was leased in 2010 to create an organized structure.

Still a mysterious place

The dilapidated buildings and especially impressive radomes of the former station give the place its mysterious and gruesome atmosphere. Today, the site presents one of Europe’s biggest street-art galleries. Furthermore, the hill is popular among mountain bikers, hikers and day trippers. Longboarders user the road as a downhill track as it is unusually steep for Berlin. You need to pay an entrance fee to visit the historical place which also provides guided tours.

The Teufelsberg in Berlin | Euromaxx


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Johanna Scheffer
Updated: 2018-04-25

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