BERLIN The Teufelsberg or ‘Devils Mountain’ in German is named after Teufelssee: a lake just to its South. Standing 120.1 meters, it is considered the highest ‘natural’ point of Berlin. Located in the Grunewald locality in former Western Berlin it has a very outdoorsy feel to it. Considering the history of this mountain, it’s name is quite fitting. In addition to being a man-made mountain built from the debris of approximately 400.000 of Berlin’s houses destroyed during the Second World War covering a Nazi college designed by Albert Speer, Hitlers chief architect, it housed a NSA spying station (i.e. Field Station Berlin Teufelsberg) during the Cold War. After the wall fell the spy station was abandoned and became a place for graffiti artists and hippies to hang out.
Construction 1950-1972: where to dump the rubble?
Over a period of twenty years the debris of houses destroyed in West Berlin during the Second World War was dumped at this location. However, the creation of the Teufelsberg was far from self evident. Obviously East Berlin had also been bombed extensively and rubble needed to be cleared as well. The East Berlin authorities dumped it outside of the city limits. In West Berlin, this was not possible. This had to do with the attempted Communist putsch in September 1948. Following the attempted putsch separate parliaments and magistrates were created for East and West Berlin, ending much (if not all) of the cooperation between West Berlin and the State of Brandenburg surrounding it. In addition, the 1949 Berlin Blockade created a fuel shortage in West Berlin. This situation presented the West-Berlin authorities with a dilemma. They had to get rid of the debris, however there was nowhere to bring it as they were surrounded by ‘the East’…
Eventually the West Berlin Authorities decided to dump the debris on the outskirts of West Berlin territory. As an added bonus the mountain of rubble would bury the Wehrtechnische Facultät designed by Albert Speer which – after multiple attempts – had proven difficult to destroy.
Eighty truckloads carrying 7000 cubic meters of rubble arrived on a daily basis. As the male population was severely reduced during the war years the Allies ordered women between the ages of 15-50 to report for rubble-clearing duty. They became known as Truemmerfrauen.
Cold War Period: Field Station Berlin Teufelsberg
Being just about the only elevated point in an otherwise pretty flat Berlin means that if a security agency would be interested in building a listening device to spy on the Russians this would be the place to build it. The NSA came to this conclusion in 1958 and consequently built its listening post on top of the Teufelsberg.
Modern times: Art, Hippies & 8 Euros admission fee
Following the Cold war the Spy station had lost its raison d’étre. With the buildings in an ever more decaying state plans were made to develop the area. These plans were never approved by the appropriate authorities as Grunewald is an environmentally protected area. The towers are still there and can be visited.
After you walk up the hill you are greeted by people at a gate where you can pay 8 EUR to get in. Feels a bit like a commercialized hippie zone. Apparently it used to be possible to get through one of the many holes cut in the fence(s) surrounding the compound (illegally). They all seem to have been closed now though. The view from the top of the tower is great and the artwork is amazing. If you enjoy taking pictures – this is great!
Presently, the Teufelsberg has a very ‘James Bond’ meets ‘The Dude’ air to it. On the one hand I can just imagine Roger Moore uncovering some Soviet spy at the Field Station (I actually thought the opening sequence of Octopussy may have been partially filmed here. It was not. I checked), but on the other hand it also has a real hippy/punk vibe due to the graffiti and eroding state of the buildings. Combined with the story of its creation it makes for a very interesting and Berlin-ish experience!