Teufelsberg means ‘Devil’s Mountain’ in English, and an apt name it is for this abandoned Cold War listening station which overlooks Berlin. It is a favorite – if slightly precarious – destination for urban explorers, but not the easiest place to access. Those visiting must trudge up old crumbly steps covered with undergrowth to make it to the top of the 80 meter-high hill (which has quite a story itself) and arrive at the now dilapidated station.
Once there, certain risks await. A door that looks like it will lead somewhere turns out to be an opening to nothing but a sudden multistory drop. In amongst the decaying structures is an open 10-story elevator shaft waiting for the unwary to fall into its bossom.
The radar domes (radomes) are the landmarks most think of when Teufelsberg is mentioned, but this place has much more of interest beyond what lies at the surface. The hill itself is man-made, and buried beneath is a Nazi military-technical college built by Albert Speer (known as the “Nazi who said sorry” and Hitler’s chief architect).
The Allies tried to use explosives to bring down the college but it was too sturdily built, so they settled for covering it in rubble following the end of World War II. Twelve million cubic meters of debris, the remains of 400,000 buildings bombed during the war, went into making the hill.
The carcass of the listening station that sits on top of the hill was built in the late ’50s by the US National Security Agency (NSA). It was thought to be part of ECHELON, a global signals intelligence network also known as Five Eyes.
After scouting different locations in the West Berlin area, the agency found the hill ideal for its purposes – tapping into the military communications of the Soviets as well as those of other communist states. The listening station was in use until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification between East and West Germany.
One thing that anyone who visits the site is treated to is the magnificent view of the surrounding country, as can be seen here. Berlin’s Grunewald forest stretches out below, its beauty thrown into relief by the overriding sense of dilapidation.
During the time of the NSA station operations, the lifts of a small ski center that had been built on the side of the hill in the ’60s were removed because it was thought they were interfering with the radio signals the Americans were trying to intercept.
Yet even with the ski lifts gone, it seems that on certain days of the year, the radomes received the signals better than on others. It was later determined that a Ferris wheel that spun during an annual German-American festival in nearby Zehlendorf somehow helped relay the signals to the eavesdroppers. So certain were they that this was the case that the wheel was left standing for some time after the festival had finished.
Some reports about the station are stranger still. Rumors have abounded that the Americans built a shaft running down into the ruins below. One piece of hearsay has it that a ‘tunnel’ located in the central column of the listening station’s structure was actually an underground escape route.
Whatever you choose to believe about its past, Teufelsberg is a fascinating slice of history as well as a phenomenal site for urban exploration.