(Abandoned Berlin: urban exploration photography from the German capital)
Berlin is one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic modern cities. But the 20th century took its toll on the German capital, and echoes of its turbulent past are never far away. Many fine buildings were lost to Second World War bombing raids, as allied forces sought to weaken the axis grip on Occupied Europe. Then came the Cold War, and the infamous Berlin Wall that until 1989 isolated the Soviet-controlled east of the city from the democratic west. It’s not surprisingly, then, that Berlin is home to countless modern ruins that reach from the city centre to the suburbs and beyond. This article examines a series of abandoned buildings in Berlin and its surrounding area, highlighting the great German capital’s turbulent history.
Abandoned Berlin 1936 Olympic Village
Germany was awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics several years before Hitler’s rise to power. While countless nations debated whether or not to boycott the games, Germany was building an Olympic village in Wustermark, just outside Berlin. It was not only meant to be the heart of the Olympic Games, but a place that would present a carefully crafted image of the new Germany. It was dubbed the “village of peace”, despite plans to use the campus as a training ground for the Nazi war machine.
The now-abandoned Berlin Olympic village had enough accommodation for all participants, and the block that housed the games’ standout star, American track athlete Jesse Owens, still stands. There was a canteen, an all-purpose building for everything from film screenings to dances, a heated swimming pool, an outdoor cafe, and an artificial lake once inhabited by birds on loan from the Berlin Zoo.
The Red Army occupied the Olympic village until 1992. After that it stood empty for years, while many buildings fell into disrepair and decay – until recently, when plans got underway to save the abandoned Berlin area landmark, and renovate the derelict Olympic village as a museum.
VEB Chemiewerk Coswig
(Images: Gertrud K.)
Urbex outfit Abandoned Berlin documented the modern ruins of the gargantuan VEB Chemiewerk Coswig facility in Rudersdorf, about 16 miles outside the city centre. The facility was built in 1899 as a cement factory, but by World War Two it was producing chemicals for the Nazi war effort. After the war, the plant was stripped by the Soviets. In 1950, it was pressed back into operation to manufacture phosphates, and throughout the 1970s VEB Chemiewerk Coswig was used in the production of agricultural chemicals and compounds.
After permanently closing in 1999, the deserted industrial site became a favourite haunt of filmmakers. It has appeared in movies like Enemy at the Gates and in The Monuments Men. Today, the decaying, graffiti-covered ruin still contains murky pools, noxious odours and not a few containers labelled with warnings about their toxic contents.
(Image: Bert Kubenz)
As abandoned places in Berlin and its outskirts go, VEB Chemiewerk Coswig is one of the more hazardous.
Abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin
Built and first occupied in 1974, Berlin’s Iraqi Embassy was an unassuming concrete building in Pankow’s diplomatic quarter, in what used to be the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic). At the time it was occupied, the DDR had close ties to Iraq, but in 1980, two embassy staff members were arrested while attempting to smuggle a suitcase filled with explosives into a meeting of Kurdish dissidents at Wedding.
According to And Berlin, it was ten years later when rumours began circulating that the embassy was being used to stockpile weapons. The East German Interior Ministry confirmed the rumours, and it wasn’t long before the building was deserted – hurriedly – in 1991.
Even though the abandoned Berlin embassy building stands on German soil, Iraq was granted perpetual rights to the land. The Middle Eastern country have since built a new embassy. But with Germany maintaining that it has no stake in the land, the forbidding concrete block remains empty, like many other derelict buildings in Berlin dating to the postwar decades.
Derelict Ballhaus Grunau
For a century, two dance halls standing on the banks of the Dahme river, which flows through Brandenburg and Berlin, were the place be seen for party-goers in the German capital. The Ballhaus Riviera and Gesellschaftshaus Grunau ballrooms were known together as Ballhaus Grunau, and the revelry began in 1890. At the time, the area was known for its water sports. An well-placed dance hall and concert venue, that could welcome tens of thousands of people daily, was a natural attraction.
The grand ballrooms survived both world wars, the division of Berlin and the changing face of music, but they didn’t survive German reunification. Their popularity had begun to wane back in the 1970s, and the rise of disco eventually led to their closure in the 1990s. A Turkish investor has reportedly tried to redevelop the land but proposals have so far been rejected. Needless to say, Berlin’s urban exploration community has documented it in detail.
Abandoned US “Doughboy City”
(Images: via Bing Maps)
A sister to the British Ruhleben Fighting City (which is now used by the Berlin police force), Doughboy City was used by US troops for urban combat training in preparation for a possible invasion of West Berlin by Soviet forces. Their “city” was a pentagon-shaped mass of land with two borders formed by the East and West Berlin city lines. And Berlin reports that many of the manoeuvres and drills were purposefully carried out in full view of East Berlin soldiers and surveillance.
As home of the US Army’s Berlin Brigade, the mock city was first used in 1953. In the 1970s, it was expanded to include simulated sections of the Autobahn, and remained an active training site until 1993. The military deserted Doughboy City in 1994, and many of the buildings were destroyed. Only a few signs of the training facility remain. For years, the area was designated a wildlife refuge, though this slice of abandoned Berlin history is now poised to become a housing estate.
Freie Universitat Berlin’s Institute of Anatomy
(Images: Jan Bommes)
The undeniably eerie building that once housed Berlin’s Institute of Anatomy was only abandoned since 2005, ending the steady parade of decades of students and corpses.
The Institute of Anatomy opened there on November 20, 1949 (although the facility was built in 1929), and it still still contains the grim tools of the school’s countless classes. Dissection tables still stand in auditoriums, and the stainless steel refrigerators that once kept bodies cold are still present. They’re warmer now, and thankfully empty. Graffiti is splashed across the walls, papers are still scattered through the classrooms, and the purpose of the curved gallery rooms is still frighteningly clear.
According to Abandoned Berlin, the most unlikely of companies has acquired the property: Aldi Nord. Since buying the property, the supermarket is understood to have faced complications due to planning permission. For now, the decaying Institute of Anatomy stands silent, arguably one of the most creepy abandoned places in Berlin.
Berlin’s Desolate Spreepark, Plänterwald
It’s been a while since we looked at Berlin’s derelict Spreepark, but it’s so weirdly unsettling that we knew we had to revisit it. The abandoned amusement park first opened in 1969 as Kulturpark Planterwald. It was the only theme park on either side of Berlin, and the only constant one in the Soviet zone of Germany.
The attraction was hugely popular even into the 1990s, when it was renamed Spreepark. Visitors were enticed by the idea of paying a single entry fee at the gate rather than paying by the ride, but the new economic model contributed to mounting debts by 1999.
The final blow came in 2004, when the struggling park’s owner was handed a jail sentence for using park shipments from Peru to Germany to transport more than just rides. The drug charges meant the end of the park. The rides – and the bizarre dinosaurs – remain an eerie reminder of the good times had by countless families who flocked there.
The Wreck of MS Dr. Ingrid Wengler
The MS Dr. Ingrid Wengler is moored in the Spree, and she carries with her a heartbreaking tale (translated by Abandoned Berlin). The boat’s namesake was a surgeon at the Dreifaltigkeits Hospital, and the beloved of Franz Gunther van de Lucht. He bought the boat in 1975 and tragically, the real Dr. Wengler was killed in a car accident on the Autobahn only four years later.
For years, the barge had been used to shuttle cargo up and down the coast, and in the 1980s, MS Dr. Ingrid Wengler was converted into a more comfortable vessel for the passengers she was then tasked with carrying. Just what happened to the ship varies depending on who is telling the story.
Regardless of the details, the MS Dr. Ingrid Wengler was ultimately seized on the heels of a lockkeepers’ strike that led to the passenger barge being put out of business. Van de Lucht was forced to declare bankruptcy, but continued to live on the boat until she was towed away by the Berlin Waterway and Shipping Authority, who moored the ailing MS Dr. Ingrid Wengler where she still sits.
Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow Heinersdorf
(Images: Cornelius Bartke)
According to Digital Cosmonaut, the railway yard slowly rotting away right off the S-Bahn is the home of one of only two locomotive roundhouses still surviving in the country. Roundhouses were built around turntables for the purpose of repairing and storing railway locomotives (a notable example of a working roundhouse can be found at Barrow Hill in Derbyshire, UK).
By the 1840s, trains were a major mode of transport through Berlin, and in 1893, the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow Heinersdorf roundhouse was built as part of a vast railway complex equipped for repairing the locomotives. The adjoining Berlin Pankow Heinersdorf station was officially opened in 1924. It closed down in the 1990s.
The abandoned railway buildings were quickly vandalised and stripped of anything valuable, and the grounds were sold in 2006. The derelict Berlin roundhouse lingers on, just about, overgrown and graffiti-covered.
Abandoned Bärenquell Brauerei
The Bärenquell Brauerei is one of the many breweries that was forced to close after the reunification of Germany sent sales through the floor. According to the Irish Berliner, the competition East German breweries faced from newly available West German beers meant they were simply no longer profitable. Their derelict shells now stand as a reminder of a country that no longer exists.
The Bärenquell Brewery first opened in 1882 as the Borussia Brewery. When it closed 112 years later, in 1994, it marked the end of an era. For decades, it had been one of the “big four” breweries of Berlin, despite a series of name changes and seizure by the state. Its eventual name – Barenquell – translates to “Spring of the Bears”, and traces of the beer-bearing bears are still scattered throughout the empty expanses of the forgotten structure.
Like all the most intriguing abandoned places in Berlin, this one reflects the city’s turbulent history throughout the last century and, for better or worse, reflects the end of an epoch.