Despite all the talk of gentrification, Berlin is bursting with deserted historical sites that still lie untouched by property development. Here are five of our favourite places to explore on a warm summer day.
Berliner Luft- und Badeparadies, or Blub, is an abandoned swimming park and leisure centre in Neukölln. The premises were permanently shut down in 2005, following a rat infestation due to the proximity of the canal. Since then, the aquatic paradise has fallen from grace. (Fortunately, it seems the rats have also packed their bags.) Entering the 35,000sqm site, it’s not hard to understand why this used to be THE place for summer frolics, with saunas and Jacuzzis on one side and a more child-friendly amusement park on the other.
The various areas open off an Escher-like atrium, with its wooden architecture still standing strong. This is where you’ll catch your breath. The smaller section has an “Oriental” feel to it, with palace-like archways and colourful tiles still intact. A few artificial palm trees are peppered around the place, with swathes of their fur peeling off the trunks onto the floor among scattered invoices and old chloride test results. Dust covers the emptied pools and the walls have been utterly redecorated with graffiti. Venturing past the main rooms, you can find changing rooms, showers and the offices, where stacks of binders filled with legal paperwork have been left behind.
As for the amusement park section, it is impressively vast, made more so by the echoes created when crunching the broken glass beneath your feet. It leads to the outdoor swimming pool, which is filled with scraps and the cadavers of a few deckchairs. Nature has won the battle here. The jungle-like surroundings are quite beautiful, meaning that if the weather holds up, you can happily spend an entire afternoon weaving in and out of the water park without fear of boredom. No need for swimwear – just remember to wear sturdy shoes and bring a lamp.
Location: Off Buschkrugallee, a 15-minute walk from Neukölln’s Grenzallee station.
Hospitals are inherently scary places and this forgotten maternity and children’s hospital is no exception. The grounds are overgrown and the buildings have a distinct Blair Witch vibe to them. It doesn’t look like a hospital on first glance – it’s only when you see abandoned nurses’ stations and long corridors of rooms with those unmistakable hospital tiles that the penny truly drops.
It’s easy to spend several hours inside the main building, with its many floors revealing some impressive artwork and quite fascinating weather-induced decay. The patients’ and rows of post-op rooms are interesting to visit, but certain unnerving areas really brace you for what could be a grave encounter.
For a break from the horror, check out the street art in the small building to the right of the main entrance. Each of the rooms is painted according to a motif (the lightning room, the prison room, the carrot room…), brought together by the ground floor “cloud hall” and the “heart corridor” on the first floor.
Location: Hansastr. 178-180, a short bike ride from Weißensee.
SS Brotfabrik (1941-1991)
Once part of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, this disused SS bakery located in Oranienburg is a fascinating piece of history. Prisoners were taken there and forced to bake bread for the camps and other Nazi units around Berlin. Once the camp was liberated by the Russians, the bakery kept producing loaves to feed the survivors. (It then ran as Konsum-Großbäckerei Oranienburg until 1991.)
Now surrounded by overgrown vegetation, the bakery’s emptiness is overwhelming. You can feel the weight of history when walking through the place, relatively untouched by vandals or graffiti. While admiring the strange beauty of the dried paint peeling off the walls, you might well be brought up short by the sight of small, tattered shoes. A
s you walk on past two smaller furnaces, you’ll find yourself staring at another brightly lit room. Getting inside might require some effort, but once within, you’ll find two imposing industrial ovens that remain miraculously intact. Though it’s smaller than the other places on this list, you shouldn’t overlook this one, especially for that slightly unsettling feeling of a place loaded with a dark past, contrasted with the gorgeous woodland and the vast Lehnitzsee lake.
Location: A 30-minute walk from the Oranienburg S-Bahn station.
Iraqi Embassy (1974-1991)
Located in the former diplomatic quarter of the GDR in Pankow, the old Iraqi Embassy doesn’t look like much from the outside. However, if you’re mindful of wandering eyes and willing to hop over some barbed wire, you’re in for a moody trip back in time.
The staff decamped in a hurry during the Gulf War, leaving behind typewriters, diplomatic documents and files. Sadly, since then, many of the abandoned treasures have been looted and fire has gutted a few rooms. You’ll still find toppled filing cabinets, broken office chairs, yellowed newspapers and even a charred calendar bearing Saddam’s grinning mug. And paperwork. Lots of paperwork, scattered everywhere. You can’t help but wonder if any of these mouldy documents contain vital information. Unless your Arabic is up to scratch, you’ll leave with that uncertainty intact.
The highlights are the rare bursts of colour, like a small circular mosaic with green and black tiles, and some concealed machinery that has yet to be snatched. One particular apparatus, integrated within a thick wooden desk, looks like a cross between Turing’s Enigma machine and a telephone switchboard. Like most artefacts here, its function will remain a mystery.
Access: Moderately tricky
Location: Tschaikowskistr. 51, Pankow; take the 155 bus to Homeyerstr.; you’ll have to jump a fence.
Güterbahnhof Pankow (1893-1997)
The trains and tracks are gone from this unceremoniously neglected railroad yard. At its peak, the station could manage almost 2000 freight cars a day. Now, it’s a listed building… although you couldn’t tell. The main circular building where the rusty train turntable resides is dark and has a lingering smoky smell (as well as some less pleasant ones, which might make this location more of an assault on the nostrils than others).
However, seeing the vast indoor and outdoor train turntables, the oxidised cogs, some terrific artwork and the moody lighting provided by the smashed windows make Güterbahnhof an unusual trip. This is a popular location, especially for artists, so don’t expect to be the only explorer among the ruins. However, the lighter atmosphere doesn’t detract from the mesmerising decrepitude, and if you’re a musician, the acoustics can’t be beat…
Access: Very easy
Location: Right next to the Pankow-Heinersdorf S-Bahn station.