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  • The grandeur of decay: How to discover Berlin’s lost places


The grandeur of decay: How to discover Berlin’s lost places

Photographer and urban explorer Martin Boemer photographs Berlin's eerie and beautiful abandoned lost places.

Whether abandoned hospitals, bathing establishments or cultural centers – Berlin is a true paradise when it comes to lost places. Photo: Martin Boemer

There are countless abandoned spaces in Berlin. Eerie, liminal places between civilisation and decay, dreams and waking life. With its abandoned industrial ruins, hospitals and bunkers, it’s as if Berlin hides a shadow city beneath the surface. Photographer, artist and urban explorer Martin Boemer spends his time documenting these places – and taking some fantastic pictures:

The allure of lost places

Urban exploration, also known as “urbexing“, is the independent exploration of abandoned places and it has seen a huge spike in interest in recent years. Anyone who has been in an abandoned space knows the feeling of stillness and silence, as if the building wants to talk but can’t. Explorers like Martin attempt to capture this sense of stillness through photography. Urban exploration also teaches us a lot about history – giving us the chance to see buildings that have been untouched for years or even decades.

Dance in ruins: a forgotten ballroom somewhere in the outskirts of Berlin. Photo: Martin Boemer

The lost places of Berlin are eerie, and yet they often have an odd charm. Martin Boemer has been exploring these spaces for many years, and photographing them since 2014. He posts most of his work on Instagram – but never reveals the exact locations he explores. Urban explorers, as a rule, don’t reveal the exact locations of their finds.

When it comes to urban exploration, you have to be careful. Many are often in danger of collapsing, like this corridor in an abandoned barracks. Photo: Martin Boemer

Martin doesn’t just explore Berlin: his hobby has also taken him to unusual places throughout Germany, and East Germany in particular. The many abansoned social and infrastructural projects in the DDR have left in their wake some of the most interesting lost places in the world – abandoned buildings; abandoned dreams.

Times long ago forgotten

Discovering and gaining access to lost places isn’t easy. Most locations are kept secret, with the notable exception of Weißensee Children’s Hospital, one of Berlin’s great lost places.

To find these empty spaces, Martin does research beforehand. Certain websites track the location of well-known lost places, and various media groups also aid his search. Online mapping tools are essential for finding and recording similar locations across Berlin and Germany. What’s more, the urban exploration community on Instagram is tight-knit and locations are frequently exchanged within the scene.

It’s all a matter of perspective: when shooting, the angle is extremely important.  Photo: Martin Boemer

For the seasoned urban explorer, finding a previously unknown lost place gives an adrenaline rush like no other. How do they gain access upon finding a new place? Gaps in the fence, broken windows and unlocked doors or passageways are all options.

some explorers are attracted to the forbidden

In addition, some explorers are attracted to the forbidden: most abandoned spaces are off-limits, increasing the risk of being busted for trespassing. That said, urban exploring isn’t always illicit. Sometimes authorities on-site can be convinced to allow access, or permission can be granted beforehand. Some abandoned spaces are now open for public tours, as well.

Left: a corridor of a former theater originally built by the Soviet Union in Berlin. Right: a staircase in an old factory building. Photo: Martin Boemer

When Martin discovers a new lost place, he tries to fully explore and document the space. First, he tries to take in the exterior, and then he ventures within. At this point, Martin begins to imagine that he’s watching a film about the lost place, and he wants to share that cinematic vision with others.

That’s why Martin is so careful to create moods and themes within his photography. For example, he tries to match the weather with the space he photographs – sometimes a moody, rainy day is best, and other times a sunny day provides the best light.

An abandoned chapel room in a former hospital about an hour’s drive from Berlin. Photo: Martin Boemer

Since 2014, Martin has spent his free time with a camera and tripod, exploring increasingly obscure and fascinating places across Germany. His favourite types of lost places? Sanatoriums and old ballrooms. There’s a reason so many horror films these lavish empty locations – think of The Shining.

these places give the uncanny feeling of the past not really being gone, but somehow hidden

These places give the uncanny feeling of the past not really being gone, but somehow hidden. Ballrooms, in particular, evoke the past beautifully – and Martin captures that with his wide-angle photography. The idea of what events must have been held in the ballroom all those years ago is what captivates Martin the most. In addition, the architecture of these places is often unique and interesting.

Immerse yourself in another time, like in this forgotten swimming pool. Photo: Martin Boemer

For Martin, urban exploration is all about immersing himself in a lost world. As he photographs the spaces, he loses himself in the images – he sometimes returns, again and again, to a space, looking for the perfect picture. He spends a lot of time alone in places fit for horror movies, but he doesn’t find the places scary. He sees the charm and nostalgia of places, imagining the life and vibrancy they must have had before becoming lost places.

Tips for urban exploration

If you’re a beginner to urban exploration, you should know a few things. Rule number one: take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Since urbexing has been booming, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find lost places, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t find something right away. 

Depending on the location, exploration can also be dangerous. Many of the once magnificent lost places are ruins in danger of collapsing. Sometimes, you have to climb unsecured over a high fence to gain access. In addition, not all places are legally accessible, which is why you might want to bring your best shoes to outrun the police.

When it comes to urban exploring, you should never give away your locations. Photo: Martin Boemer

The most important rule in the urbex code is: don’t give away your spots! If they become widely known, lost places quickly lose their integrity and their charm – they can be vandalised, graffitied or even burned down. Also, public awareness can lead to security measures like cameras.

In particular, diving into a forgotten time makes urban exploration appealing. Photo: Martin Boemer

The good news is that getting into the urban exploration community is now fairly easy. With the appropriate hashtags, hubs and groups, you can quickly get in touch with other like-minded people via social networks. The community is open-minded and welcomes anyone who treats Lost Places with reverence and respect.

More on the subject: Berlin’s marxist, brutalist, and bunker architecture