Heilstätten Hohenlychen (all photographs courtesy the author/Abandoned Berlin)
Berlin and its surrounding areas play host to a multitude of discarded, unwanted, or unloved deserted buildings. Most are hidden, others are sealed, with their secrets locked up and kept forever more. Or so they think.
At Abandoned Berlin, we document the German capital’s derelict sites, their histories, and the tall tales behind each one. Here are five ruins the city’s authorities would rather you didn’t know about.
Shrine to Saddam: The GDR’s Iraqi Embassy
Iraq’s embassy to East Germany still plays host to parties, despite the demise of one of the countries. The German Democratic Republic hasn’t existed since 1990, when it reunited with its western sibling to form the country we know now. It was outlived by its embassy to Iraq — but only by a few months.
The embassy must have been cleared overnight after all the staff were ordered out in January of 1991. There were reports of explosives being stored there at the time. All the files, letters, and correspondence were left as they were, and the desks, chairs, and telephones, too. Someone was in a hurry. Pictures of Saddam Hussein adorned the place until they were snapped up by zealous memorial hunters.
It has become more blackened in the intervening years, a little better known, and more vandalized, but it perseveres stubbornly as an embassy of sorts to a country that no longer exists.
Hospital from Hell: Heilstätten Hohenlychen
There is a former sanatorium to the north of Berlin where unspeakable crimes once took place. Heilstätten Hohenlychen has fallen into ruin, neglected in all likelihood as its sins are just too troubling to be forgiven, too disturbing to be forgotten.
The surroundings are wonderful, beside a peaceful tree-lined lake, and the buildings are beautiful, magnificent despite their heartache. Nazi doctor Karl Gebhardt conducted horrific experiments on people here — on prisoners from a nearby women’s concentration camp. He was a pal of SS head honcho Heinrich Himmler, and evil knew no bounds among the Nazi top brass.
Now the building complex is boarded up and decaying. Tiles gather dust and paint flakes off walls. The glass in the pretty window frames has warped with time and the sun twinkles innocently through crystal panes, just passing time. Hohenlychen still needs time to come to terms with itself.
Death by Scalpel: Anatomy Institute
Corpses were stored stacked in rows in custom made fridges in the cellar, pulled out for dissection on a student’s whim. Clean, shiny steel operating tables allowed the blood wash away conveniently and quickly, before any feelings of guilt or queasiness could get in the way.
This Berlin university’s anatomy institute has been abandoned since 2005 but the signs of its cutthroat past remain. The dissecting tables and university morgue are still there, along wit sparking laboratories, delicate display cases, awesome auditoriums, and weird anatomical contraptions.
Scalpel-wielding students no longer roam the college’s eerie corridors, but the feeling of their activities remains. It’s pervasive, intrusive, all consuming. It stalks their former haunt, putting off any would-be tenants from taking over. The abandoned anatomy college is likely to keep gleaming silently for a while yet.
Das Boot: Submarine Bunker
Hidden deep in the woods north of Berlin lies an underground bunker that has taken on the characteristics of one of its protégés — a submarine.
Lager Koralle was the headquarters of Germany’s Naval High Command between 1943-45, controlling the Germans’ feted U-boat fleet during this time. The Navy HQ was moved from Berlin to this heavily forested area in the middle of nowhere to escape the air raids that were making life in the German capital difficult during WWII.
It turned out to be no escape from the skies, however, and it too was struck by an air raid in April 1945, shortly before the Russians took over. They blew up the over-ground bunkers, but used the rest of the site as a munitions depot. The submarine — sorry, subterranean — bunker survived, and is still accessible through a hatch in the ground.
In the pitch dark underground, water drips incessantly from the low claustrophobic ceilings — drip, drip, drip — conjuring a terrifying reminder of the sailors’ fate as they battled in cramped conditions for their lives under the waves. Tension rises with each drop until it becomes unbearable and very soon you too are dealing with waves of panic. It’s impossible to stay for long.
Bowled Over: Abandoned Bowling Alley
Formerly one of Berlin’s most popular bowling alleys, Süd-Bowling now lies empty, vandalized and gutted by fire. No one has bowled here for over for 20 years or more. It’s going spare.
The old Kegelbahn, as Germans call bowling alleys, used to have 16 lanes, but no trace of them remains. The ceiling is collapsing in a jumble of cables and metal bars, soggy rubble covers the ground wherever you step, and old hoardings meekly advertise wares and services from a bygone era.
One pin remains, in the carpark under the alley itself, but all its colleagues have split. All that’s left is the reluctant kingpin, bowled over.
Ciarán Fahey explores the stunning ruins of Germany’s capital at Abandoned Berlin, where you can discover more of these derelict wonders.