6 March 2021

Teufelsberg: Abandoned Cold War Listening Station Built on an Artificial Hill

A remnant of the Cold War, Teufelsberg Listening Station stands deserted, abandoned to the ravages of time and vandals.  Dominating Brandenburg Plain, in the northern section of Berlin’s Grunewald Forest, the permanent station at Teufelsberg was constructed in 1963.  Yet perhaps the most surprising fact is that the hill itself is less than twenty years older than the listening station that sits atop it.

At the end of the Second World War, Berlin was in ruins.  The process was to take more than twenty The process of rebuilding was to take more than twenty years but by 1948 the city was in crisis.  The Soviet Union had blocked all transport access to the parts of the city under Allied control, to effectively control Berlin.

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The Allies responded with a vast airlift to bring in supplies but it also meant that the rubble of the buildings destroyed in the war could not be transported away from the city.  The vast amount of debris from West Berlin could not be carried away and so was dumped within the city limits and called Teufelsberg  - the name translates to Devil’s Mountain.

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Even more bizarrely, however, the space upon which Teufelsberg was formed was already occupied by a building – an unfinished Nazi military technical college, designed by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer.  Yet efforts to demolish it proved fruitless, such was the robustness of its design and it was decided that it would, instead, simply be buried by the rubble.  By 1950, 600 lorry loads a day was being dumped at the site.

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The artificial hill was first made in to ski slopes but by 1961 mobile Allied listening units were in place on the hill.  Although located in the British sector of Berlin, the US National Security Agency was approved to build its own enormous and permanent listening station atop Devil’s Mountain in 1963.  As Teufelsberg was considered something of a mouthful by American personnel, it was rechristened simply as The Hill.  As the station took shape, the ski lifts were unceremoniously removed.

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The station was in continuous operation until just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and of East Germany in 1989.  When the two Germanys came together in 1990 it no longer had a purpose.  The station was shut down and all the equipment removed leaving only the (still impressive) shell and radar domes in place.  The next few decades would be ones of decidedly mixed fortunes for Teufelsberg.

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The fall of the wall and German reunification saw something of an economic boom for Berlin.  A group of investors purchased the site with the idea of building hotels and apartments –at a height of 394 feet Teufelsberg commands impressive views.  There was even talk of creating a spy museum on top of the hill.

However, with every boom comes bust.  Too many buildings were built too quickly and the proposed projects soon became unsustainable.  So the site sits empty and in a state of steady decline. Its only visitors are occasional tour groups and any number of the city’s urban explorers and street artists.

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It seems unlikely that anything will now be built or rebuilt on the hill – Berlin’s city planners designated Devil’s Mountain as forest in 2006. As the decades roll by, it looks as if that is exactly what Teufelsberg will become.

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