5 underrated historical sites in Berlin.
Berlin is a vibrant city dotted with historical landmarks, references, and memorials, with excellent food, coffee culture and party spread in between. Yet there is so much more to it than the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag, the sites we all well know. What comes after being stunned at the impressive “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”? Whether you got the classics covered, you are hungry for more or you just want to venture off the tracks beaten by hundred guidebooks, here are 5 gems of underrated or lesser known places featuring Berlin’s infamous 20th-century history, some of which if most neo-Berliners do not know.
Teufelsberg (“Devil’s mountain”)
Teufelsberg is man-made hill created of second-world-war debris and covers an unfinished Nazi military-technical college. During the Cold War the US Spy Agency NSA moved in and set up and one of their largest listening station on its top sniffing towards East German and Soviet radio traffic. The ruins of the buildings and its radomes still stand out as landmarks of the area. As most of Berlin’s abandoned buildings, it became a magnet for street artists and investors and has an unclear future. If lucky you might be able to get in or get a tour for a small fee. If not, the trip is a worthwhile escape from the city nevertheless. Together with its sister peak Drachenberg (“Kite mountain”), it forms a large recreational area north of Grunewald forest, full of trails and great vistas over the forest and the city. Add a detour to the Olympia stadium if there is time. Also noteworthy: After underestimating its height for decades, new measurements in 2013 confirmed that the Teufelsberg reaches a height of 120.1 meters above sea level and therefore is the highest point in Berlin county. The new fame did not last long, however, in 2015 it was determined that a rubble heap for building waste on the hill ridge of the Arkenerberge rises to 120.7 m superseding the Teufelsberg as the highest point in Berlin.
Schwerbelastungskörper (“heavy load-bearing body”)
In 1941 Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer erected a massive cylinder of solid concrete in Tempelhof to measure ground subsidence caused by its weight and determine the feasibility of the national socialist’s megalomaniac urban planning concepts for the new world capital Berlin. The visions for the restructuring of the city included a gigantic triumphal arch, a huge assembly hall, and a cross of two boulevards, each about 120m wide and several kilometers long. Fortunately, these plans never got realized, but the heavy block of concrete – 12,650 tonnes, 14m high and 21m in diameter – could not be safely demolished and keeps slowly sinking into the Berlin soil. I recommend booking a guided tour that tells the stories with all its gory details.
Volkspark Humboldthain / Volkspark Friedrichshain
Flaktürme (Flak-towers) are huge concrete blockhouses built for anti-aircraft gun warfare in 1940ies in major German-speaking cities. Most of Berlin’s Flaktürme were blown up after the war such as the towers located the Berlin Zoo. The towers at the Volkspark Friedrichshain were demolished, filled and covered with sand and further buildings’ debris and turned into hills called the “Grosser Bunkerberg” (78m high) and “Kleiner Bunkerberg”, significantly changing Berlin’s oldest public park. The towers of the Humboldthain park were mostly demolished, filled with further rubble and “Humboldthöhe” (84m) rose – by now, you know the story of how Berlin’s hills emerge despite the flat and soft soil. However, some towers parts still remain. You can hike on top of it and enjoy the panorama view or tour the bunker inside. Some walls can be tackled by sports climbers. Both are beautiful parks with a long history and popular leisure locations catering all recreational desires. Fight off the demons of the Second World war at Friedrichshain parks’ Märchenbrunnen (Fairy Tale Fountain) or Humboldthain Park’s rose garden and 50m outdoor swimming pool.
Aerodynamic Park Adlershof
Berlin Tempelhof Airport is an iconic pre-World War II airport and the former airfield turned into a recreational space (Tempelhofer Feld) is well worth visit, but even native Berliners rarely know that their first airfield was located 15 kilometers South of Berlin center. Johannisthal airfield preceded Tempelhof and was opened 1909 as one of the world’s first motorized airfields. It was Berlin’s primary airport until the opening of Tempelhof in the 1920ies. Today the area of the former airfield is a landscape park and nature reserve. Adlershof is a major urban development area with emerging science, research and media clusters. Dotted around the campus of the Humboldt-University and held together under the label “Aerodynamic Park” are a few strange-looking monuments of the German Experimental Institute for Aviation erected in the 20s and 30s as well as contemporary artworks: The “Grosser Windkanal” (a wind tunnel), the “Trudelturm” (A vertical spin tunnel) and sound installations next to a soundproofed engine test bed, where you can sip a beer as it serves as a student-run café nowadays.
Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park)
Treptower Park is my favorite jogging ground in the city (followed closely by Rummelsburger Bucht on the opposite bank of the Spree River). Watch the boats while sipping a coffee, jog, hike or cycle through the vast areal of the park or rent a Kayak and paddle the Spree – this is a great hideout from the urban concrete landscape. “Hidden” in the park is also the Soviet War Memorial, which serves both as graves for over 7000 Soviet soldiers and as a memorial to commemorate the estimated 80.000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin. The gigantic monument is also an impressive demonstration of pathetic socialist-realistic art, the main actor in this large-scale dramaturgy is a 12m statue of a soldier holding a child in one hand and a sword over a shattered swastika in the other. The memorial also proves there are more uses for buildings’ debris next to creating hills: It’s said the memorial was built of stones and marble of the demolished Reich Chancellery (Though definitely, this is cherry picking). Germany had to agree to assume maintenance and repair responsibility on all Soviet war memorials as part of the Two Plus Four Agreement that enabled the German reunification, so it’s likely the memorial will be around for a while.
What’s next: Did you now Berlin is just a few hours away from the beach? Head North to the Ostsee (Baltic Sea) and after a dip into the seawater at Prora – a gigantic beach resort for Nazi Germany’s Strength through Joy project on the island Rügen – go for Peenemünde, the former Army Research center and infamous V-2 rocket research and production plant on the island Usedom.