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Welcome to the latest edition of my guest post series ‘Off-Beat Experts’ where I put the question out to the pros about their favourite off-the-beaten-track places they’ve visited. Expect first-hand accounts from those who have already been there and done it, digging out the best of quirky, abandoned, dark-tourism, unusual or overlooked places around the globe.
Meet the Guest Writers
Anna and Anthony
Anna and Anthony are long-time travellers, polyglots and travel bloggers. Today, they talk about abandoned Berlin, on a historical place that has been given back to nature, just a short way outside the German capital.
What is the name and location of the off-beat place you are writing about?
The Beelitz Sanatorium (“Beelitz-Heilstätten” in German) near Berlin was one of the largest hospital complexes in the world and served two different armies. How important it used to be is clear from the area it covers and the rich architecture of its more than 60 buildings.
Today, the vegetation has invaded the brick buildings and created an eerie atmosphere. It’s probably one of the coolest urban exploration experiences you can get so it’s certainly worth a day-trip if you happen to be in Berlin, Germany!
How do you get to the Beelitz Sanatorium?
You just hop on a train. The easiest way is to get on a regional train RE7 from Berlin until “Beelitz-Heilstätten Bahnhof” (Beelitz Sanatorium Station); it takes less than an hour and leaves fairly regularly but check ahead. Be careful not to go to “Beelitz” though, which is a little town nearby but slightly out of the way. By car, you can drive along the A115 towards the South – it’s 50 km from Berlin and only 20 km from Potsdam.
Once you get there, the buildings are all around, scattered in the forest, but the tours’ meeting point for the tour is a 5-minute walk towards the north-west.
What was your experience of exploring one of the creepiest abandoned places in Berlin like?
The two of us actually had very different experiences of visiting Beelitz.
Anna: ‘I visited recently with a guided tour of one of the areas; there are 4 different areas to visit, each one a separate tour that costs 10€. The tour goes through different rooms and tells you the history and anecdotes of the buildings.’
Anthony: ‘I visited back in 2010 when there weren’t any tours yet. There wasn’t any organised tourism, one had to find a way in somehow, climbing fences and walls, crawling through small basement windows – illegally and for free’.
Some people consider that the place has lost its feeling, that it isn’t urban exploration anymore. We agree in great part. But each building, and the whole site in general, retains an atmosphere of glorious past that will be hard to whitewash away.
Anna: ‘There’s something interesting though: Anthony has more vivid memories of that place than I did, even though he visited 9 years earlier. Could it be because there was more adrenaline involved?’
What is the history of Beelitz Sanatorium? Why has it been abandoned?
The whole sanatorium complex was built in 1898 to cure the workers who were diagnosed with tuberculosis. Despite being so close to the city, the air is already purer here, as the green landscape can attest. In fact, the region is famous nowadays for its white asparagus.
When World War I broke out, the German military took possession of the buildings for its wounded. In October 1916, a young German soldier named Adolf Hitler got admitted there for a leg wound. Unfortunately, he survived it.
At the end of World War II, the site was occupied by the USSR army and turned into a Soviet hospital until 1995. Not so long ago!
After the Soviet block fell in 1991 and Germany reunited, a large number of people from East Germany left their home to follow the capitalist dream of the West. Even nowadays there are still loads of abandoned places in Germany. There are still many empty and derelict houses, factories and public buildings throughout the Eastern part of the country. A real paradise for urban explorers and photographers!
Today, only a few of the 60 buildings are still in use for medical purposes. Another part has been re-purposed for tourism, and another again remains vacant, sometimes in hazardous conditions. Some of the smaller buildings have been refurbished as country houses and have residents.
What could you see at the abandoned hospital?
Imagine wandering around in a forest and bumping into derelict 19th-century brick buildings.
Of course, it’s quite empty and broken inside this abandoned Berlin relic from the past. But because the buildings served different purposes, the interiors are quite varied, even in their current state. You will roam around surgery wards, bedrooms and bathrooms, offices, sports halls, etc.
There’s still medical furniture from the ’80s scattered around, and objects which belonged to the patients and the staff. There are actually more objects now than before it opened as a tourist attraction; they were probably collected together from different buildings.
You will also see a lot of graffiti, some of them clearly adding to the fascinating aura of the place.
In one part of the site, a very high wooden walkway has been built recently, along with a viewing platform. It’s called the “Baumkronenpfad” because you walk above the treetops. Some people say it gives the beautiful feeling of walking on top of the world. Plus, it gives you the best view on the beautiful green landscape around. We personally found it inadequate and out of the blue. Oh, it costs 10€ too.
What are your best memories and what were the highlights from visiting this little part of abandoned Berlin?
Anna: ‘I felt there was history all around. The guide told us about the patients and their lives, and the history of the place. My favourite building was the dormitory of the Women’s Surgery Ward where trees are growing right in the meeting room.’
Anthony: ‘I really enjoyed the challenge of entering each building, at the time when it was not allowed. My friend and I knew that people had done it before us so we knew it was possible. Maybe there were even people inside already! I felt I was part of a community.
There was that time when we circled a large building to find a way in and finally saw a broken window, maybe 3 metres above the ground. On the floor, about one metre away, there was an overturned fridge (was it a fridge? what was it doing there?!). Suddenly, it was obvious that we had to climb atop that fridge and then lift ourselves up through the window. It looked like a video game, when there’s only one way to do something and you have to find it.
So we got on the fridge, grabbed the window sill, climbed up to the window… and arrived in a small amphitheatre. On our side were the rows of cinema-like seats, all facing the opposite wall. When we managed to climb up and look at that wall, we read a large graffiti saying “Teach your children to worship Satan”. What a welcome that was!’
Are there any recommendations you would give, or comments you’d like to add?
- Bring your own food and water, as what is sold there is sold dearly.
- If you want a tour in any language other than German, make sure to arrange it in advance by email.
- Bring your camera, because what you will see is definitely picture-worthy! Book a tour at the time you will get the most favourable light, for example, early morning or right before sunset.
- Note that tours don’t include transportation from Berlin.
Anthony: ‘There is enough to visit in Beelitz Sanatorium for two days. When I was there, it was possible to wild camp in the forest and resume the exploration in the morning. That’s what we did. I don’t think I got much sleep that night!’
Thank you for being an Off-Beat Expert
I’d like to thank Anna and Anthony for this awesome account of a little part of abandoned Berlin they visited. The Beelitz Sanatorium certainly gets a thumbs-up as one of the best off-beat places in Germany. I will certainly be adding this to my itinerary when I’m next in the country. I’d certainly be up for trying the wild camping near the Sanatorium. Would you?