Monday, January 21, 2013

Teufelsberg (Abandoned spy station)

A Cold War relic lies abandoned on top of a mountain made of rubble, built over a Nazi college that couldn't be destroyed after the end of World War II. The gates of the former US spy station are locked and secure; its perimeter sealed by an uncompromising high fence, an angry crisscross mesh of wires that clearly imply: “Eintritt Verboten!”

Welcome to Teufelsberg, literally “Devil's Mountain,” a hill reaching 114.7 meters above sea-level, made from an estimated 12 million cubic meters of war rubble (apparently about 400,000 bombed houses) pushed together in the north of the Grunewald forest in West Berlin.

Buried deep beneath is what's left of a planned Nazi-military training school designed by chief Nazi architect Albert Speer. So sturdy was it that attempts by the Allies to destroy it failed, so they covered it with rubble instead. There was plenty of it around at the time. Every day, 80 truckloads of 7,000 cubic meters of rubble collected mostly by local women used to arrive. They became known as Trümmerfrauen or “rubble women” for their efforts.

Perched atop this (wo)man-made mound now sits the old abandoned listening or intelligence-gathering station used during the Cold War by the Americans and British to learn what was going on in Russian-controlled East Germany. It wasn't very discreet; three huge bulbous globes, two “radomes” perched atop buildings three-stories high and another sitting a further six-stories higher, creating a giant condom-shaped tower.

I mean, the Ruskis must have known this stuff was here, especially as it was built on Berlin's highest “mountain.” Maybe the Amis wanted to taunt their foes with their phallic handiwork. Evidently it was a source of great pride.

Due to its unique fucked-up history – a starring role in two World Wars and its subsequent division between the world's superpowers – Berlin found itself at the center of the so-called Cold War. This had nothing to do with nuclear snowballs, but was a pseudo war that flattered to deceive and ultimately never came to fruition despite the considerable expense accrued by its protagonists. Another considerable waste of money and illustration of human folly.

Spying and surveillance were the order of the day in divided Berlin. American mobile listening units, eavesdropping on Soviet and East German communications in the late 1950s, discovered they got better reception and coverage from the top of the 115 meter-high Teufelsberg. Quelle surprise!

The first mobile units took up position atop the hill in July 1961, with more permanent facilities following in 1963 before Field Station Berlin Teufelsberg gradually grew over the following years to become one of the West's largest spying stations ever.

As the mountain was in fact located in the British sector of Berlin, the Brits and Americans cooperated on their spying programs. (Presumably this means the Brits did whatever the U.S. National Security Agency told them to.)

USM 620 Kilo, as it was also known, was part of the worldwide Echelon spy network. Each radome globe contained massive 12-metre satellite dishes and the most sophisticated spying equipment for the time, enabling the western powers to intercept satellite signals, radio waves, microwave links and other transmissions, before interpreting and analyzing their findings. It’s clear that they didn't really trust the Ruskis that much. The feeling was mutual.

Contrary to common belief, however, there was no radar equipment ever installed at the facility.* There was no need for it. Radar is used to detect objects (such as airplanes, missiles, terrain) and the Allies already had radar facilities at Tegel, Templehof and Gatow airports. Teufelsberg’s function was to listen – nothing more.

Field Station Teufelsberg lost its raison d'être after the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War, and was eventually abandoned in 1992 to the Wildschwein that allegedly call Grunewald home. The Americans used to call them “Grunie Pigs.” I didn't meet any of course, proving again beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don't exist.

In 1996, the 4.7-hectare site was sold to developers for 5.2 million Deutschmark, and they started with their plans to build “exclusive” apartments (must have taken their cue from Irish developers), a hotel and restaurant, as well as a spy-museum. Spiraling costs put paid to all that however, and the project was abandoned mid-construction after reaching debts of €50 million.

In February 2008, filmmaker David Lynch tried buy the place along with some crazy foundation of meditationists and yoga-bashers who wanted to build a “Happiness College” featuring a 12-storey 50-meter high “Tower of Invincibility” to house 1,000 students. The city turned down the proposals for some reason.

Another group of hopeless romantics, nostalgic for the good old Cold War days, want to preserve the remains of Field Station Teufelsberg as a memorial. They bemoan the damage caused to their beloved spy station by vandals and other unwanted visitors. The “Save Teufelsberg” campaign is now in full swing.

No new buildings can be erected on the site after it was declared part of the surrounding forested area in 2004, though the developers still retain hope of constructing apartments in the existing buildings. Negotiations are ongoing.

There was a time curiosity appeasers could enter through the broken fence and go in for a wander, but opportunists have taken advantage of the ongoing uncertainty by leasing the land and charging visitors admission. So ist Berlin. The group claims to be protecting the vandalized buildings from vandals. Sometimes they offer tours too. The fence has been repaired and thuggish security guards demand money from those who jump over it.

The situation is likely to continue until the developers and city agree on Teufelsberg’s ultimate fate. Of course, it would be great to see it restored/preserved, but that all costs money the city doesn’t have and developers don’t give away without something in return.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to update the visiting guide below to reflect the current situation. You can either take your chances with security or simply cough up the money they demand. Fittingly perhaps, it’s a devil’s choice.

What
Field Station Berlin Teufelsberg (Abandoned listening/spy station and Cold War relic.)

Where
Teufelsbergchaussee, 14193, Berlin.

How to get there
Get the S-Bahn, S9 or S75 to Heerstraße, or S1 to Grunewald and walk/cycle from there. Map can be accessed here.

Getting in
From the carpark simply walk the paved “Dragonfly street” path until you come to the fence. It’s much better fortified since someone noticed there was money to be made. If you follow it around you’ll come to the main gate. It’s the easiest entrance point but from there you’ll likely have to contend with security.

When to go
Daytime is better for observation purposes. Teufelsberg also provides good vistas of the city of Berlin. Nighttime could be good for parties, though care should be taken not to fall drunkenly from the unsecured tower. Fall soberly if you have to.

Difficulty rating
8/10 if you plan on avoiding security, 1/10 if you accede to paying them.
 
Who to bring
Friends for a party and exploration. Girlfriend/boyfriend for a romantic vista over Berlin.

What to bring
Camera. Beer. A torch. Maybe a few sandwiches. All that exploring can be hungry work!

Dangers
Not all ladders in the towers are secured to the concrete. Be careful! Luckily I was able to climb back down the one I ascended, or I'd still be there now.
Wind. It can get very breezy on Berlin's highest point. Most of the surviving buildings don't have walls so be careful you don't get blown off.

Again, spread the word, and suggestions for other abandoned and dangerous sites to be explored would be most welcome!

*I had this confirmed by Reinhard von Bronewski, whose excellent Berlin-Brigade site is a treasure trove for anyone interested in U.S. operations and sites during the Cold War in Berlin. Mr. von Bronewski said he'd spoken with many former Teufelsberg military police and troops, including high-ranking officers, and they all said the same thing: “This was no radar hill.”

This post has been updated from the one that first appeared on June 26, 2009, to take the latest developments into account, add some historical details, more photos, and make some other general improvements. All photos were taken on June 23, 2009.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Two!

Mad how you can double in age overnight. Last night he was a one-year-old, now he’s two. Two! Jaysus, what a difference a night makes, even if it took a year to pass.
He’s still great and we still love him, even if the guarantee ran out and we’ve no hope of returning him now.
Now he’s a man, or at least on his way to becoming a man. He already cusses like a man, sometimes he spits on the floor, and he mightn’t scratch his balls in public yet, but he farts without shame.
Yes, we’re really proud of him, for different reasons. He keeps both sides of the cultural divide happy like a true master of diplomacy.
I think it’s fair to say he can talk now. He’s certainly never shy about voicing his opinion in any language. He speaks several, some known only to himself, but German, English, Irish and Spanish are among them – I regret to say in order of proficiency.
I guess it’s no surprise German is gaining the upper hand seeing as he’s bombarded with it every day. These Germans are taking no chances are doing their best to mould him in their way. They’re merciless, offering his brain no respite as if trying to ease their own suffering by shifting it on to someone else.
Not content with hammering the language into his little head, they’re teaching him things too, especially at the Kita, where they’re doing their best to stamp out any burgeoning imagination with facts – hard facts, soft facts and in-between facts.
He can count, to sieben or something like that, and I think they’ve been teaching him colours too. They’ve also been force-feeding him songs, more songs than a singer can sing.
But it’s a cruel world, and rather than let them win, I have to teach him things too. I’m proud to say (genuinely) that he can count to three, usually by omitting two, but this makes me prouder still, as he achieves the same result in the quickest possible way.
He’s incredibly receptive to advice, and I guess it’s understandable as he’s still relatively new and still finding his way in the world. I try to give him the benefit of my hard-earned experience. I tell him to stay the hell away from priests, politicians and police. I haven’t mentioned the prostitutes or pediatricians yet but that can wait until he’s older.
Thankfully the Germans haven’t managed to teach him any manners yet, and he actually seems to like singing, despite not knowing any words or having any natural talent. I guess it didn’t stop Bono…
“He knows a shitload of songs,” Jenny said when I asked her for a contribution to this birthday tribute. “He knows about 40 and all the words too.”
Well, he might know the words. He just doesn’t know how to say them yet. Still, it doesn’t stop him singing at every opportunity. The tunes are instantly recognizable and he’s receptive to new lyric suggestions. The “Arsey Song” is my particular favourite. It’s quite easy as “arsey” is the only lyric.
“He’s cheeky,” Jenny added firmly (and not for the first time).
True, he’s no angel. He’s already come to the unfortunate realisation that “verboten” means more fun can be had.
But then angels are boring and his heart is in the right place. With reasoning and valid arguments for doing something a certain way he’ll go along with it. Otherwise not. And he likes to help out; he just wants to be involved in everything. He’ll take stuff out of the fridge, put it back when we’re finished with it, throw rubbish (and other things) in the bin, and even help sweeping and mopping.
He takes good care of Moley and Hedgehog, his best friends, and ensures the rest of his animals and dependents are well fed and watered. When not caring for his toys he likes bashing the shit out of them. Noise is a source of great amusement, unless you’re not one of our unfortunate neighbours.
Yeah, he’s a messer alright. I don’t know where he gets that from. Lately he’s been laughing so hard at things he falls over. Fantastic sense of humour. He thinks peas are hilarious because they have the same name as pee.
I could write and write and write, but if I keep going he’ll be three by the time I finish. I could mention he likes licking his own snot when he has a runny nose, or wiping it on my shoulder before I go to work, that kicking, jumping and throwing are complemented by puzzle-solving, books and quiet contemplation, that he has a soft spot for elephants, that he pretends to fall asleep before getting up again, and that paella and spuds are still his favourite dishes, though “peas and cabbots” are a new found love. Cabbots sounds so much better than carrots, I think I’ll be using cabbots from now on.
He’s a scamp, there’s no other way to describe him, a scamp with an infectious joie de vivre which will always have us grateful for the day he was born two years ago.
Happy birthday little fella, you’re the best.

Pictures above are all recent, except the one horizontal picture, taken when he was just over a year old. I include it for comparison purposes, because only after going through a year’s worth of photos do I realise he’s changed so much – indeed, that he’s changing at a frightening pace. Honestly, every day I’ve seen him for the last two years he has looked perfectly normal, so now I realize I must be the strange one…
Anyway, above pics are mostly recent, below are previously unseen pics from the last year. 


Friday, January 11, 2013

Politics, the scourge of democracy

There should come a point in the democratic process when those who use it to gain power by dishonest means can be removed once their methods are shown clearly for what they are.
Democracy by definition is government through the will of the people. But people are human; they can be tricked, duped, lied to. Politicians take advantage of this fatal flaw in an imperfect system to form so-called democratically elected governments. In effect, they’re anything but. It can’t be a democracy without the people’s will.
Ireland’s current government of Fine Gael and Labour swept to power in 2011 on the back of fabrications, falsehoods and pure fiction – downright lies – and has admitted as much recently as members found they could no longer bullshit their way to explain immoral cuts on the poor, sick, disabled and elderly while tax breaks are given to the rich.
Ireland is, of course, a country defined by the idiotic and self-serving interests of its leaders, but there was genuine hope this current government would reverse the disastrous policies of its Fianna Fáil-led predecessor. This was no coincidence, for this is what it said it would do.
Lies, damn lies. The same fuckers who opposed the IMF, EU and ECB Troika as they were circling around the carcass of Ireland’s banking system now bow to their new masters, even rewarding unsecured bondholders with billions in taxpayers’ money when there was no (clear) financial, legal or strategic incentive for doing so.
Meanwhile, Audi just delivered a fleet of luxury vehicles for the government to ferry around foreign officials during Ireland’s EU presidency, apparently free and at no cost to the taxpayer, though it’s hard to believe such a show of kindness from the German automobile maker comes without a price being paid elsewhere.
I read “The Big Lie” by Gene Kerrigan, in which he asks, “Who profits from Ireland’s austerity?” It’s a good book, worth reading, and the short answer to that question is everyone but the taxpayer, with technocrats and bankers profiting more than most.
It would be relatively easy to get Ireland’s finances in order again. After all, it’s quite a small country, and the debts are small too (albeit obscene per head of population), but the ruling classes have no intention of slaying the lucrative cash cow they’ve created for themselves.
The media is complicit too, with lazy journalists regurgitating the guff about Ireland’s belt-tightening leading to a return to the bond markets – as if this is something to sing and dance about.
A return to the bond markets will not mean anything for anyone whose respite carer’s allowance was cut, who died because their medical card was taken away, or who took their own life because mental health services were cut.
Are you listening Frau Merkel? Perhaps it’s you I should be addressing.
Of course Germans will know nothing about democracy either. Later this year they will be presented with a choice between the incumbent and an incompetent – at least from a political strategy point of view. Peer Steinbrück may have been merely honest with his opinions when he said the chancellor wasn’t paid enough and that Merkel benefited from a “female bonus” but, as I think I’ve made clear, honesty doesn’t win elections.