Believe it or not, Berlin is one of the most unique cities I’ve ever explored. Between memorials and relics from World War II, one hell of a street art culture, and abandoned airports, Olympic villages and Spreepark amusement park, the city never ceased to amaze me. Someday I’ll have to write a full blog post about my week there, but for now, here’s a tidbit.
I’ve been known more than once to explore places that were technically off-limits. From an abandoned church in Prizren, Kosovo to ending up in a Finnish Prison, there’s a reason I call myself an adventure blogger. This is my story of doing the same in Berlin. This is not a recommendation for others to do so, but I’m never going to complain if another traveler follows in my footsteps.
First of all, Berlin was originally built to accommodate several million people. Far more than its current population of 3.5 million. In fact, the population peaked at 4.5 million in 1942. Now there are shells of buildings throughout the city center, and relics all over to be explored. Parts of the city can appear to be practically abandoned. Verily, many places are.
There are three airports in the city, but only one is needed. Currently, the Tegel airport is in use, but will close when the Brandenburg opens. The Brandenburg itself is years overdue opening, and that’s a story in itself. Then there’s Tempelhof, Hitler’s prize airfield. Closing in 2008, it’s now a recreational center where locals paraskate down the abandoned runways, and a community garden has sprung up in the grass.
Another fantastic relic I only found out about after I left is the Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium) and nearby Olympic Village built for the 1936 Olympics. That’s where the legendary Jesse Owens won his four gold medals with Hitler watching from the grandstands. It’s on my bucket list now for the next time I go to Berlin. If you want to explore before I do, follow this guide.
Then there’s Spreepark. Originally built in 1969 and called Kulturpark Plänterwald, it changed its name to Spreepark in 1989. It operated until 2002 when the park faced bankruptcy and the owners fled to Peru with six of the attractions! Since then, it’s been deserted. Guided tours offered now and then, but it’s mostly closed to the public and guarded against entry.
You might have actually seen the park. It was a key scene in the 2011 movie Hanna. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite look the same, as a fire destroyed part of the remaining buildings in August ’14.
Now there is a fence running around the entire park, and a construction firm has set up at one end of the park for some kind of development. I walked around the entire perimeter trying to find a way in, and finally settled on crawling through a gap in the fence. With the thick overgrowth, there was only so much I could explore, and I had earlier seen guards in the park, although they had cheerfully waved at me when they saw me inspecting another hole in the fence earlier.
The park was certainly eerie. After 15 years, the attractions can hardly be recognized as such. Vegetation is everywhere, and only a handful of attractions remain. However, if you’re an enthusiast for exploring abandoned locations, this place is perfect! You could spend hours getting to every point of the park. Part of that might be spent dodging the guards, in case they’re less cheerful at seeing you on the wrong side of the fence.
My couchsurfing host did tell me an interesting story about people who have jumped the fence. There was a group a few years back that was caught by the guards and fined, except for one member of the group. It was an old lady. When questioned by the guards, she said she simply wanted to see the park again, as she had enjoyed it as a youth. Instead of ordering her to pay, the guards treated her to lunch and a special tour of the park.
Unfortunately, I only got a handful of photos from within the park. If you want to read a fantastic account of the park, including lots of updates and all the best photos, check out this post. I really love exploring urban ruins when I travel. I know there’s also an abandoned waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. I’ll have to make it out to that one someday too.