Part street art, part urbex, “My Name is MO” is a very clever video from MTO with the background story to a 1900 square metre mural painted at the Old Pepper Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky.
“My name is MO”
Part street art, part urbex, “My Name is MO” is a very clever video from MTO with the background story to a 1900 square metre mural painted at the Old Pepper Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky.
“My name is MO”
The water at the BVG Freibad, an abandoned open-air swimming pool on Siegfriedstrasse in the Berlin district of Lichtenberg, doesn’t look too inviting, even on a hot day.
The pool was built in 1928, the same year the neighbouring stadium was acquired by the newly formed BVG (Berliner Verkehrs Aktiengesellschaft, now the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe), the public company responsible for running Berlin’s transport network, and renamed the BVG-Stadion.
Initially a recreational pool for BVG employees but also used as a training pool for the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, the Freibad went into hibernation after the Second World War to be reawakened again in the 1970s as a Sommervolksbad for the people of the DDR.
In 1969, the BVG in East Berlin became the BVB (Kombinat Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) and the stadium and pool were then known as the BVB-Stadion and BVB Freibad.
The pool has been closed since the late 1980s and like the Wernerbad in Kaulsdorf is slowly being reclaimed by nature.
Whilst researching the BVG Freibad before my visit in May 2013 I found the above photo of the Neptunfest at the pool in 1985 so, as I emerged from the trees having crawled through a gap in the fence* the sound of people laughing and splashing in the water was ringing in my ears.
*This was unnecessary it seems as the posts I’ve read from those who have been since suggest walking in through the stadium entrance.
Nobody would want to swim here now though – trees grow in the brown water of the main pool, the wading pool is bone dry.
The changing rooms were locked up tight, the clock on the roof suggested they’d been closed since noon. Unfortunately, for the purposes of my research no date was given.
I ignored the signs warning me that walking past / through the foot bath in shoes is not allowed – better to break the rules than walk barefoot through the weeds and crumbling concrete.
The steps to the diving tower have been removed, presumably to make sure nobody jumps in sideways now that there are no lifeguards to enforce the rule painted on it. Jumping from it would be crazy now, whichever way you did it. If the tree roots didn’t grab a foot and keep you under you could end up with E.coli.
There isn’t that much to see but the BVG Freibad on Siegfriedstrasse has a certain charm so Berlin urbex enthusiasts should get to Lichtenberg and check out this abandoned swimming pool while you can still see the water for the trees.
It’s been a while since any important meetings were held at the abandoned Kongresszentrum des Sportforums Berlin (the Conference Centre of the Berlin Sport Forum) in Hohenschönhausen and they’re no longer taking bookings at the attached Sporthotel. Mind you, no one in their right mind would want to stay there – between the smashed windows, detached fire escape and bricked up doors, it’s no longer hospitable or safe.
The Kongresszentrum and Sporthotel were built to complement the Sportforum Berlin (or Sportforum Hohenschönhausen), which was established in the 1950s as a centre for sporting excellence.
The Sportforum, which is still operational, is the second largest sports complex in Berlin after the Olympiapark and the 35 sports facilities here are used for training elite athletes as well as for recreational sport.
The complex was also previously known as the Dynamo-Sportforum as it was home to SC Dynamo Berlin, the sports club of the Ministry of Police and the Ministry for State Security (the Stasi).
It was here that BFC Dynamo played their home games from 1961 to 1971 and have done again since 1992. It is said that Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, was so determined to establish BFC Dynamo as the most successful team in East German football that the players of the then leading team, Dynamo Dresden, were forced to relocate to Berlin in 1954.
In 1998, the Sportforum was handed over to Berlin by the TLG (Treuhand Liegenschaftsgesellschaft), a successor to the Treuhandanstalt and responsible for the privatisation of former state owned companies of the East German government after reunification.
The Kongresszentrum got added to my list of places to explore when I spotted it from the window of a tram as I went home one evening.
Having checked it out online I set out one afternoon in June 2013 and at first I thought I was going to be thwarted in my attempts to get a look inside.
It was clear that someone had gone to some effort to secure the building – a number of the entrances had been bricked up, other doors and numerous windows on the lower floors had hardboard screwed to their frames.
On this occasion though, my perseverance paid off. Just when I thought I had exhausted all options, I spotted a panel that had been unscrewed. I moved the panel carefully to one side and even more carefully, crawled through the broken window making sure to avoid the jagged edges of the remaining glass shards.
It was then immediately obvious why the owners wanted to keep people out – vandals had clearly run amok in the building smashing or ripping out just about everything they could damage.
There were however still some signs of the buildings previous use and even some plans for renovation.
In 2007/8 it was used as a set for the Sat. 1 series GSG9 – Ihr Einsatz ist ihr Leben. There are still remnants of its use for filming – the glass of one room bore the engraving ‘Isolation Station’.
The vandals must have decided that their handiwork was falling short of their desire for destruction and in July 2013 the Congress Centre was the victim of an arson attack and the building burnt for several hours.
In 2010, the land on which the Conference Centre and Sports Hotel stands was acquired by a group of international investors, who have engaged the Moritz Group to develop the site on their behalf.
Moritz Group, led by long-time Hohenschönhausen resident Dirk Moritz, is also responsible for the rediscovery of an abandoned Cabaret Theatre in Mitte that I visited in 2012.
The Square³, as the planned development is currently known, echoes the land’s sporting history with its three towers of varying heights in gold, silver and bronze symbolising a podium.
As with all development projects in Berlin, these things take time. When I went back to the Kongresszentrum in August 2014 there was no sign of any progress. The entry point I used on my previous visit had been sealed even more securely than before – this time there were some chunky bolts where screws had been used before but some enterprising soul had found another way in.
Whilst there has been no discernible movement on the demolition and redevelopment of the Kongresszentrum des Sportforums Berlin it is only a matter of time. The owners are clearly doing their best to minimise the likelihood of explorers so the site is no longer truly abandoned, just dormant and decaying. If you would like to glimpse this relic of DDR Berlin you will need to hurry. It seems impossible to imagine the place looking any worse but please respect the opportunity to step into the past and leave the building in the same dilapidated state you find it.
Another classic Berlin urbex destination is now on borrowed time. The Einkaufszentrum Cité Foch, an abandoned shopping centre in Reinickendorf in the former French sector, will be torn down by its new owner, with the aim of building new housing on the site.
The Cité Foch (initially Cité Toucoulou) grew out of the Camp Foch, a settlement of the French Allies in post-war Berlin, and was a restricted area due to the presence of strategic sites, such as the listening post on Rue Montesquieu.
At the height of its popularity in 1991, the Cite Foch, named after Ferdinand Foch, a French Marshall, who was largely responsible for the Allied victory in the First World War, was home to 2,600 people.
The Einkaufszentrum Cité Foch was built in the 1970s to house the commissary (the food shop on a military base), a cinema and restaurant.
After the withdrawal of the French military from the area in 1994 there were some issues finding tenants for the housing estate. Though it is now a popular residential area, the shopping centre did not recover.
At the end of the 1990s, Famila Warenhaus moved in but Kaufland acquired the brand’s operation in Berlin in 2001 and closed the store in 2006.
The building has been partially empty since then, though an Aldi supermarket and an Elixia fitness centre continued to operate past this time. The last of the tenants left in 2011.
Since then, the building has been in limbo. The majority owner since 1998, a Swiss investor was insolvent and the minority owner, BIMA (Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben), the Federal Agency for Real Estate, was for some time unable to contact him.
Several proposals for renovation failed to come to fruition and vandalism and a lack of care took its toll on the building.
In July 2014, the main creditor of the previous owner, a Frankfurt-based asset manager, acquired outright control of the site in a foreclosure sale, having already purchased BIMA’s stake.
The building will now be demolished and sold with planning permission (assuming this is granted) to a developer.
When I visited on a cold February day the shopping centre was open to the elements. Though it was clear that some effort had been made in the past to secure it, I had the choice of several open doors and smashed windows to walk or crawl through.
I had to be careful as I wandered around in the darker corners not to slip on the ice on the floor, formed where the rain had dripped, or in come cases fallen through, cracks in the ceiling and holes in the roof.
Unfortunately, by the time I discovered the place the authorities had taken some measures to make the place safer and reduce the impact of vandalism – much of the building had been gutted, including removing the escalators that were the most impressive feature of the early urbex photos I saw.
I would suggest visiting the Einkaufszentrum Cité Foch soon for a chance to explore the abandoned shopping centre before the bulldozers move in – though it might already be too late, as recent news footage shows metal fences around the building, which may already have been secured against opportune visitors.
Berlin’s abandoned theme park, Spreepark Plänterwald, must be one of the most well-known urbex destinations in the world.
The neglected amusement park has been in my thoughts often since it was bought back by the city of Berlin in March 2014.
Spreepark hasn’t been open as an amusement park since 2002, when the owners ran into financial difficulties. Those troubles were compounded when a botched drug smuggling operation landed the head of the Witte family, Norbert, and his son Marcel in prison.
I wrote more about this intriguing back-story in my ‘Spreepark Plänterwald – Berlin’s Abandoned Theme Park’ post.
Since its closure, Spreepark has been an unofficial playground for curious souls eager to be swallowed by the brightly coloured tiger’s mouth of the Spreeblitz ride whilst the slowly turning Ferris Wheel provides an eerie soundtrack.
This beautifully shot and wonderfully atmospheric video from Friedhelm Fischer has me longing to return to the abandoned theme park by the banks of the Spree – one of those places that makes me think ‘Dat is Berlin!’
Lost Dreams – Spreepark Berlin
My search for forgotten and overlooked places in Berlin led me this week to Kaulsdorf and the Wernerbad (an abbreviated name for the Freibad Wernersee) where I found Knautschke, a concrete hippo, patrolling the long grass at the edge of the abandoned swimming pool.
Since 2002, when the Wernerbad closed, Knautschke has had the waters of the deserted pool to himself. Named after a popular hippo (Nilpferd or Flusspferd in German) at Berlin Zoo, the sculpture, along with a group of penguins that supervised the queues at the water fountain, was created by local sculptor Erwin Kobbert.
The original Knautschke was born in 1943 and survived the war thanks to the efforts of keepers at the zoo, who kept him watered after bombs destroyed part of the hippo enclosure. Unfortunately, having survived the bombing raids, he was so badly wounded by his own son Nante in 1988 that he had to be put to sleep.
The fate of the concrete Knautschke is just one of the issues that has concerned local residents since plans to reopen the pool were shelved.
The history of the Wernerbad begins at the turn of the twentieth century when Wilhelm Werner bought the land surrounding what is now the Wernersee (previously referred to as Katzenstertpfuhl or Achtruthenpfuhl). In 1901 he opened the Badeschlösschen, a restaurant and bathing lodge at the edge of the water, which assumed the name Wernerbad and was formally opened in 1905.
Predating the opening of the Strandbad Wannsee by two years this means that the Wernerbad was Berlin’s first open-air swimming pool (Freibad).
The ownership and running of the Freibad was taken over by the city of Berlin in 1951 and between 1957 and 1959 a 50m tiled pool was created.
A new system was installed at considerable cost to improve the quality of the water in the naturally fed pool in 1991, which was again closed for refurbishment in 1994 before finally closing its doors to visitors in 2002 due to new concerns about the water quality.
The association Freunde des Wernerbades e.V was established in 2006 with the aim of reopening the pool to the public but a number of issues meant that it was unable to achieve its objective. There were concerns over the lack of adequate parking, noise levels and the effect of increased traffic in the area. In addition the overgrown pool now provides a natural habitat for wildlife. The cost of the project also played a part as significant investment would be required to install a water treatment system capable of bringing the water quality up to current standards.
As a result, on 13 June 2013 the Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin (the state parliament or House of Representatives) approved the declassification of the Wernerbad as a sports area. This removes the site from the responsibility of Berliner Bäder Betriebe, the body that manages the swimming pools in Berlin, and allows for the sale of the land to an investor for development.
The latest proposal is for a home for the elderly with facilities for the treatment of dementia to take up the majority of the land. The Eastern shore of the Wernersee will remain accessible to the public.
Since the closure, Marzahn-Hellersdorf is the only district of Berlin without a Freibad. The local council has been hoping for some time to expand the Kinderbad in Bürgerpark Marzahn for adult swimming but lacked the funds to do so. It is now hoped that some of the proceeds of the sale of the Wenerbad can be used to finance this project.
As for Knautschke, Sven Kohlmeier, the SPD representative for Marzahn-Hellersdorf in the Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin is determined to ensure that the hippo remains in Kaulsdorf.
For now though, the reeds continue to grow around the roaring (or is he yawning) beast as he stands perfectly still in the dirty water of the Wernerbad, and the abandoned swimming pool in Kaulsdorf, like many of Berlin’s derelict sites and buildings is visited only by those out for a little urbex adventure.
Urban exploring doesn’t get much easier than a visit to the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf (far easier to visit than say) an abandoned train yard in Berlin. The train sheds, administrative buildings and turntable are conveniently (for exploring and formerly for repairing and servicing trains) right next to the S-Bahnhof.
Crossing the open land between the road and the main buildings I was a little nervous about being seen from the train station but there are no walls, fences or other barriers.
Opened on 1 October 1893 the train yard and depot operated until the 1990s but has been derelict since. For a more detailed history of the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf read this post on Digital Cosmonaut.
The first building I entered was the Roundhouse.
Back outside, I made my way through a number of outbuildings to the Train Turntable (Drehscheibe).
Then into the Engine sheds.
I went to Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf after my visit to the abandoned Iraqi Embassy so the light was fading at this stage and I didn’t have time to check out the administrative building. Watching the sun setting over the buildings I didn’t want to leave but exploring in the dark isn’t easy and is potentially dangerous.
For more impressions of the abandoned Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf in Berlin, check out this iPhone video from Albert N Romero.
Güterbahnhof Berlin-Pankow – Abandoned Train Roundhouse
Berlin was cold but sunny yesterday and when a friend had the ‘crazy idea’ to walk up the Teufelsberg I didn’t take much persuading.
The Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain) is a hill in the Grunewald forest in Berlin and is most famous for the former NSA Listening Station that sits at its peak.
As we walked from Grunewald S-Bahnhof I recounted the story of my previous trip to Teufelsberg in August 2010. Then, the Grunewald lived up to its name (Green Forest) but yesterday the predominant colour was white, the snow laying thick on the ground.
Having reached the top of the Teufelsberg we walked around the perimeter fence of the former NSA facility occasionally stopping to look up at the domes looming high above us.
On the Western slope of the hill we came across a group of sledgers, skiers and snowboarders enjoying the snow on the Rodelberg (the best translation from Google is toboggan mountain).
When we reached the main gates of the former NSA Listening station a guide was preparing to take a group of visitors on a tour and on a whim we decided to join them.
For €7 (or a reduced price of €5 for students) our guide led us to the main building in the complex and up the highest tower.
The main change to the building since my last visit was the addition of lots of great Street Art (much of it created for the aborted Artbase 2012 event) – so much in fact that I will post about it separately.
Our first stop as we climbed the tower was the highest floor with a view over Berlin.
Then it was up to the top dome, with its incredible acoustics, where we were treated to an impromptu performance from a singer who was there when we arrived.
Our guide (off camera in the video) then took up the baton and gave his own performance.
As we descended we stopped on the roof of the main building for more photo opportunities and as luck would have it we had timed it perfectly to see some wonderful colours in the sky as the sun began to set.
And then it was time to leave.
I think that €7 is a small price to pay for the wonderful views over Berlin and the opportunity to walk around the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg but the adrenaline rush of sneaking through the fence on my previous visit was sadly missing.
Built in 1974 and empty since staff were ordered to leave during the Gulf War in January 1991 the abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin is a popular Urbex destination.
The non-descript pre-fabricated concrete building (the Plattenbau style so common in Soviet-era East Germany) sits in a quiet cul-de-sac in the former diplomatic quarter of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) in Pankow.
Its grey walls belie its colourful past.
Iraq was the first non-Socialist country to recognise the DDR as a state in 1969 and a special friendship developed between the two countries. It is widely believed that the DDR was offering scientific help to Iraq, particularly with their development of nuclear and chemical weapons.
In 1980, two members of staff from the embassy were arrested in West Berlin whilst attempting deliver a suitcase of explosives as part of a plot to kill a group of Kurdish dissidents at a meeting in Wedding.
The embassy came under renewed scrutiny in 1990 when it was reported in the magazine Junge Welt, that the building was being used to stockpile weapons and explosives and to protect terrorists. The East German Interior Ministry confirmed the weapons find and activities at the embassy were monitored closely.
And then they were gone.
Looking at the building now it would seem that when staff were ordered to leave in 1991 they left in a hurry. The Iraqi Embassy to the re-unified Germany is now in Dahlem and has been since 2003.
Germany owns the land on which the now derelict embassy stands but granted Iraq perpetual rights to the land and building. This has left the plot in a state of limbo. The Germans say they have no right to it and the Iraqis have their shiny new embassy so they’re not interested.
The Iraqi Embassy is in a dreadful state.
It is a series of dark corridors and draughty rooms, many of which are now completely open to the elements and there is broken glass and paperwork everywhere.
A lot of the writing is in Arabic so I can’t be sure but I assume any sensitive documents were taken away. At one time the books, papers and files must have been stored neatly on shelves and in cupboards but now they are strewn across the floor and amassed in great heaps.
The smell of mouldy paper is overpowering.
As in all abandoned buildings the visitors have left their mark in the form of pictures, slogans and more considered art.
The furniture has been moved, papers have been burned and typewriters, faxes and photocopiers have been smashed and their keys have been removed.
It is clear that many treasures have been looted.
Early blog posts and newspaper articles mention framed portraits of Saddam Hussein hanging on the walls – some of the authors even boast of the souvenirs they took.
Now there are just a few newspapers and calendars bearing his image.
I would recommend visiting the abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin soon before all vestiges of its past life have been plundered, damaged or burnt and all that’s left is a derelict shell. Who knows, Germany and Iraq may one day even sort out the issue of ownership and put the land to new use.
In autumn sunlight the abandoned industrial laundry and dyeing factory on the Spree, previously home to VEB Rewatex, looks almost inviting as an urbex destination but in the snow and cold of a Berlin winter it’s a different story.
When Digital Cosmonaut suggested a trip out to Spindlersfeld last October to explore an abandoned factory I jumped at the chance. By coincidence, just a few weeks before, as we stood on the opposite side of the river in Köpenick, Bine had told me about the factory where Dry Cleaning had first been developed.
Wilhelm Spindler formed W Spindler, a laundry and dyeing company, in Berlin in 1832 and the headquarters of the firm moved to Spindlersfeld (then Oberspree) in 1873.
The company was acquired by the state in 1949 and renamed VEB Blütenweisß. In 1961 the name changed to VEB Vereinigte Wäschereien Berlin Rewatex (VEB Rewatex for short) and in 1981 to VEB Kombinat Rewatex.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall the company was again renamed, this time becoming Rewatex AG and was acquired by Kölner Larosé Hygiene-Service-GmbH in 1992. Shortly after re-privatisation operations ceased and the factory at Spindlersfeld has been empty ever since.
The main factory building is laid out as a square, which means seemingly endless corridors and open rooms with many supporting columns.
There is also a central courtyard, now overgrown with weeds, which helps give a sense of scale to the complex and is useful when orienting yourself whilst exploring.
There are signs of the administrative functions of the upper floors of the building with invoices, ledgers and other paperwork strewn across the floors, some showing signs of fire damage.
There are the usual signs of disrepair and neglect around the building – floors are warped, ceilings are collapsing and there is graffiti on many surfaces.
Someone may have been contemplating a repair on this hole in an upper floor but I don’t think Lego bricks would really serve the purpose.
There are also a couple of outbuildings worth poking your head into, though there is not much to be seen in them.
My revisit a couple of weeks ago was prompted by one of my favourite Berlin based Street Artists, KEN, posting a photo on his Facebook page of a piece he had painted at the factory.
It took me a little while to find, as there is only one opening, which would have been a doorway when the room had a floor, that gives a view of the piece.
The room in which it was painted was badly damaged by a fire on the night of 29 September 2006, which destroyed the upper two floors. A new roof has since been added – the pristine wood incongruous amongst the damaged brickwork and piles of rubble below.
I didn’t hang around too long on my revisit to the abandoned Rewatex laundry in Berlin because there were animal tracks in the snow not accompanied by human footprints so I wasn’t entirely sure I was alone. Besides, the site wasn’t as inviting as my first visit as the following two shots show.