Breathing in the fresh air at the top of Teufelsberg, Annabelle Mallia feels the charge of history beneath her feet.
Who would have thought Berlin's highest mountain grew out of a pile of rubbish?
Gazing out at the marvelous view from atop Teufelsberg hill in Grunewald forest, it’s hard to believe that this man-made “mountain” was created out of 25 million cubic meters of WWII rubble. As you might imagine, 363 air raids and about 69,000 tons of bombs over five years must have done quite some damage to the city. Thirty-three percent of Berlin was destroyed, and the war debris had to go somewhere. When the Soviets arrived, they decided to move what was left of entire neighborhoods to this desolate spot in the middle of the forest, where a half- completed Nazi military technical college already stood. That complex was proving too sturdy to demolish, so it was easier to just cover it up. Teufelsberg must have looked unimpressive at the beginning, but once the greenery grew over, the 115-meter-high mountain became a picturesque hill in flat Berlin – and the city’s highest point. In no time, it also became a prime spot for a ski jump. In the 1950s, American soldiers and later the National Security Agency, searching for the best vantage point to intercept Soviet and East German military airwaves, set up post and built one of their largest listening stations here, which continued to operate until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The ski jump was removed as it allegedly disturbed the radio signals, but the five large radar domes still remain today, though heavily run down and vandalized. The site is currently fenced off and manned by guards, so don’t try and explore on your own, but visit on a guided tour instead (www.berliner-teufelsberg.com). Since the Wall fell, this has also become a recreational spot for locals, who come here to fly kites, paraglide, and hike all year round. The nearby Teufelssee Lake (from which the mountain gets its name) is great for swimming, if you don’t mind nudity, and in winter the area is perfect for tobogganing and snowball fights.
"It's hard to believe this 'mountain' was created out of WWII rubble."