From abandoned Nazi hospital to film decor.
In one of my last trips to Berlin, I decided to make a quick stop in Beelitz on my way home. It’s a little town in the Southwest of Berlin (near the city of Potsdam), known to some for its asparagus during springtime.
But asparagus were not on my mind in this visit. For the restless urban explorer in search of new discoveries, Beelitz Heilstätten offers a fascinating find, since it houses an immense military hospital complex, consisting of about sixty abandoned buildings in various stages of decay, spread out over more than 200 hectares.
This massive sanatorium complex was designed by architect Heino Schmieden and originally built in 1898 to treat tuberculosis patients in a healthy and clean environment such as the Beelitzer forest. For decades it played host to patients and wounded soldiers as well as to two infamous dictators of Germany.
During the First World War the sanatorium was converted into a military hospital. One of the young soldiers that were treated there for a leg injury, acquired through a shell-blast in a battle, was Adolf Hitler.
When the First World War ended, the hospital returned to civilian use until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1940, when once again all the care was given over to the treatment of injured soldiers. In the last year of the war the Allied Forces bombed parts of the facilities.
After the Nazi’s were defeated in 1945, Germany was divided in two. The Red Army (USSR) took charge of the hospital complex until 1994, turning it into the biggest Soviet military hospital outside of Russia.
Then after the fall of the Berlin wall another dictator, the East German leader Erich Honecker, received treatment in the hospital for liver cancer, before trying to escape to Russia to evade his prosecution in Germany.
From the mid 90s on, investors took over and some sections of the complex were turned into treatment & research centers that continue to operate to this day amidst the abandoned buildings in the vicinity. The ‘ghost town’ setting has attracted many international film producers, that have used the surroundings of Beelitz as a film set for movies such as The Pianist and Valkyrie.
Although quite some buildings are boarded up or fenced off, others are easier to access. For the daredevils who risk entry into the decayed buildings, despite rotting floors, falling masonry, collapsing ceilings and eerie ambiance in the empty corridors, caution is advised. Maybe even more because of the claims that the hospital complex is haunted. Stories run around about awkward sounds at night, objects moving, doors opening and cold temperatures suddenly arising.
Whether this forms part of another urban myth or not, the area has been an ideal setting for murder, accidents and casual sex encounters.
Long after the World Wars and the Soviet Occupation, a serial killer, Wolfgang Schmidt, aka The Beast of Beelitz, or The Pink Giant, stalked the area in the 90s. The latter nickname was given to him due to his large posture and his trademark to use pink lingerie, which he would leave behind on the crime scene, to strangle his female victims.
I’m afraid that the combination of a turbulent history and fairytale-like surroundings, makes Beelitz even more irresistible to visit for future urban explorers.