Decaying Berlin: Beelitz-Heilstätten (Nov. 4)

Laundry vents

Vents in the old laundry facility

Arches in the gardens

Arches in the gardens

Beelitz-Heilstätten is an abandoned sanitarium and hospital complex just an hour outside of Berlin. Opened in 1902, it started as a tuberculosis sanitarium until WWI and WWII, when it was used to treat wounded soldiers. Its most famous resident, Adolf Hitler, spent months of his youth during WWI in its dorms and hospital.

Men's Pavilion

Men’s Pavilion

From 1945 until 1995, Soviet forces occupied Beelitz-Heilstätten, even after Germany reunited in 1990, and it saw its total abandonment in 2000. Since then, the vast majority of its buildings have been retaken by nature and remained totally unused.

Exploring the complex, you will find residence halls, recreation buildings, hospitals and surgery centers, laundry and kitchen facilities, an old theater-style classroom and more. The whole place is covered with graffiti, overgrowth, broken glass, peeling wallpaper – all the signs of decay. Many of the buildings’ doors and windows are left wide-open, just asking for visitors.

Literally killer graffiti. Photo credit: Jesse Martin

Literally killer graffiti. Photo credit: Jesse Martin

Blue paint peeling off the walls of an old grand staircase

Blue paint peeling off the walls of an old grand staircase

Old Soviet icon painted in the Men's Pavilion gym

Old Soviet icon painted in the Men’s Pavilion gym

Others, like the men’s pavilion, have been boarded up extensively. We circled the building multiple times, testing out wooden windows and other cracks before finding a loose opening into the basement. Skeptical, we wandered into a short maze of darkness and pipes, crouching all the way.

We made our way through the basement for 15 eerily quiet minutes, thinking it may not be connected to the main building, before finally finding a staircase leading to a communist-era Russian gym, old slogans and icons painted on its walls.

Statue of communist soldier in front of the Men's Pavilion

Statue of communist soldier in front of the Men’s Pavilion

An old operating table with grooves to let bodily fluids (i.e. blood) leak down

An old operating table with grooves to let bodily fluids (i.e. blood) leak down

Jumping out of the window

Jumping out of the window

We spent most of the day without seeing anyone else – it wasn’t until we made our way to the women’s tuberculosis treatment quadrant that we found a few other explorers and photographers making their way through (the place is split into four quadrants with the town’s metro stop at the center).

At one point we walked across a clear sidewalk towards the largest hospital building. On our return, a padlock on one of the buildings had been unlocked and outside the door was a sack of flour. We assumed that it must have been some sort of caretaker going in if he or she could open the lock. It wasn’t long before we realized the use of the flour: giant symbols, including a swastika, had been drawn on the sidewalk with flour. I kicked around the flour forming the swastika, making it unrecognizable before we got out of there.

An old operating room, wall and windows gone

An old operating room, wall and windows gone

The attic walls of an old home in Beelitz crumbling to see an open sky

The attic walls of an old home in Beelitz crumbling to see an open sky

As if Beelitz-Heilstätten wasn’t creepy on its own, it was the site of several murders, the most recent being only six years ago.

An old piano with no strings

An old piano with no strings

After six hours of urban exploration at its finest – crouching through cracks, jumping out of windows, even falling through chair risers in a classroom – the three of us left as darkness fell. We wouldn’t want to be there in the cold, dark night.

A map of Beelitz-Heilstätten. Photo credit: Abandoned Berlin

A map of Beelitz-Heilstätten. Photo credit: Abandoned Berlin

What looks like a forest is really the roof of a five story concrete building, taken over by nature.

What looks like a forest is really the roof of a five story concrete building, taken over by nature.

This graffiti seems to be framed by an old window frame

This graffiti seems to be framed by an old window frame.

Broken Windows

Exterior IMG_0022

The wall of an old classroom/theater

The wall of an old classroom/theater

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My Favorite City: Berlin (Oct. 30-Nov. 5)

Graffiti on the East Side Gallery

Graffiti on the East Side Gallery

Berlin just might be my favorite city in Europe.

Its great nightlife (which I still have only had tastes of), hip markets and stylish food joints make it a very livable city, and its minimal fashion and modern urbanity give it a contemporary charm unlike most older European cities. The people pride themselves on a liberal, easygoing attitude that clashes with a tumultuous history, making you wonder how one city can come so far in such a short amount of time. Berlin is a Western city at its finest.

#glamourcat

#glamourcat

After a long train ride from Brussels and a night in, I woke up on Halloween day in Berlin and met up with one of my travel companions from my time in Greece, Mirjam, who is from Berlin. She and a friend met me at pretty much the only costume store in Berlin, where we waited in line for maybe 30 minutes during the Halloween rush. I had a limited budget and limited clothes (I’ve been living out of a 13 kilo bag for four months), but I happened to have a pair of leopard print pajama pants (affectionately known as my hot pants) and a leopard print blanket (only because my mom gave it to me before I left). Obviously I would be a leopard, so I bought a €2 face mask and was ready for the night. Later I would mention the availability of leopard print in my bag to a German girl, whose response was: “and you’re not even gay! … are you?”

I eventually headed back to the hostel for a short break, meeting my Australian friend Josh who was going to be traveling with me for the following 11 days. He also knew Mirjam and her boyfriend Felix from our time together in Ios. Felix and Mirjam invited us for dinner at their house, so we went over an hour before the party for a home cooked meal. When the party started, I somehow ended up being the designated makeup artist and turning Josh and Mirjam into zombies… you can decide for yourself whether I was any good (the answer is no, not really).

Would you hire me as your makeup artist? (Note: Mirjam added her own line details)

Would you hire me as your makeup artist? (Note: Mirjam added her own line details)

At one point in the party, which was pretty much all Germans except for a few people from Felix’s roommate’s lacrosse and running teams, I started talking to a guy who I assumed was German. When I asked him where he was from, though, he said, “Arkansas.”

I assumed he was messing with me at first until he mentioned that he was from Fayetteville, which there’s no way he would have known about if he was from anywhere else. After talking for a few minutes, I learned that he had moved to Berlin to teach English through a company called Berlitz that didn’t require him to know any German. He seriously may have changed my life because I’ve thought about living in Berlin for a long time.

The next day, Josh and I got out of the hostel pretty late and headed to Winterfeldt Markt, a neighborhood food market in Winterfeldtplatz. We got a lot of small dishes, which means we ended up eating a ton – brats from the Bauer Lindner stall, a smoked fish sandwich, zucchini fritters, spring rolls, fresh squeezed juice, tiramisu and cappuccinos.

I had almost forgotten that I should show Josh the touristy things since I had already seen them when I visited in 2012, so after the market, we walked to the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate and the Neue Wache. After a longer-than-expected walk back to the hostel, we met up with Felix and Mirjam for dinner at a modern Asian restaurant called Toca Rouge, which had a really cool vibe but somewhat underwhelming food. We were all pretty tired, so we said goodbye and Josh and I walked back to the hostel.

We were debating whether to go out since it was Saturday and Berlin but we were also tired, so we thought we’d go grab some drinks at the Wombat’s Bar in the rooftop of our hostel and decide after. We ended up meeting some cool people (along with some very, very loud American guys) and taking some Jäger bombs and eventually we realized that we were keen on going out.

Jesse and me at Roses

Jesse and me at Roses

One of my friends living in Berlin suggested a club called Ritter Butzke, so Josh and I, along with our new friend Jesse, made our way to the area of town it was in, running away from the American guys knowing that they would potentially cause us not to get in the club (they were yelling and running around in the metro and Berlin clubs are known for stringent door policies). Not ironically, they wouldn’t let Josh in because he said he was 19 and didn’t have ID. Jesse and I went in anyway – Josh understood.

After about 45 minutes in the club, Jesse and I decided to go to a gay bar called Roses, which must be where the expression “stroke the furry wall” came from because the entire place was lined with pink fur. There was a really interesting and diverse clientele and the two of us hung out there until probably 5:30 in the morning. Berlin clubs don’t get going until late, so we hadn’t left the hostel until maybe 1:30 anyway.

Homemade robot at Mauerpark - it could spit out water!

Homemade robot at Mauerpark – it could spit out water!

Josh and I slept in again on Sunday morning and went to a really good Korean restaurant by our hostel called YamYam. I think it was Josh’s first experience with Korean food – I got the bibimbap and he got the bulgogi, which I preferred. After lunch, we left for the Mauerpark Flea Market, which was basically recommended by everyone and did not disappoint. I bought a photography print and a screen-printed canvas bag for myself and some cartoon prints for my friends and me, although I could have bought way more. There was a ton of really cool stuff for sale there, along with talented street performers and artists keeping us entertained in and around the market.

Josh and I left Mauerpark to meet up with an English girl, Chloe, who I had met briefly in Berlin in 2012. If you read my post about Copenhagen, I had met up with our friend Sissel there whom I met at the same time. We met her at a nice bar/café in Mitte called Zur Rose and caught up for a couple of hours over coffee. Chloe recommended a nice German restaurant called Schwarzwaldstuben for Josh and me. We sat at the bar and both ordered schnitzel and cold potato and cucumber salad – yummmmmm.

Chloe and me after two years!

Chloe and me after two years!

Munich (Aug. 31-Sept. 2)

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s Church

After sleeping my way through the seven-hour bus ride from Vienna to Munich, I arrived at my hostel and promptly grabbed dinner at a local bierhall called Augustiner Bräustuben. It was pouring down rain, and the walk was miserable, but I was welcomed into a loud, bustling environment filled with both local Bavarians and tourists. I walked to the far side of the hall and sat near a group of men and women dressed in lederhosen and other traditional Bavarian clothes, playing accordion and singing and slapping the walls. I grabbed a pretzel from a basket in the middle of the table and hung up my jacket and umbrella to dry. My shorts and shoes were soaked, but luckily I would wait out the storm through dinner and walk home in just a light drizzle. I ordered a delicious, massive schnitzel with potatoes and berries, passing up their famed pork shoulder (which I never got to try) because I thought it might be too rich for the night, and a maß (a whole liter) of beer, which I was unable to finish (needed an early, chill night and didn’t realize ordering a “big one” was that big). People say the portions are too big in America, but one look at a Bavarian dinner and I think they might reconsider!

Dragon statue in Marienplatz symbolizing the Black Death.

Dragon statue in Marienplatz – a symbol of the Black Death.

I headed to bed early so that I could be rested for my one full day in Munich and make my morning walking tour, which ended up being one of the best ones I’ve taken. I think walking tours, especially the free ones (always tip of course!), are the best way to get a feel for a city, its architecture and its history. Our tour took us to the Rathaus-Glockenspiel right at noon, when it puts on its show, and inside a few of Munich’s notable cathedrals. We stopped for a break at the Viktualienmarkt, where I snacked on a tasty (but messy) bratwurst and some warm honey wine. It was a cloudy, sweater weather day, and the cozy cup of honey wine really hit the spot. I bought two small bottles for my mom and brother’s girlfriend (you better open them while I’m home).

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter’s Church

The Glockenspiel

The Glockenspiel

I met a few Aussies on the tour (pretty much everyone in my hostel was from Australia), and we headed to the English Gardens and Munich’s surfing wave, which is literally an artificial wave in a river that people surf across. I ended up going to a café by myself shortly afterwards, eating a tart berry cake and a latte – I could really get used to the pastries and coffee in this area of the country.

Surfing Wave in the English Gardens

Surfing Wave in the English Gardens

I grabbed a cheap falafel for dinner and then drank beer in the hostel with some of the people I’d met before heading to another bierhall. The next morning, I ate breakfast in the hostel and packed a sandwich for my flight to London, which required a layover in Copenhagen and two hours of busses and trains from the airport to my home in London – traveling cheap usually means traveling long.