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Heilstättin’

October 18, 2010
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South of Berlin, the mysterious ruins of Beelitz Heilstätten seem to grow naturally out of the surrounding forest. What today resembles a 19th-century ghost town was once among Europe’s most advanced medical hospitals.

To get there, take a half-hour ride on a regional train from the S-Bahn station Wannsee and get off at the sparse two-track platform. Walk down the street on either side of the tracks past many overgrown guard posts and you will find infirmaries and sanatoriums in varied states of decay. Beelitz Heilstätten’s main street once served as a divider; institutions for men and women were strictly separated.

One of the first buildings we stumbled upon, as one does literally, was the lung sanatorium for men. It is a beautiful old stone building with many intricate windows and little towers.

We couldn’t find a open door or unbarred window through which to enter, but did spot this cow-sized spit from outside. The eerie atmosphere had us convinced at first this must have been a terrible torture instrument.

Other buildings are readily permeable. Fences and “Betreten Verboten” signs ward off only the most timid visitors. Entry seems almost to be encouraged by a conveniently located restaurant and beer garden. We consider a post adventure beer the price of admission.

Beelitz Heilstätten must have been majestic place in its heyday. Hallways that stretch in every direction and such grand staircases like this are no longer made.

Some more pictures from the inside of this building:

By night, this would have scared me enough to shrink back and fall off the platform from which the guardrail has been removed. In the daylight, it still gave me some serious creeps.

The heavily wooded area that surrounds the more than 60 buildings adds to the otherworldly atmosphere. I can only imagine what it must have been like to walk along one of the many connecting roofed pathways when Beelitz was still in full splendor.

The natural beauty and serenity outside are in stark contrast to the eery chaos inside. After World War II, Beelitz was the biggest soviet military hospital outside the Soviet Union. The soviets only relinquished control in 1994, so Beelitz is teeming with Soviet intake forms, operational instructions and even Russian graffiti.

These facilities were exemplary in their time. The buildings were constructed along an east-west corridor so that the side of the building which housed patient rooms and terraces were facing south for maximum light and sun exposure.

The operating rooms in particular were designed to make use of natural light. This one was complete with old IV-bags and needles.

Now to my favorite building so far. This one must have been abandoned for more than twenty years. A walk up to the fifth floor makes you feel as if you’d fallen into an M.C. Escher drawing–up the stairs to another ground level.

A walk around the top feels like a hike in the woods of Lake Tahoe, but be mindful to not trip over the many little vents and chimneys protruding from the forest floor.

Vandals and the damp have done their work. No layer is left unstripped and different skins emerge. Faded, gutted, chipped, charred, bent, moldered, smashed, abandoned, colonized.

What a feeling to be alone in this vacant auditorium–giant pylons high above laid bare, the cool moist air, the redwood-forest-quiet of softened walls.

Before returning to the safety of a city alive with people and functioning buildings, sit down, relax, and have a beer – if you can withstand the smell of death, that is. A distinct stench of rotting flesh permeates the woods around Beelitz Heilstätten (consistently in recent months, at least), lending a morbid air to this otherwise cheery destination for good clean family fun.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 28, 2010 16:20

    Brilliant pics and great report. Was going to do something similar myself, but it looks like you got pics of stuff I missed (including that guy in the recess). I’ll just have to go back!

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