Explore #1 of the Berlin or Bust Tour
After four urbexing weekends to France and Belgium this summer I was itching to head even further afield and explore some sites in Germany. My usual partner in civil trespass, James of James Kerwin Photographic, and I began researching and discussing possible locations and travel logistics. One place in particular was the main draw and centrepiece of our trip – the famous sprawling complex of around 60 buildings which make up the Beelitz-Heilstätten hospital near Berlin.
Berlin is a mere 750 mile / 12 hour drive from Norwich where we both live, but we were not about to let a small thing like that deter us. Before too long we had chosen our tour name (“Berlin or Bust” seemed apt), our plans were finalised, I had packed my usual urbex provisions (energy drinks, bananas, snickers, Tescos value flapjack), and we were heading East one Thursday evening for 4 days of sleep-deprived exploring.
After driving through the night we reached our first stop just as dawn was breaking – this former Courthouse somewhere in Germany.
After many years of sitting closed and empty this huge building is now undergoing extensive demolition and redevelopment into residential apartments. However, the stunning central stairs are to be preserved, and it was these which we had come to see.
We arrived at about 5.30am and figured that we would have an hour or so of exploring and photographing the building and then make good our escape by 7am, well before any workers turned up. But of course we had underestimated the devastating efficiency of “Zee Germans”! No sooner were we stood outside the building when a minivan pulled up outside, opened its doors, and about a dozen workers flooded out and headed into the site! We tried looking for another way to sneak in. But then another minivan turned up. And another. And another. By shortly before 6am there must have been at least 50+ workers on site, including the area that we wanted to get to, and we knew that we had absolutely zero chance of getting past them undetected, let alone photographing the stairs even if we did.
Crestfallen, we were about to head back to our car when I said to James “look, we’ve just driven through the night and we’ve still got a massive amount of driving to do today. How about I try a wee smidgeon of the Adam X charm, and see whether they’ll let us nip inside for a cheeky 20 minutes or so? It would be better than nothing, and what have we got to lose?”. Despite being well aware of my aforementioned charm James seemed strangely dubious as to the prospects of it succeeding. Undeterred, I approached a bloke standing around near the entrance who vaguely looked like he might have some sort of authority. I flew into my fluent schoolboy German (well, basically, some garbled words accompanied by lots of gesticulations) and just about managed to convey that we had driven all the way from England, and could we possibly take photo of steps for 20 minutes? My previous online research had included finding out the german for “stairs” and, incredibly, my plan worked and the foreman ushered us towards the main entrance!
But then he stopped us. Had he changed his mind? What was going on? No, he was just looking for hard hats for us to wear whilst in the construction site. He found one for me, but couldn’t find one for James. We were convinced he was going to turn us away at any moment, but the urbex gods were smiling on us and he managed to find a hat for James too.
Finally we entered the building and saw the magnificent stairs in front of us. But then we were told that because we didn’t have steel-toed boots on we could only photograph from the ground floor. After as much pleading as we could whilst not completely blowing our good luck we managed to persuade him to let us shoot from the ground and first floors, but no higher, and only for 20 minutes.
We rushed to grab the few shots which were possible from our severely restricted vantage points, whilst trying to avoid the constant stream of bemused workers who were photobombing our shots. In the end our friend told us that we really had to go, as it turns out the real boss and security were due to be arriving on their shifts at any moment! Our friend graciously suggested that we come back later in the morning, and he would see if he could find steel-toed boots for us to borrow and arrange for us to photograph the rest of the building! We gave our profuse thanks, but explained that sadly we were on a tight schedule and we had things to be doing in Berlin later that day. He looked at us like we were both mad (I’m surprised he hadn’t sooner to be honest), and we shook his hand and made our way back outside into the early morning sunshine.
Due to the rushed and restricted nature of our visit neither of us were particularly pleased with the handful of shots we had grabbed, so we were more than happy to pay a much more leisurely “non permission” revisit on Sunday evening a month or so later… I’ve combined those photos into this report below, but firstly the rest of my shots from that morning…
As always, click on a photo to VIEW LARGE
Explore #7 of the Taking The Piscine Tour – September 2014
As I said above, this was a much more leisurely explore than my first “permission” visit. We arrived on a warm Sunday evening, and despite the many locals in the streets around we made our move and were soon inside. I really enjoyed being able to take the time to reshoot the stairs, including from the higher vantage points, and also to explore the rest of the building. It really is such a stunning entrance, and I’m so glad that it is being preserved for future generations to appreciate too.
Thanks for looking. The rest of my reports from the Berlin or Bust Tour are coming very soon!