by Alice Mariscotti-Wayatt
Berlin is a treasure trove of out of the way, odd, old, abandoned buildings. But what to do if you want to explore this edgy side of Berlin, but don’t want to spend your city break on the run from the police?
Happily, several of Berlin’s long-abandoned projects spotted an opportunity and started offering tours, many staffed by local enthusiasts.
You might not get the thrill of sneaking into a long-dormant site and feeling like you discovered it for yourself. But you know what else you won’t get? Eaten alive by guard dogs or asbestos poisoning. I’ve made my choice, and here are the incredible buildings I’ve had the chance to explore risk free.
Spreepark Amusement Park
From Treptower Park in East Berlin, you can see see the skeletal form of the big wheel at the Spreepark, once the GDR’s largest amusement park. Since it closed in 2002, the overgrown site with its languishing roller coasters and rides was a highlight for urban-exploring tourists (though run-ins with some particularly ferocious guard dogs did put some off).
A state-owned company, Grün Berlin, now operates the site, and since 2016, they’ve been working on re-opening it to the public. But until that happens, the park is offering guided tours for visitors who fancy a glimpse at its much-faded glory.
You’ll be escorted around the run-down remains by a guide, who can fill you in on the history of the park, complete with photographs and explanations of its heyday.
You’ll get a close-up look at the big wheel (it still works!), the creepy entrance to the ghost train, and a much-graffitied teacup carousel. All accompanied by some surprisingly shady tales of drug smuggling and prostitution from the family park.
At the end of the tour you’ll even get selfie time, sitting in some restored cars and swans which were once part of the rides in the park.
Tour information: Tours in English usually run once a month, through the summer only. Be prepared to book several months in advance. They cost €5 per person, and you can check for upcoming dates and availability here: Gruen Berlin Tours
During the Cold War, Teufelsberg was an Allied listening station, trying to intercept radio communication from the USSR and GDR. After the wall fell, the shell, including the large domes, was abandoned until 2010 when it found new life as a graffiti gallery.
Though it hosts a community of street artists and is technically no longer abandoned, you still get the sense of urban exploring, especially if you opt for the “silent walk”. This means you just pay entry to the site, and are given free reign to explore the building’s remains.
You can climb to the roof where you’ll see the exposed structure of one of the domes, with sweeping views as a backdrop. Keep going up the tower to hear the erie echos inside the remaining dome.
Visitor information: The site is open to visitors Wednesday – Sunday, from 11am to 6pm. Entrance costs from €8 for a “silent walk” but guided tours are also available: Teufelsberg Tours
For a chance to scale a historic gas tower in complete safety, you need to head to Schöneberger Gasometer. Guides will escort you in a small group, providing reassurance to nervous climbers, and encouragement to exhausted ones.
At the summit, 240 steps and 78 meters in the air, you’ll be able to walk around the complete frame, getting an incredible 360-degree view over Berlin, and getting a sense of perspective on the scale of the gas storage space.
The gas works on the site was shut down in 1946. That part was demolished to make way for the site’s current use as a business campus. The gas storage tower itself remained in use until 1995.
Be warned that this is not an activity for vertigo sufferers. While the steel structure is solidly made and safe, you do feel exposed on the narrow walkways, especially as you step outside the main structure to pass the vertical beams. You can constantly see the ground beneath you through the grating, and it does seem a long way away!
Tour information: Tours typically run Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. Times shift though, so email them (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the schedule and to ask about availability. Be prepared to book a month or so in advance: Gasometer Tours
You can explore Berlin’s underground techno scene, or you can literally explore Berlin’s underground. Berliner Unterwelten is opening up parts of the city that would otherwise remain hidden underground.
You can explore networks of bunkers and air raid shelters used in World War II, as well as shelters built during the Cold War, designed to be home to thousands of Berliners for several weeks.
Tour information: Berliner Unterwelten offer four different tours. Most run every day, but you must book them in person on the day of your tour. It’s recommended to show up early in the morning for the weekend tours as they quickly sell out: Berliner Unterwelten Tours
Tempelhof Airport has an incredible history. Originally constructed with Nazi rallies in mind, it ended up becoming a lifeline to the population of West Berlin during the Berlin airlift, and there are many tales of the heroic pilots who flew the risky flight path to deliver essential supplies.
The runways of Templehof have been turned into a public park, the biggest green space in Berlin. You can see the terminal building through a fence, but to get access you need to book onto a tour.
You’ll walk through the check-in hall, still fitted with desks and airline names, past information desks and the retro restaurant. The tour also encompases the airport’s history as an US base – you’ll see their basketball court above the departure hall.
Tour information: English tours run Wednesday to Sunday at 1.30pm. They cost €15. Book here: Tempelhof Airport Tours
Hungry for more abandoned attractions? Discover our blog post: A Visit to Vietnam’s Abandoned Waterpark
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