Hundred years of hidden German history

Where roofs carry woods and the Russians couldn't get the heating running: Beelitz-Heilstätten.

Old buildings at the Beelitz-Heilstätten area.

Few building sites in Brandenburg (Germany) have survived the turbulent history that swept this part of the former DDR. Some 60 buildings spread over a 200 acres of land was home to a hospital for tuberculosis (TBC) patients. It hosted soldiers in World War I and World War II, was occupied by the Russian Red Army and served as last resort for the last DDR-leader Erich Honecker. A remarkable spot where trees not only grow around the deserted buildings, but also on top of the roofs. History in stone: Beelitz-Heilstätten.

Plan of the area.

Thrilling, but not without danger
‘Hey sir, please come back. You’re not allowed to go in on your own. This year we had to take a guy to hospital, heavily wounded, and one dropped dead from the balcony.’
It is not for long that a guide is present on this part of the Beelitz-Heilstätten hospital area. Section called ‘quadrant A’ is one out of four and is subject to redevelopment. Visions of studio’s for creative professionals and artists from the crowded Berlin area must stop the deteriorating proces, saving the highly appreciated architecture from Heino Schmieden and Julius Boethke. Last year around €6 million was invested in the construction of a 320 m long Treetop walking track, some 23 m above the ground.
After the Russian Red Army left the premisses in 1994, after a almost 50 years occupation, it attracted people exploring (‘Urbexing’) the fast area of desolated buildings in the midst of an endless arsenal of woods. Not all came with the best of intentions. Much of the details were damaged, articles and stuff left behind by the Russian army were stolen. The buildings became a populair place for parties of all kinds, held mostly at night. The run down state of the area stimulated specific fantasies, making it a top attraction for horror lovers (video). Besides an infamous murder of a wife of a Russian doctor working in the hospital by a serial killer in 1991, a photographer killing his model in one of the buildings and a tramp hanging himself, people got heavily wounded by falling in or from the buildings. One young visitor lost his life exploring the area.

The Beelitz-Heilstätten is situated some 40 km southwest of Berlin in endless woods.

It started as a hospital for lung deceases
The main part of the 60 buildings were build between 1898 and 1930 by an public insurance service in Berlin. It was meant to offer a relief to workers who had become ill suffering from lung disfunction by the bad working conditions in the factories in those days. Nobody got cured in the hospital, it gave some relieve, just enough to get back to work in the same bad conditions that caused the decease in the first place. The hospital was with 1,200 beds one of the biggest in its sort, and equipped with techniques of the highest standards. The Russians occupying the buildings some 40 years after construction could not operate the modern heating installations. They had to contract one German mechanical engineer (the only one inside the closed camp) to operate the system. The central heating was a combined heat and power production system. The boiler house was strategically situated so that the wind blew the smoke straight out of the hospital area most of the time.
The area is divided into four almost equal sections, cut in four by a local road and a railway. The road separated the male from the female patients. The railway was built to bring the German army as fast as possible from Berlin to the French border.

Impressions of the different sections and signs of Russian presence.

Wars brought new patients to Beelitz-Heilstätten
Both in World War I and World War II the civil patients had to make way for wounded solders from the battle fields. One of the over 17,000 recovering solders was Adolf Hitler, who stayed here from October till December 1916. The cilvil patients were sent home, no matter their condition.
The end of World War II ended with the occupation of Germany, in the western parts by the allied forces, in the east by the Red Army. The Russians, after a historical battle for Berlin, went further south and found this recently by the German army evacuated hospital.

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It became a fully closed Russian territory, one of the biggest outside the former Sovjet Union. The Russians went on operating the buildings as a military hospital from 1945 till they left East-Germany (former DDR) in 1994, 5 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1990 ironically, 74 years after Hitler was treated here, Erich Honecker, fled former leader of the DDR stayed here in secret and under the protection of the Russian Army. Honecker suffered from liver cancer. When the Russians withdrew their army from unified German soil, Honecker left for Moscow on his way to Chili, where he died at the age of 82.

A section fallen into decay.

The future as tourist attraction
With the construction of the treetop walking track the area should become a tourist attraction. Property developer Georg Hoffmann is preparing the grounds to accommodate some 200,000 visitors annually. In 2015 the first 320 meters of the treetop track was opened, costing over €6 million. All private investment. Eventually the length will measure 1 km and will reach more buildings than the 320 m version.
A restaurant and a souvenir shop is on the way and in the long run a hotel may become part of the premisses. The developer aims on restoring the designed gardens as they used to be, not in the rough state they are in at the moment. Undoubtedly many ‘urbex-fans’ will regret the restoration of some of the buildings and the surrounding forrest into neatly designed gardens.
The area still experiences damaging actions (video) from those who consider the area as their own, after being left unattended for so many years. The property developer hopes to get in touch with those persons in order to reach some kind of a settlement that can satisfy both parties.

The restored water tower and bioler house (left) and the treetop track.