Culture + Style

Urban Decay: Industrial Ruins to Explore (Legally) in and Around Berlin

Slip into Spreepark to see an abandoned amusement park with a semi-sordid history. (Photo: Alamy)

Berlin’s really glamming it up these days, but many still believe you haven’t really “done” the city unless you’ve come home with a camera full of #ruinporn — photos of industrial, urban decay. As the city’s historic buildings are turned into boutique hotels and luxury condos, you have to know where to turn for access to Berlin’s crumbling former glories.

Here’s a look at how to journey back in time through Berlin’s dramatic, layered history … and the Berlin tours that will take you there.

Spreepark

What: Abandoned amusement park with a semi-sordid history.

Who will take you there: Spreepark fan and unofficial historian Christopher Flade.

A fence-hopper’s dream, this place has exchanged hands so many times, and collected so many legends along the way (a former owner embroiled in a drug ring fled to South America to evade the authorities), it’s even featured in a documentary film.

Ignoring the background noise, it’s one of those icons that draws together all there is to love about Berlin: an eerie feel, photogenic scenes overgrown with weeds and supposedly nasty security guards.

Sure, you can still sneak in, and most people do. But if you aren’t too keen on getting your camera confiscated and answering awkward questions, take the tour.

When: Year-round, irregularly. Call for confirmation.

Beelitz-Heilstätten

Berlin tours
Beelitz-Heilstätten is one of the most photo-worthy Berlin ruins. (Photo: Alamy)

What: An old sanatorium on the outskirts of Berlin, now being partially redeveloped as residences and artists’ studios.

Who will take you there: Photo-tour company Go2Know or the new treetop walkway.

From the moment you arrive in Berlin, you’ll hear about this place in hushed, awed whispers. It’s one of the city’s most picturesque ruins, and an impressive number of buildings allow for repeated yet varied visits — a 3D Choose Your Own Adventure story.

Security has increased over the last 5 years, leading up to the sanatorium’s purchase by a developer, but luckily there are still tours of its many buildings, events on its grounds and a stunning new aerial walkway for surveying the complex from above.

When: Walkway: year-round with varying hours. Go2know: varies according to length of tour and time of year.

Teufelsberg NSA Spying Station

Berlin tours
Find you way to this creeptastic former spy station. (Photo: Getty Images)

What: A Cold War NSA spy station atop an artificial hill born of the ruins of WWII and (probably) concealing a buried Nazi military school.

Who will take you there: Original Berlin Tours.

The bulbous towers of this listening station lie in tattered ruins, their sail-like coverings flapping in the wind.

Berlin is heavy with 20th-century lore, and Teufelsberg is chock full of it: Hitler commissioned his chief architect, the notorious Albert Speer, to build a military school here.

Berlin need somewhere to dump its rubble after the Americans bombed it to smithereens, and the Allies needed a high vantage point for listening in on the Russians. When you see it, you’ll feel the same way: Where better than here?

When: Friday through Sunday at 10 a.m., prior booking necessary.

Gesundbrunnen Bunker

Berlin tours
A glimpse into bunker life during World War II. (Photo: Alamy)

What: An underground bunker built to protect Berliners during WWII Allied air raids.

Who will take you there: Berliner Unterwelten.

The city is pockmarked with bunkers, both below and above ground. This one’s been on the exclusive roster of Berliner Unterwelten (“Berlin underworlds”) for years now.

Half the excitement is the “Alice in Wonderland” aspect: You gather at Gesundbrunnen, one of Berlin’s busy, modern-day train stations, to be led down to a locked door you may have never noticed. Prepare to squeeze through narrow passageways and low-ceilinged rooms dotted with unearthed war artifacts to learn about life during the air raids.

When: Several times a week, year-round.

Funkhaus Nalepastrasse

Berlin tours
Excellent acoustics attract musicians to this now-trendy space. (Photo: Giulia Pines)

What: A one-time propaganda factory, this sprawling complex was East German Radio’s broadcasting center.

Who will take you there: Backstage Tourism.

It may be cheating to include this landmarked complex. It isn’t entirely in ruins, and it isn’t completely shut down.

Recording halls host musicians and bands drawn to its dramatic setting and excellent acoustics. Tiny studios are rented out to visual artists. Festivals have been held here recently, and you can find concert listings on the official website.

But try getting in on an average day, and you’ll need to talk your way past the main gate. Instead, take a tour for access to the main building as well as others that have stood empty for years.

When: Sat at 11 a.m., prior booking necessary.