• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Artist uncovers life inside US Berlin spy station

The Local · 6 Sep 2013, 12:59

Published: 06 Sep 2013 12:59 GMT+02:00

Stand on the top of a tall building in central Berlin and look west. One shape on the skyline will grab your attention – a huge white sphere, standing like a giant golf ball sunk into a tee on top of a hill.

It was from here that thousands of American, and some British agents, listened in on their Soviet rivals during the Cold War from spy station Teufelsberg, which translates as Devil’s mountain.

The presence of Teufelsberg spy station, codenamed T.H.E. Hill, is no secret, but what went on there is. The work is still classified and this mystery has led to myths – one popular one being that the hill housed a secret underground submarine base.

But some light on daily life at Teufelsberg has come from an unlikely source – Northern Irish artist Brendan Jamison. He is better known in Britain for making sculptures from sugar with his work appearing outside the Prime Minister’s house – 10 Downing Street, and at the Tate Modern.

The 34-year-old turned his attention from sugar to spies after watching a BBC documentary in 2009 on German reunification which showed a short clip of Teufelsberg. “Since then the world of espionage has fascinated me,” he told The Local.

Jamison decided to visit the now abandoned spy station and was struck by the atmosphere and architecture of it. He started sketching and blogging about it a year ago in preparation for an art exhibition on the spy station which opened in Berlin on Thursday.

The blog soon came to the attention of ex-spooks who worked at Teufelsberg.

“It was not long before they made contact with me,” he said. The former spies were keen to tell him more about life at Teufelsberg.

Jamison had to give them code names for the exhibition and could not use much of the information they told him, but he garnered enough to fill 30 files which form part of the exhibition.

He learned how the trademark white spheres were actually vulnerable in high winds and to stop them collapsing the workers had to use compressors from a former German U-boat to put enough pressure on the dome.

“They (the ex-spies) were also very good at dispelling myths,” he said. “For example there was one that there was an underground submarine base [in the hillside].”

This, it turns out, was untrue, but there was a bunker in the hillside and the spies appeared keen to spread the myths while they worked there.

They told Jamison how at their accommodation at Andrews Barracks in west Berlin there was giant mural, which they compared to a James Bond base. It showed a submarine and they spread rumours themselves of the secret submarine base under Teufelsberg.

“Because we are not spies ourselves it seems romantic but in most cases it was boring and involved sitting there with head phones on for hours so they revelled in the clichés,” Jamison said.

CLICK HERE for pictures of how Teufelsberg used to look

The station was manned for 24 hours a day through three eight hour shifts and the employees were selected for their intelligence – they were deemed to be in the top ten percent of US Army.

Jamison said: “They told me it was an extremely fun time. Many said it was the best three years of their lives. For example they played pranks with peanut butter sticking it down tubes which would stop the equipment from working properly.”

Story continues below…

The Belfast-born artist added: “The last year has been unbelievable. It is by far the most fun project I have ever done. It excites me on every possible level.”

At the end of the month Jamison will meet a group of the former spies at a reunion to mark 50 years since the spy station opened.

Many are now in their seventies and eighties. “In 20 years I wouldn’t be able to do this project,” he said. “The NSA is never going to release information from the field station.”

The exhibition runs from September 5th to 28th at WerkStadt, Emser Straße 124, Neukölln, 12051 Berlin. Opening Hours are Monday to Saturday 7pm to 10pm. The work has been funded by the British Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Tom Bristow

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
VW to pay US suppliers $1.2 bln over Dieselgate
Volkswagen model vehicles on a dealer lot in Bedford, Massachusetts, USA. Photo: Cj Gunther/Picture Alliance/DPA

German auto giant Volkswagen has agreed to pay US suppliers $1.2 billion to settle claims emanating from the "Dieselgate" pollution scandal, the firm and suppliers said late Friday.

This Week in History
75 years since one of Holocaust's worst massacres
Photo: DPA

On Thursday, German president Joachim Gauck spoke in Kiev 75 years after the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews during one of the worst single massacres of the Holocaust.

Six things you need to know about troubled Deutsche Bank

Shares in Deutsche bank plunged on Friday morning, dragging down other European banks and markets worldwide. Here are six things to know about Germany's biggest lender.

Deutsche Bahn jacks up prices for first time in 3 years
Photo: DPA

Germany's main rail provider, the state-owned Deutsche Bahn (DB), announced on Friday that it will raise prices on long-distance train travel.

Baby found alive in suitcase with skeleton in Hanover
File photo: DPA.

A baby has been found alive, along with the skeleton of another infant inside of a suitcase in Hanover, police reported on Friday.

Morocco to speed up repatriation of illegal migrants
Photo: DPA

Morocco has agreed to streamline the procedures for the repatriation of citizens living illegally in Germany, the royal court said late on Thursday.

890,000 refugees arrived in Germany last year - not 1.1m
Photo: DPA

Previous reports had suggested that around 1.1 million people entered Germany to seek asylum last year. But now the German government has confirmed the number was actually lower.

Racist attacks cast cloud over Dresden Unity Day planning
A police vehicle in Dresden. Photo: DPA.

As Dresden prepares to host Germany’s national Unity Day celebrations on Monday, the capital of the eastern state of Saxony is upping security after a mosque was targeted by a homemade bomb.

Sinking Deutsche Bank stock sends shock across Europe
Photo: DPA

Shares in Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank plummeted on the Frankfurt stock market on Friday, dragging other European banks and global markets down with it, after reports some customers were pulling money out.

The Local List
10 things you never knew about German reunification
Reunification celebrations in Hanover in 2014. Photo: DPA

With German Unity Day (October 3rd) happening on Monday, Germans are looking forward to a three-day weekend. But did you know these facts about reunification and German Unity Day?

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
Lifestyle
10 German films you have to watch before you die
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
6,789
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd