Cafe, memorial and even more rubble: Back to the future for Berlin’s ‘Devil’s Mountain’?

Berlin’s Teufelsberg - complete with the NSA Cold War spy station - has evolved from being an unwanted eyesore on confiscated land to a popular tourist attraction and sometime film set. But if the Teufelsberg Action Alliance get their way, the green peak in the middle of Grünewald will be set for a renovation - while also getting a little taller.

Cafe, memorial and even more rubble: Back to the future for Berlin’s ‘Devil’s Mountain’?
Photo: DPA

Just a few kilometres from Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and Exhibition Grounds sits Teufelsberg, a man-made hill which for decades has gone largely unused – other than for the odd tour or amateur music video.

Eckart Kuntzsch, an architect with the Teufelsberg Action Alliance, has lent heavily on the past to lay out a vision for the site’s future, telling the Berliner Morgenpost “Teufelsberg has been waiting to be completed for years”. 

The Alliance have developed plans to demolish everything except the spy tower itself, with the surrounding area to be increased from its current 120-metre height to 132 metres, giving it “mountainesque views of the city and the Grunewald forest and landscape”. And much like in the post-war era, discarded rubble will be used – this time from Berlin building sites. 

In the place of the demolished buildings would go a cafe, restaurant and a memorial to the site which was of crucial importance in intelligence gathering during the Cold War. The site would also include sport and recreation areas accessible to the public. 

A dark history

Teufelsberg – which literally translates to Devil’s Mountain – was constructed from the rubble that lined the streets of West Berlin after the Second World War.

Unlike rubble in the East which could be deposited outside the city limits, authorities in West Berlin needed to find a place to dump the ruins within the boundaries of the city. 

They eventually chose to heap the rubble on the site of the unfinished Wehrtechnische Fakultät – Albert Speer’s Nazi technical college – burying it in the process. The rubble continued to pile up until dumping was banned in 1972, when the site had accrued more than 75,000,000m3 of debris. 

The original plan for the site was a mixed-use public recreation and sports area, with plans being drawn up in the 1950s.

The hill and its immediate surrounds were however confiscated by the occupying Americans in the 1960s, who saw the peak as the perfect site for their National Security Agency spy station. Construction on the spy station began in 1963 and the majority of the structure is still standing today. 

But there’s a catch

Although the plan seems relatively uncontroversial in honouring the area’s past while providing for contemporary use, there is of course a catch. Teufelsberg is owned by an investment group, who purchased the land in the 1990s. They were given a permit to build luxury apartments, shops, restaurants, hotels and a convention centre on the site, but failed to raise enough money to fund the project. 

Their permit was withdrawn in 2004. 

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The consortium have offered to sell the site back to the state of Berlin for €2.1 million  – just under the original purchase price – but the land comes with debt of over €22 million.

It's a price that the city – still stung by the ongoing BER airport debacle – seems unwilling to pay. 

The SPD has also indicated plans to give the area designated monument status, thereby restricting new developments – although a similar plan six years ago failed when put to a vote.

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