Getting off the plane at Schiphol (NL) I was greeted in the airport from my good friend Frits, we drove through Amsterdam, got food then back to Frit’s to meet up with fellow explorers and friends, Bas van Duijn and Jeremy Gibbs. After loading the car, we were off in a mixture of gas station stops and caffeine.
Following a 6 hour drive through the night from Holland to Germany, we arrived in the middle of the large hospital complex, Beelitz-Heilstätten. Getting out of the car we were greeted with the most amazing architectural buildings, each building was a significant size and the site went on for what seemed like forever.
Beelitz-Heilstätten, a district of the town, is home to a large hospital complex of about 60 buildings including a co-generation plant erected from 1898 on according to plans of architect Heino Schmieden. Originally designed as a sanatorium by the Berlin workers’ health insurance corporation, the complex from the beginning of World War I on was a military hospital of the Imperial German Army. During October and November 1916, Adolf Hitler recuperated at Beelitz-Heilstätten after being wounded in the leg at the Battle of the Somme. In 1945, Beelitz-Heilstätten was occupied by Soviet forces, and the complex remained a Soviet military hospital until 1995, well after the German reunification. In December 1990 Erich Honecker was admitted to Beelitz-Heilstätten after being forced to resign as the head of the East German government.
Following the Soviet withdrawal, attempts were made to privatize the complex, but they were not entirely successful. Some sections of the hospital remain in operation as a neurological rehabilitation centre and as a centre for research and care for victims of Parkinsons disease. The remainder of the complex, including the surgery, the psychiatric ward, and a rifle range, was abandoned in 2000. As of 2007, none of the abandoned hospital buildings or the surrounding area were secured, giving the area the feel of a ghost town. This has made Beelitz-Heilstätten a destination for curious visitors and a film set for movies like The Pianist from 2002 (1)
We made it into the first building as the sun was rising and started shooting immediately – every angle of the buildings architecture had an angle worth shooting. Making our way through the building we noticed the area’s that other people had shot and posted on-line.
The thing that really struck as about Beelitz-Heilstätten was the size, quality and sheer complexity of the buildings and underground structure. All of the buildings are linked via underground service tunnels. The sanatoriums build quality was excellent, amazing architectural design and amazing attention to detail inside.
After exploring the first building, we made our way out and went to check into our accommodation – none of us really wanted to leave Beelitz however Bas forgot his tripod so we travel out to Potsdam and found a camera shop.
Back to Beelitz-Heilstätten, which is almost empty however in some parts of the underground you will find artefacts dated back to when the sanatorium was live but for the most, you will see hallways and rooms in their naked beauty.
Was not long before we stumbled across one of the most shot rooms in the Beelitz complex, the operating theatre! This was trashed but still maintained some honour. We looked around, in a hole in the wall I found cloths soaked in what I hope was imitation blood, hanging all over were drip bags – eerie and cool!
We traversed the underground network and moved from building to building, every turn produced another amazing angle.
We then found the Beelitz ruins, I do not know of the history of this and despite some research I’ve yet to learn what happened (if you know, please contact me so I can update this article – thx). From the outside you will see an extremely large and significantly decayed building, inside looks like extreme fire damage. The photos cannot put into perspective the size of this place. We viewed the many hallways and floors witnessing the same style flooring tiles however a slightly different architectural style seemed to have been used.
Nothing exists in the ruins, only history, a strange silence and many images to take. We found the staircase that is featuring on the new Urbex Book produced by Jeremy Gibbs so we each took our unique shots and carried on.
Heading out of the ruins we grabbed some externals and walked over the the other part of the site. Beelitz-Heilstätten is spread across a large site either side of main road. In the side we have explored we had seen admin wards, operating theatres, kitchens, under ground complex, cells/wards and many other beautiful scenes, we were privileged to have witnessed this but we had much more to see
We went over to explore the Bath House, Berlin was just recovering from -10degC temperatures and we noticed something we have never experienced before. We entered the basement of the bathhouse to be greeted with what suspect was an immediate 10-12degC temperature drop, the walls covered in ice and each breath almost freezing. Whilst the outsides has almost thawed, the basements would take weeks to stabilise in temperature.
Covering a complex of tunnels, holes in walls and underground chambers we arrived in the Bathhouse. For some reason I did not take a shot of the actual bath however its a massive domed tall room with a single small bath in the middle, enough for perhaps 2 people
Continuing on we found the most amazing staircases and entrance halls which led to large hall type rooms with detailed architecture, one of them looked like a play hall. The large building overlooked a grassed area with a statue in the middle, directly opposite the building was a similar sized building and to the right, an even larger building which we suspected to be the sports hall.
Meeting up with other explorers is always good, we had arranged to meet up with Batram and Ill Padrino. At the meeting point we exchanged greetings and made our way over to another complex where we had all seen the photos of the ‘blue staircase’. There were cars outside and as Frits started walking in, an angry photographer shouted loudly to get out – some sort of ‘other’ photo shoot was going on inside, this photo shoot was not focused on the abandoned building.
Heading back around to the grassed statue area, we looked to hit up the complex that stands in front of the live neurological unit. There seemed to be no way into this place, however after some time in the network of tunnels, we finally found a way in.
This building was amazing, corridors that go on forever, beautiful staircases and décor. Batram showed us some documents he found hidden away in a void behind the wall. Dr. Crazy made a guest appearance as we got together some prop work.
We continued through the rooms and corridors before finishing at the ‘Whitney Houston’ stage. This is strange, a grand hall with stage, apparently its written due to some performing arts group or something. Anyway, its become iconic of Beelitz and was good to shoot
And after some discussion, we headed out to sample what we had been discussing from a few months back.
I was told that Beelitz has the best tasting pancakes, well, in Europe. I like pancakes and finally, we were here – sitting in Beelitz-Heilstätten, cameras, beer, pancakes and damn, everyone that had ever told me about them were right – the best tasting pancakes for sure…
Supplies were needed so we headed out to get food/drink etc then headed straight back to Beelitz-Heilstätten to meet up with Batram and Ill Padrino again, this time to find the ‘brain chair’. It had started to get dark when we went in however found it and got some shots of Frits going crazy in there – RomanyWG has the video stashed away somewhere.
From here, we headed back to our sleeping location however stopped on the way to check out some abandoned railway station. When we arrived, we saw two taggers go running for the woods. We got to work looking for entrance points, found a way in underground however came up against a large steel door. Something interesting was a chair, in a small room with cable ties around the back of it like someone had been cuffed in there?
We got out and found another way in, Frits took the lead whilst I kept watch – all Frits found was a bunch of bats living in there. We ate, drank and talked about the next days plans (Krampnitz, Schloss, Grabowsee).
Last day, time is flying and we decided to get up before light, pack up and spend the rest of the day finishing off Beelitz-Heilstätten. We wend back to the complex where we got kicked out, found our way in and started shooting the sports hall.
The blue staircase was ours alone this time, we kept shooting whilst the sun rose outside and filled the building with golden rays – a Beelitz sunrise is something for sure. We shared laughs, photos and then the inevitable came, all good things have to come to an end
We packed up and hit the road for the trip across Germany back into Holland to get the flight back to the UK. This was the best, and worst exploration I’ve been on. The best is frickin awesome friends, locations, food and beer however its sheer scale of derelict buildings and beautiful architecture has tainted what the UK has on offer…
Only one thing for it
Hope you enjoyed the read
Full set of photos in my flickr