Teufelsberg update + Non Random Sample

010bFive am and my train moans to a stop at Army Street Station on the west side of Berlin. I check the time.

One hour until sunrise.

An early bird, I am today, with a mouth full of worms, but I am on a mission. A mission of love to visit an old friend I have written about before. I got me a date with the sunrise at Devil’s Mountain. A film I made is below.

As anyone who knows me can testify, I am not much of a morning person, but here I am trudging through the slightly brisk air of a dew-sopped pre-dawn forest on the edge of Berlin, down a dark road climbing toward the abandoned U.S. listening post perched on the top of the hill.

And Sunrise this morning looks pretty iffy at this point due to a rather thick fog that has rolled in from the north in the last few hours. Just like the forecast said it would. Dammit.

I had watched the clouds materialize over the course of my journey West.

When I left the house at 4:30 the sky was clear and I was hopeful all the TV meteorologists I had consulted had their guesses wrong, but transferring at Alex from the underground to the Fast Train, when we rolled out of the station on the raised rail I noticed a certain haziness above the buildings.

By the time the train had crossed the Animal Garden Park the sky had grown a murky, and I was cursing myself for not listening to the weather reports.

“A morning fog that would burn off by noon,” all the stations reported, this despite that it had been perfectly clear all week.

But what did that mean? I questioned.

Fog could be thick or thin.  Having made it this far, I was not about to turn around, and you never know how the dawn will actually play out.

A little fog could make the sunrise that much more beautiful.

I wish I hadn’t forgotten my apple. I’m hungry.

This is me talking to myself as I hump up the trail, me trying to remain hopeful despite a fog that I could see getting thicker with each minute toward sunrise. The morning dew was feeding it. I could feel the air getting wetter by the moment.

The funny part is I didn’t once think about the potential for insanely beautiful pictures that a foggy morning at Devil’s mountain held. I wanted a sunrise.

And I was kind of pissed after humping up the hill and into the compound, hurrying silently across the yard, climbing all the many flights of stairs up into the tower, only to find visibility to be about nil. The tower was wrapped in fog. The sun would rise in 30 minutes…but it would take a miracle at this point for me to catch a glimpse of it. O well.

It was only after I’d set all my devices up for recording in various ways and finally stuck my eyeball into the viewfinder of my camera that I saw the obvious standing in front of me: the cursed fog was actually kind of stupid-nutty gorgeous. Duh!

The stark geometric outline of the once so secret spy station, but now covered in time’s texture, crumbling from weather and torn by the hands of grave robber and pilligers, metal salvagers and a few bankrupt attempts at renovating, with the layers of fun and party, youth and love, chaotic graffiti and other forms of organic overgrowth hanging on the walls and climbing from cracks in the tile; all this swimming in a sea of space, stepping shades of gray silhouettes until the forest melted into fog. And though I didn’t have a sunrise, the fog was blowing, as fog does, enabling me nonetheless to appreciate my motion through the universe.

And I was happy with that. Appreciating at least for a second one’s miniscule and fleeting existence clinging to a piece of rock flying through an enormous explosion is exactly what a trip to Devil’s Mountain was all about.

Usually one got that sense of awe through the expansive view atop the spy station, itself atop one of Berlin’s three highest points, all three of the city’s ‘mountains’ being of course rubble heaps from WWII, the un-reusable bricks and trash and junk left over from Berlin’s destruction (the link at the top tells the story) which of course is another layer of awe.

But the fog did it for me. I was awed.

Just the same I returned again last week to get a sunrise.

Again it was a happy inspiring experience.

What was not happy, and only inspiring of grumpiness, was the thought that this may be one of the last chances I would experience this. Alas, according to the most recent local propaganda reports, the bulldozer demons are set to attack this summer, and Devil’s Mountain will no longer be just free and open and dangerous to the public, it would soon be a wellness center, cafe and perfectly safe, and maybe someday have a museum attached, if the guy could make enough millions to make that feasible. That’s the plan at least as of now.

Yes, the threat has often been made to wreck the place…and the local government has tried to protect the integrity and public access to the place, so this is actually a much better looking deal that all that have come before…and I understand that progress is progress and all shall be burst asunder, but the fact is the world may be losing one of the great human/organic wonders of the world, one that wasn’t on the map in the typical sense, like the Taj Mahal or the Brandenburg Gate or nothing, but no less a monument to the high point of humanity’s creativity.

So many layers of history built that hill and that Spy Station, and then the people and nature reclaimed it, made it a romantic place to sneak into and have parties and camp out and record music and spray graffiti and make art….the semi-secret mound of fear and loss at the edge of Berlin when the wall came down was cleansed by love and fun and weeds creeping up through the cracks and birds making their nests in the eves.

And now some developer will turn it into a sauna.

Here’s the Flickr set of still photos

Here’s my cheap flick:


About Andrew Flohr-Spence

Something about the sound and the word. Was a singer/bassist for five years, a German major for five, an English teacher in Germany for another five, then a journalism major in Denver for 5 more, and now I'm back in Berlin (for a while, I intend).
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