Friday, May 23, 2014


I sit here having just returned from Teufelsberg. That's German for Devil's Mountain. Teufelsberg is a hill that is elevated around 100 meters or so above the surrounding land (if I remember correctly), and is remarkable for a number of reasons. The first is that one hundred years ago it did not exist. It is a manmade “mountain,” created in the years after World War II. Berliners created the thing by heaping together all the rubble from the destruction the city faced during the War. According to Wikipedia there is about 26 million cubic meters of rubble. All from the broken bricks of old Berlin. And they brought the rubble in from all over the city, one truckload at a time. During the tour we saw a picture of the process, and each individual load was really not much more than could fit on the bed of a pick-up truck. It was a decades-long project.
The second reason we can call Teufelsberg remarkable is because during the Cold War at the tippy top of this little mountain there was a secret spy operation run by American and British intelligence. “Communications Intelligence.” While it was in operation (till 1992) American agents (or whatever you call them) monitored communication signals flying around the nearby Soviet air-ways. And we got a tour of the facilities.  Of course there was nothing much left of the actual technology they used. When the Americans abandoned the place they took all the important stuff with them. Mostly empty lockers now and big spacious, run-down, echo-y rooms. Although we did get to see one thing they left behind: the “Document Disintegration System,” which is a fancy way of saying a giant paper shredder. It consisted in two pretty large cylinders, maybe a meter and a half in diameter each and extending from the floor to the ceiling. I don't really understand how they accomplished their task, but apparently the process of “Document Disintegration” began by shredding all the paper, before the shreds were funneled into these cylinders, inside of which they were then whirled around at a high speed. The idea, apparently, is that the friction generated by the whirlwind would rub the ink off of these very sensitive documents. After this, the shreds were all somehow clumped together into a box-like shape (how I do not know!), ready to be loaded onto a truck which then took them to another building to be incinerated. A thorough procedure.
Today what's left of the "spy-operation" is in pretty heavy disrepair. The windows are all missing or broken. Apparently much of it is dangerous to walk through. Our tour-guide told us to “stick by him” and we'll make it out okay. I imagine that he meant to say that other parts of the building were not so structurally sound. Now the whole place is also covered in graffiti. Every inch of the walls, it seems, is covered in art. But this is not just vandalism. The folks who take care of Teufelsberg have invited artists to come in and mark it up as they please. Our tour-guide also mentioned that they've opened up the space for performance art, which it kills me not to be able to see. There is one space in particular that I could imagine is perfect. On the roof of the building there are the remains of a radio-tower that used to be used by the German government for reasons having to do with air traffic (i.e. airplanes), although I can't really remember the specifics. What's important is that the room is a giant sphere at the top of five or six flights of stairs, and it's got some really strange acoustics. Wish I could explain. When you speak in this room you hear your own echo about a half second after you make any noise, and it's as though it comes from immediately behind you. It sounds like someone is imitating everything you say. The effect was so strange.
All in all it was an interesting tour. Real spy-business, that stuff is no joke. And now I'm gearing up for theater, making for another full day in Berlin.

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