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Former US listening station Teufelsberg

Former US listening station Teufelsberg

Secret listening station in Berlin

It is quiet at the top of the Teufelsberg, an artificial hill just outside the center of Berlin. Silent as a mouse. That was a bit different during the Cold War.

A few thousand soldiers intercepted, recorded, and analyzed every telephone conversation within a radius of 300 kilometers - from gossip to state secret.

'Berlin is the testicle of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin.' This statement by Nikita Khrushchev, the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, made no bones about it: the tension between the East and the West was palpable in the early 1960s. Berlin was at the front of this Cold War.

From friend to enemy

A decade earlier, all parties still sat side by side when concluding the Warsaw Pact after the Second World War.

In that treaty, defeated Nazi Germany was divided into two: the West was controlled by the American, British, and French Allies; East Germany fell into the hands of Russia. The German capital - entirely surrounded by East Germany - was divided into four zones: a French, a British, an American, and a Russian zone.

But that togetherness did not last. Both camps disagree on almost every point: the economy, democratic participation,... Things quickly went from bad to worse. For example, after a disagreement over the new German currency, the Soviet Union blocked all access to West Berlin.

For two years (1948-1949), the western part of the city had to be supplied with aircraft, the so-called Berlin Airlift. Ten years later, in 1961, the Russians built a wall around East Germany to block the flight of millions of East Germans.

America's ear

The tension between the two superpowers increased with regularity in the decades after World War II. We were in the middle of the Cold War. Knowing what the other side was cooking up provided a strategic advantage.

This is how the secret radar station on the top of Teufelsberg - 120 meters above sea level - was created just outside the center of West Berlin.

Since 1955, the American army has been monitoring all military radio frequencies in the East, working together with friendly Great Britain. After all, Teufelsberg and the surrounding Grunewald are located in the British sector of the city.

Rubble mountain

Interesting detail: Teufelsberg is an artificial mountain with the rubble of destroyed houses and streets in Berlin after the Second World War. The Germans found no other solution for approximately 40,000 m³ of stone chunks than to stack them just outside the center. Under all that rubble are the remains of a military school that the Nazis built there.

The Allies tried to blow up the school after the end of the war, but it turned out to be indestructible, after which it was decided to bury it completely in rubble.

Berlin, the capital of spies

'Berlin Field Station,' as the base is officially called, looks like the setting of a science fiction film with its bright blue walls and white glossy footballs. The white spheres on the roof of the buildings camouflaged giant radars.

The radars could pick up every telephone call within a radius of 300 kilometers, including those made from the party office of the communist ruling party just down the road in the city.

Ferris wheel

After a few years, the intelligence service determined that the reception of radio signals was better during specific periods than during the rest of the year.

Cause? A little further away, the Ferris wheel of the annual German-American fair turned out to function as an extra antenna. From that moment on, the Ferris wheel remained standing, even though the fair was over.


The specific details of the installation remain top military secret to this day: the soldiers who worked there at the time also knew few details, so the system was one big puzzle in which each employee only had access to the information he needed for his job. You cannot tell what you don't know.

There was also no exchange of information between the friendly British and American soldiers. The information that did leak shows that it must have been possible to disrupt all radio traffic in Berlin in the event of an emergency.

Life on the base for the 1,500 people who worked there was not very pleasant, despite a gym and a casino: the large buildings had no windows, and soldiers worked in varying shifts and for mediocre wages.

So, the workers were open to proposals from the enemy. For example, between 1983 and 1988, US officer James Hall sold secret information from his job as an analyst at Teufelsberg to the Soviet Union. Hall provided the East German intelligence service Stasi with, among other things, a complete list of all military locations in West Berlin and West Germany. Boasting about his role as a double agent eventually caused him to suffer: Hall was sentenced to forty years in prison in 1989.

The end of the Cold War

"As far as I know... effective immediately, without delay". When that statement from GDR leader Gunter Schabowski was broadcast live on November 9, 1989, the Cold War and the tensions between West and East ended. Tens of thousands of East Germans flocked to Berlin Wall border crossings. To everyone's surprise, the barriers opened after some time of drumming.

When US President George Bush and Soviet Union leader Gorbachev shook hands on a cruise ship in the port of Malta, the Teufelsberg radar station lost its raison d'être. In 1992, the last soldiers left the base after removing all equipment and dismantling the radars.

What remains of the interior are countless kilometers of cables, once neatly tucked away in false floors and ceilings. In the building of the Military Police, which was responsible for permanent surveillance of the site, there is still a mural with the words 'Assist, Protect, Defend.' But what appeals most to the imagination are the abandoned paper shredders. The task of the gigantic machines was to reduce all useless transcripts to fragments, so that Teufelsberg remained silent.

Luxury hotel with museum

A group of investors bought the vacant buildings in 1995. The plan was to house a luxury hotel, apartments, and a museum. There was no lack of enthusiasm: a model apartment was built in the old computer room, and the old utilities made way for the foundations of a new lookout tower. It was in vain because the work was soon stopped. After all, it was unprofitable.

Despite its turbulent history, the attractiveness of the buildings, and the beautiful panorama of the city of Berlin, the site seems doomed to disappear. In recent years, the radar station has become a tourist attraction.

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