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There is a place on top of a massive hill in what was once West Berlin that looks like something from an abandoned galaxy far, far away.

For three decades during the Cold War, this now-derelict, space-like structure served as an American spy base to eavesdrop on Communist communications. In the decades since the U.S. deserted it, this “listening station” fell into eerie disrepair and became a haven for squatters, mural painters, graffiti artists, and vandals.

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Teufelsberg, a.k.a. Devil's Mountain, in Berlin

Teufelsberg, a.k.a. Devil’s Mountain, in Berlin | PHOTO: Blake Snow

Today, Teufelsberg (aka “Devil’s Mountain”) is open to tourists and overlooks Berlin from a mountainous pile of rubble that World War II left behind. There’s even an on-site tenant who lives there to preserve what’s left. But unlike other “dark tourism” attractions, which are sometimes morally questionable, Devil’s Mountain is a fascinating look into a society and political climate that time forgot, in a city that’s still dominated by invisible walls.

I recently visited the forsaken complex on a foggy day, just as the country was celebrating 30 years since the fall of the Berlin wall and start of democracy, which is the reason America left. After booking a two-hour tour with Get Your Guide, a minivan picked me up from Potsdamer Platz in downtown Berlin, then we headed west into the scenic Grunewald forest about 30 minutes from town.

So you know, Berlin is famously flat. Although Devil’s Mountain is only 400 feet tall, you can feel its relative height as the road switchbacks to the summit. Upon arrival, I spotted several dilapidated cars completely covered in graffiti with weeds and plants growing inside. Who left these here?

Abandoned Berlin spy station, Germany

PHOTO: Blake Snow

Walking up from the parking lot, I was then greeted by a 1990s television set, ottomon, and office chair sitting in the middle of an overgrown courtyard… as if it belonged there. Beyond was a series of five rectangular buildings and four bulbous radome towers rising above. Not only are many of the windows busted out or partially broken, the buildings themselves are brightly colored, as if a giant toddler took a box of crayons and started filling in the shapes.

This has the double effect of making Devil’s Tower both creepy and inviting. Once inside, I was treated to a photographic and artifact tour of how the “mountain” was erected (i.e. 80% of Berlin was destroyed in World War II, forcing the Germans to relocate 80 truckloads of rubble every day for 20 straight years).

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Abandoned Berlin spy station, Germany

PHOTO: Blake Snow

I learned about the Cold War, how and why America built the field station, and what they used it for until it closed in 1992. I learned about the failed attempt to convert Devil’s Mountain into luxury condominiums, and how the city later invited street artists to brighten up the broken place with colorful emotional artwork.

“What’s so fun about walking through a shabby spy station?” you might ask. If it wasn’t real, you would think you were walking through a massive movie set for an Earthly apocalypse. That in itself is redeeming. But the murals and graffiti on display are as affecting as they are widespread, making this the largest street art gallery in all of Europe.

Abandoned Berlin spy station, Germany

PHOTO: Blake Snow

In that way, Devil’s Tower is a magical mix of historical intrigue, dashed hopes, shameful history, and colorful art that wills itself upon the darkness. After traversing the buildings and gawking at the exteriors, I climbed the steps of the tallest tower. Although the viewing deck was closed that day until crews could heighten the outdated handrails, I surveyed everything that was left behind and came to a conclusion:

This mysterious mountain stands out and is a powerful reminder of a world we no longer want but one we still must confront so history doesn’t repeat itself. Upon exiting, my German guide graciously said the same: “We did all of this but hopefully this place can serve as a reminder to never do it again.”

About the author: Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a seasoned writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his supportive family and loyal dog.

Tagged: Europe, Germany

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Blake Snow

Blake Snow

Blake writes for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a seasoned writer-for-hire and energetic travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his loving family and loyal dog, and hopes to visit all seven continents someday.

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