Party at Saddam’s house
Papers are strewn everywhere, files, important documents, files, letters, photos, names, addresses; mountains of them ripped from folders and filing cabinets and just scattered around. Chairs are overturned, sofas gutted, desks ravaged, walls blackened, shards of glass lie on the floor. Dirty curtains billow in the nonchalant breeze through broken windows.
You’d think a bomb hit the place even before you realize where you are. But this is one Iraqi site which was never bombed – it was simply abandoned.
They must have just left the Iraqi Embassy to East Germany (German Democratic Republic or DDR) with no notice at all. “We’re leaving. Pack your bags and get out!”
They didn’t even bother to clear their desks. More than 20 years later the telephones, rusty typewriters and telex machines were still sitting on desks, along with manuals and lists of phone numbers. (In June, 2010, there was still even toilet paper on a roll beside the smashed up cistern!)
Most of what they left behind in January 1991 was still there. All the good stuff was gone of course; I was looking for a picture of Saddam Hussein. Any medals, busts or trinkets were long pilfered but there was still more than enough to hold the attention.
A receipt from April 28th, 1970 for 1.070,66 East German Mark made out to Herr Dr. Hl Hussani, whoever the hell he was, and letters addressed to Mr. Issam Salman Al Rawi from the Iraqi embassy in London. There were also manuscripts on the Iran-Iraq war, and plenty of pictures of missile launchers in action, smiling Iraqi soldiers and wartime propaganda.
Saddam himself was there too! Smiling beautifully and radiating with glory on the cover of a brochure soiled by decades of Berlin winters and the passing of time. Time hasn’t been kind to him either, I’m afraid.
I’d hopped over the half-hearted barbed-wire effort on the front gate and made my way in through the cellar. As is becoming customary, I’d no torch with me (I finally bought batteries the Sunday before at Mauerpark) so I was relying on my camera infrared to light the dark rooms. It didn’t light much. I stumbled over debris, banged into overturned furniture and crunched on broken glass as I groped my way around in the darkness. I pushed open doors, peered around corners in the dark, half expecting a decayed corpse to suddenly roll out in front of me.
My heart was in my mouth. It nearly shot out of my mouth when I heard voices upstairs as I was rooting through some files. Who the hell was that?! I waited and listened. They spoke again. A laugh. Then I knew it wasn’t the Polizei. Or Saddam’s henchmen protecting deep dark secrets. I continued rooting.
Most of the letters were in Arabic, so I’d no idea what plots they were divulging, what secrets they were sharing, whose ideas they were betraying. I should have paid more attention during Arabic classes. I continued searching.
The 5,000 square meter site belongs to Germany but the Republic of Iraq has ‘perpetual and exclusive rights’ (per embassy etiquette) after being granted same by the now defunct DDR government.
The Iraqis have apparently bigger fish to fry and look set to keep ignoring it from their plush all-Germany embassy in Zehlendorf.
“No comment,” from an Iraqi spokesman.
Meanwhile, someone in the Berlin city planning authority: “It’s a matter for Iraq; there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The abandoned Iraqi embassy has deteriorated drastically over the years as the parties, vandals and trophy hunters have taken their toll. The pictures you see here are from that first visit in 2010, but check the photos in the galleries below to see how it looks now. At least it still enjoys diplomatic immunity, according to the sign outside.
The building was built in 1974 when Iraq enjoyed good relations with the DDR. It had been the first non-socialist state to recognize East Germany as a country in 1969. Saddam Hussein even invited top dog Erich Honecker to Baghdad in 1980, probably to discuss arms deals.
The East German National People’s Army helped Iraqi preparations for chemical warfare, with Der Spiegel reporting in 1990 that four officers from the ‘Chemical Services’ of the NVA led a project until the early 1980s to develop chemical, atomic and biological weapons at a facility near Baghdad. George W. Buch must have read that particular article, or at least had it read to him.
Saddam Hussein’s policy included hits on political opponents abroad. Apparently the East Germans were happy for Iraqis to use East Berlin as a base for operations in West Berlin, and embassy staff could pass through Checkpoint Charlie as and when they pleased. Two were arrested in West Berlin following a tip-off on August 1st, 1980 as they were receiving a suitcase full of explosives.
They turned out to be the embassy secretary Khalid Jaber and the head of Iraqi intelligence in East Berlin, Hay Ali Mahmood. They were accused of a plot to bomb a congress of Kurdish students in West Berlin, in Wedding, just up the road from me. The tip-off apparently came from the Syrian Intelligence Service to the West German Bundesnachrichtendienst intelligence service (BND). .
Reports of large amounts of weapons and explosives at the Iraqi embassy in Berlin were confirmed by the DDR Interior Ministry in September 1990 when it was placed under watch. Iraq was already a month into the first Gulf War after invading Kuwait, and then German reunification took place in October. (Unconnected events.)
The new all-German government, no doubt on its best behavior and keen to curry favor across the Atlantic, ordered staff out of the embassy in January 1991 while the first Gulf War was coming to an end. It’s been abandoned ever since, stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire of its own making.
Live by bureaucracy, die by bureaucracy.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Former Iraqi Embassy to East Germany, abandoned in 1991 and still enjoying diplomatic immunity at its best after all these years.
- Where: Tschaikowskistraße 51, Berlin 13156, Germany.
- How to get there: The M1 tram goes to Tschaikowskistraße, or the 155 bus to Homeyerstraße. Better yet, your bicycle will get you anywhere. Here’s a map so you can figure out where to go. It ain’t far!
- Getting in: You need to be flexible, the situation changes all the time. Last week it was possible to enter from the back by hopping over the gate to the neighboring patch of land beside the Panke and then walking along the stream (be careful you don’t fall into it!) to the part where the fence was trampled down. Then the very next day the fence was repaired and it took a bit more climbing. Yesterday the front door to the embassy had a hole in it inviting people in. There’s also a window open to the side. It’s easy enough to hop over the front gate.
- When to go: Daytime is best so you can see what the hell you’re looking at.
- Difficulty rating: 4/10 This has been downgraded from 7/10. You need to be on the lookout for police and nosy neighbors. Germans have an uncontrollable urge to ring people in authority when they suspect someone might be breaking the law, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with them. “Das ist verboten, verdammte Scheiße. Ich muß dringend die Polizei anrufen!”
- Who to bring: Like-minded explorers, fugitives from the law.
- What to bring: Camera. Tripod if you want to be fancy about it. A few beers to sip on the roof. And a torch. Bring a torch for Jaysus’ sake!
- Dangers: There’s a homeless man living at the embassy and he’s not dangerous at all, but you should leave him alone and not disturb him because, well, it’s his home now and you wouldn’t like strangers coming in and rooting around YOUR home. He said he sleeps very well there despite the intruders, and that people keep stealing his alarm clocks, the only thing he has to steal, evidently because they think they’re leftover Iraqi alarm clocks. Folks, they’re not leftover Iraqi alarm clocks. There is literally nothing related to Iraq left in the building, nothing – everything has been pilfered and taken home by trophy hunters or burned by people who like to burn things.
The Polizei do respond to nosy neighbors’ calls, though evidently they’re powerless to stop the burning. My first attempt to gain entrance was aborted when a Polizei Wagon parked outside the place actually reversed to see what was going on. They were there again last week. There’s evidently no crime in Berlin – the Polizei are always itching for something to do. Use your discretion or they’ll be down on you like a scud missile.
A strange UFO perches on a mountaintop in deepest darkest Bulgaria. Buzludzha, the country’s former communist party HQ, has to be seen to be believed.
Haus der Statistik
Haus der Statistik looms over Berlin’s Alexanderplatz with STOP WARS across its bow in big red letters. The DDR’s former statistics HQ is right to be angry.
The SS Bakery only went bust when the Nazis did. They forced prisoners from nearby Sachsenhausen to make bread to keep other concentration camps going.
Hey, glad to have discovered your blogs. Did you know that a group of us goes on the occasional urbex photo shoot? We’ve been to Beelitz, Teufelsberg, Krampnitz, etc. The group is going to Saddam’s digs today but I’m afraid I can’t join.
“If it’s verboten it must be fun.”
great place, thanks a lot for the info. had a fun day out
same here, there is a new project there to build some luxory appartments…Berlin is on the way to be sold out, it s a shame!!
There’s still time to get in and check this place out. No sign of any construction work when I popped by a couple of weeks ago…
Brilliant! I spent a few years clambering over fences in the East working in a UK military intelligence gathering job and getting paid for it! Have you done the “White House” at Zossen Wünsdorf, the Dallgow-Dörberitz former home of 35 Motor Rifle Div of the Soviet Army or the Olympic village? Fun! By the way an update on the T Berg: there are now official tours at teh weekends around the T Berg and a security company run by a guy called Herr Emge who is quite friendly and let me and a camera crew in to do a documentary for the History Channel no probs. Oh and the sweet dame from Potsdam with her Imbiß caravan now at the entrance most weekends is a hoot and does great currywurst. Allet jute, ND.
I did the Olympic village a while back but want to get back out there, and I haven’t been to the White House yet. Thanks for the tip – it’s on the list!
Hi man, love your blog! Hoping to call out to the embassy this weekend to for a taster before I pluck up the courage to get to Spreepark or get round to taking the trip out to Olympic Village. Heading back to the beautiful island in a next month so need to get a move on!
Thanks for another inspirational piece.
The easiest entry is probably to just hop over a small fence at the back-end of the garden towards Hermann-Hesse Str. There are no ‘verboten’ signs there either. When the trees have leaves you can quite easily avoid detection going in that way. Although it is a quiet street people in Pankow seem to stare at strangers that stand out in some way so dressing ‘middle-classy’ and darkish grey/green might be a good idea. I was in the building for maybe 20-30 minutes. I don’t read arabic so I have no idea if the papers were cooking recipes for hummus or mustard gas. The building has had multiple fires, it seems, but is in OK condition otherwise.
It’s an unusual site and the proximity to residences and offices adds a bit to the excitement. Since it’s so easy to get to from Berlin it makes for a nice little trip.
You’re welcome! Thanks for another helpful comment!
I don’t get the address here. Is it one of the four buildings around a central courtyard on Tscaikowskistrasse? If so how do you access it from Hermanhessestrasse because that’s separated by a block or more? I have to say I enjoyed your report on it immensely so I reckon this is on the to do list now!!!
Its location is precisely marked on the map already thoughtfully provided for you. When you go into that courtyard, Tschaikowskistraße 51 is the first one on the right. You don’t access it from Herman-Hesse-Straße because, as you say, it’s a block or so away, but you could possibly access from (the main) Tschaikowskistraße at the back before you go into the courtyard (towards Herman-Hesse-Straße as a kind commenter already noted).
Just an update for you, me and my friend when in March and it was still easy to get in with no sign of security. The only problem was heaps of people out on the street, perhaps because we went in the afternoon. Because of this we could not go in on the main street, and instead jumped the white fence in the front, we had to be careful no one from the offices next door noticed us.
The main stairwell had been burnt out, and we weren’t brave enough to test out if it was still strong so to get up to the top levels we had to go up a ladder in a small cupboard and onto the roof then through a window (be careful on the roof as the people in the offices/houses have a clear view of this).
The only time anyone saw us is when we were coming out and someone came out of the office and saw my very ungraceful dismount off the fence, he just laughed at me and didn’t say anything.
I went here recently on a Sunday afternoon, and absolutely no problems getting in from the main entrance on Tsschaicovsky Strasse (sp.???). Just be mindful of neighbours and passers-by, otherwise no problem. I’d recommend going when the nearby office buildings are closed on the weekend. We strolled right in through the open front gate.
Still lots of papers, desks, furniture etc. left. Don’t expect to see paintings of Saddam Hussein but there are still plenty of interesting documents strewn around. I didn’t venture up to the upper floors on account of the burned-looking stairs, however I did hear people walking around up above.
Interesting site, and and easy trip within a relatively central site in Berlin!
Went there today and had no problems! Jumped over when work was in session, stayed for two hours, but as I was leaving the workers shifts from the other buildings were just finishing so I had to stealthily hide until most of them left. Definitely I would suggest going on a weekend.
It was an incredible time. I felt so connected to the place, unlike any feeling I’ve ever had in a museum or other historic sights. There’s definitely still so much to see. I cannot imagine how much better it would have been nearly right after it became destitute.
Cool pictures! Glad to hear it’s still accessible and nicely abandoned.
I was there in December…
just found this blog today…pretty incredible. I’m in berlin until the end of this week and looking for a shooting location to film a dance piece. i dance butoh. was wondering if you have any advice… we’d be looking for interesting space that has texture… just to shoot something short..
You could try the former children’s hospital at Weißensee. It’s pretty trashed but if you’re filming you’re unlikely to be disturbed by security etc. Beelitz is probably the most photogenic site but it’s a but further out…
I am visiting my Sister in Hamburg next week Therefore, I would like to ask if you could recommend any places to visit Hamburg. I will be filming the places I Visit a personal Project,
It’s sad what people can do to buildings. We went today, and except for the documents, there’s not much historical ‘beauty’ left. Only in the basement there were two images of saddam somewhere laying around, and half an hour later one was gone. Still, rocking the blog though! Thanks!!!
Anyone up to take a look here this week?
Fence is open just walk in through the Front door.
Crazy. People go there linke to a supermarket. Fence still open.
Went there last sunday early morning. Nice location, but very trashed. But there are still some nice things to see, such as diplomatic documents. Gate is now closed, but you can still easily hop the gate. Best time to go: in the weekend early morning.
Visited the embassy saturday on the 21ste of juni. Situated next to a quite parking lot it was easy to scout around to see if nobody was looking. It was the middle of the day on a saturday and very quite. We parked the car next to gate en went under it. Barbe wire is on the top side of the fence/gate but not everywhere. If your’re not too big you can fit under the gate. We ran to the garage and had a good look around the embassy. Really completely trashed but you could still find documents with photo’s, very nice! Papers everywhere!
Greeting form the Holland Urban Ex Club 🙂
Was here today, as the previous comment also says, place is totally trashed. Everything is broken down, trash and what more everywhere. If it wasn’t for a few papers and books between the trash, you could not tell what it used to be. Very easy to get in though. The gates are open but as there was a man in front of the building next to it, we climb the fence on the right side.
Was there on the Sat 25th of June with friends. The front gate was opened no-one was around we put our bikes further down the street and strolled in. Easy peasy nice visit. Little dip in Weissensee after and life is perfect. Enjoy…
i was yesterday and yes, one month ago was closed, but yesterday i just went in through the door, like a boss 😀
Quite cool. I need to come back as i didn´t have too much time and i would like to find a Saddam picture. It would be amazing to go with someone who could read something of the books there. Thanks for your post!
btw, i agree absolutely with that : Germans have an uncontrollable urge to ring people in authority when they suspect someone might be breaking the law, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with them. “Das ist verboten, verdammte Scheiße. Ich muß dringend die Polizei anrufen!” 😀
I’m sorry if that is what you really have experienced in Germany. However, I’d suppose you’re just ruminating a nationalistic stereotype, don’t you?
That ain’t a stereotype. I’m going on experience. I’ve seen it many times.
I wrote to KrliTo, and Spudnik answered in same narrow-minded attitude. Fine. Then a big hooray to both your chauvinism…
I went there today but I didn’t dare to get in since there were several people inside who seemed to be living there and even looked well-established.
Given the noise they made, the neighborhood may be more tolerant than expected..
Went today, no-one is living there, but lots of nosy neighbours to watch out from. They were not a problem though. The place is great, but if you expect pictures of Saddam, etc, you’ll be disappointed, they are long gone. Thank you Spudnik for the tips, it was a great adventure!
I’m just coming back from there. Someone set fire in the building and the police and fire department came. Thankfully I was thinking to pass the fence when they arrived but I didn’t enter. The police just stopped on my side by car and then they continued to enter directly inside the embassy…
The guys who set fire must be very stupid… 🙁
Hey, all I say wow thats fucking interesting and Im Iraqi myself. So Im thinking to visit this place first week in september when I come to Berlin. Anyone want to join me for this?
Ashraf, if you haven’t already visited, I’d be interested
I did man, Im not in Berlin anymore. But it was good I felt home in that place actually even tho it looks shit cause idiots have burned the place. And I couldnt get a fine book to read.
I am also interested in visiting it. If anyone available on sunday the 12th October please let me know!
It is an interesting place to take pictures. You should make sure that the neighbours don’t see you getting in, but by now they should already be used to people coming there. I think there are also guided tours going there. These are my pics: flic.kr/s/aHsk4NTnHt
Could just stroll in Nov 1 2014. No fence or anything. Best tactics in my experience is to just walk inside instead of hanging around on the outside looking suspicious until people actually notice you. Still smelling of smoke from the shitbrains’ trying to burn the basement. Otherwise a very calm but messy building, clearly in the next stage from being a squat or a newly discovered place. Some really interesting sculptures are made from furniture and paper holders, nice to see that.
We have been there yesterday and I guess getting is easier than ever. You just walk through the front gate and then you can basically choose between all the doors with all the shattered glass. Interesting building and still no sign of construction work or attention.
A pretty crap film of the embassy from last year vimeo.com/92948409
It was easy to get in. Was just a bit concerned about the surrounding buildings. But the gate is open and so the building.
If you are looking for the type writer and the pictures of saddam etc, then I can tell you right now, no need to look for it. It is all gone!
There was a fire supposely as the steps on the left in the building looked burned. If it is not made of wood, I guess you can go up or just take the other ones on the other side.
The building is pretty messed up from the inside. I dont see the “beauty” in it…
I love your page!
If anyone cares, the other guy on pictures is Josip Broz Tito. He was the president of long gone Yugoslavia.
Spudnik, do you mind if I share your picture?
I was wondering who he was! Thanks! Feel free to share, no worries.
was there this morning…very dilapitaded. Could still find 1 or 2 images of Saddam Hussein in newspapers..wonder how much longer they will be there. Combined it with Pankow Schwimhalle and Pankow Guterbahnhof. All 3 very easy accessible
Was there last weekend. Really easy to get in from a side, but there were always cars going and coming in front of the building – so pay attention.
The building is kind of burnt I guess, fuckloads of stuff on the floor, broken glasses and paper all over as described in the article; unfortunately few nice graffiti are left.
Visited a couple days ago, after checking out the anotomical building. Tore up, definite signs of people sleeping there, although we didn’t see anyone else. The mosaics had been painted on, and there was a fairly big fire. Some of the charred iraqi papers made for some nice pictures.
Hi ! I visited it today with some friends and wanted to make an update for the next visitors. Getting in is quite easy : the front portal is very low, quite easy to climb. There is some barbed wire, but there are gaps everywhere. I repeat, it’s very easy.
The embassy is faced by businesses in an impasse. So I think that the weekend is easier, because nobody is working there and can’t ring the police.
Inside, it’s quite destroyed, even if the mobilier is still here. We didn’t found portraits of Saddam, but of Angela Merkel. Be careful, there’s broken glass everywhere, but no other danger. Go there during the day, because light isn’t penetrating much the building, so it’s dark.
It was still funny to be there, in this abandoned embassy. A great feeling. Climbing on the roof is nice. I would say it is a good start for beginner explorers, even if we are far from discovering hidden treasures 😉
Visited it two days ago, very easy to get in, we bumped into another group of explorers. As the former anonymous said it is a good starting point, not dangerous at all, but not much to see at the same time. Still we could find some interesting documents, such as an Isreal map or a document from the Economics minister that were in good condition.
I was there this afternoon (1/1/2016). The garden is cleaned and all the windows and doors are locked by plywood. I’m afraid nothing is left inside. This is the end (?) 🙁
Thank you for the update!
Went to the embassy today and all the doors and windows were barricaded. We managed to walk through the white gate with no issue and found a window open on the left hand side of the building. The building was pitch black inside and we only had phone lights. If there was more lights and easier exits we would of continued but it seemed to dangerous to explore in pitch black with no near by exits. at the top of the stairs we only saw a bag full of tools which made us think somebody was there so quickly left.
Can also confirm that it’s no longer abandoned. Visited today and there were work man coming in and out while some guys at the front were painting the fence. A camera has also been installed on the outside.
I am afraid indeed you might have to increase the difficulty level.. to 9 or 10? Indeed, I was there this morning, and all the doors and windows are barricaded, and they put a – what seems – a brand new almost 2 meter high fence around it, in front of the existing white fence (not at the back). But seems not worth climbing the fence, when there is no way to get inside.
It seems they have cleaned up the compound as well.
I am afraid that this is the end of it…
It’s possible to get in again, but really not worth a visit because it is completely cleaned from everything interesting ( in- and outside) you an see on the pictures of this article.
how did you get in?
I’m coming to Berlin in July. Since I’m going to study Arabic next year, I’d love to go to the embassy. Any news on it lately? The comments make it seem as though it wouldn’t be worth going now.
I went a few weeks ago and you can hop over the front fence easy and there is a wooden board knocked out so you can go in BUT THERE’S NOTHING TO SEE. Some people knocked a wood board out and went inside and did Graffiti pieces. It’s completely empty. Some nice stone mosaic on the wall and some sort of Iraq woman’s federation something sticker from 1984 in the basement but literally EVERYTHING has been takin out.
I went there yesterday and I have to say….it is over…everything is barricaded and not inviting at all.. There is no way in so I also didnt get in…additionally there is a giant sign that reads that trespassers will be persecuted to the full extend of the law
So cool, thanks for a very inspiring article! 🙂
very scary spot! the house is pitch black inside so make sure to bring a flash light. Most of it is boarded up but there is a way in!!! also watch out for a homeless man
Update: It’s alsmost tragic so many do not follow the urban exploring rules. All the rooms are empty, basically. None of the folders, chairs, tables, posters are left. It is possible to get in through an open window in the cellar. Proof of someone living there in the top floor though we did not see anyone. The whole place is boarded up so it’s quite dark. Interesting place nontheless!
Getting to it is the hardest thing. Go on a Sunday so you don’t get caught by the workers from the buildings around. The building to the left has an open gate. Open that and walk through the garden to the flimsy fence. Hop over it, go to the side, go through the window and you’re in. Might wanna watch out for the homeless dude.
Easy enough to get in round the back. Jump the low fence at the corner of Tchaikowskistr. and Herman-Hesse-Str. when no one’s looking and follow the path, then over another fence which is basically falling down anyway. However, anything that wasn’t bolted down inside is long gone, not much left in there except graffiti and the homeless guy who lives on the top floor. He was quite friendly when we were there but is clearly a little bit mental so probably best to be cautious, and/or take him some food.
Thanks for the update!