Rapunzel’s Stasi castle
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! Alas, the blonde damsel was no longer there.
On the ground floor all the windows were blocked. I even tried the front door but that too was locked.
Oh Rapunzel, Rapunzel where did you go? I must find a way in, or didn’t you know?
Damn that witch whose spell cast you away! Or maybe it was because the Stasi held sway.
For Schloss Dammsmühle is no ordinary castle. Never mind getting in, even its history is hassle.
There was the Stasi as mentioned before, Heinrich Himmler, Nazis, the Red Army and more…
So it’s no surprise Rapunzel turned and fled. If she’d shared her tower with that lot she’d likely be dead.
There is a castle to the north of Berlin overlooking a lake with a tall tower just perfect for Rapunzel to let down her hair.
There’s a sting in this fairytale but let’s start at the beginning, when but a humble mill occupied this picturesque site in the 16th century. A hunting lodge was built here in 1650, though it wasn’t until Berlin leather manufacturer Peter Friedrich Damm bought the land from Andreas Grüwel in 1755, nine years after another watermill was built, that the story began to take shape…
Damm was a saddle-maker with friends in high places. He had the exclusive right to supply the Prussian army with leather uniform parts. He lived in what is now the Ermelerhaus in Mitte, but notions of grandeur make people do crazy things – Damm wanted his own royal residence out in the countryside. So he had Schloss Dammsmühle (Damm’s Mill Castle) built in 1768. You can still see the date above the door.
Queen Elisabeth Christine, Frederick the Great’s wife, stayed here a few times apparently. Sure who could blame her? Oul’ Fritz may have been great but he was a lousy husband.
Damm died without an heir and his “castle” fell into disrepair until it was snapped up by one lieutenant Adolf Friedrich Wollank (1866-1915) in 1894.
The Wollanks were a well-known landowning family. Adolf Friedrich’s father and grandfather were both also called Adolf Friedrich Wollank. The grandfather (1805-1865) bought the Pankow estate in 1859, and the father (1833-1867) became a local politician after whom a street and S-Bahnhof are named in Pankow.
The Wollank we’re concerned with expanded Damm’s castle in a neo-baroque style and had a fancy oriental-looking dance hall with an onion-dome and turrets on an artificial island out on the lake, the Mühlenteich.
There used to be dancers, jugglers and musicians performing here. It must have been quite a spectacle.
Wollank’s brother Otto took over after he died in 1915. By this stage it was known as Schloss Dammsmühle. Wollank was buried in a pavilion opposite the Schloss, though that’s long gone. I guess his bones ended up in the lake and he’s swimming with the fishes. Or in them.
Hermann Zirkel, a merchant from Zehlendorf, bought the place in 1919, and British businessman Harry Goodwin Hart, who was a director of Lever Brothers (later Unilever) from 1915 to 1932, acquired the castle in 1929.
The Nazis were on the rise at the time and got into power a few years later. Hart and his wife were Jewish, and so decided to flee, initially to Switzerland, in 1938.
Hart was forced to sell the Schloss to the Nazis for 445,000 Reichsmark, though the Nazis apparently paid 70,000 too little, leading to an unsuccessful claim from Hart’s lawyers after the war.
SS chief Himmler took over in 1940 and used Schloss Dammsmühle as a base and a fancy guesthouse. He had up to 25 concentration camp inmates from nearby Sachsenhausen working on the place from January to July 1943, sprucing it up a bit and maintaining it.
General Gotthard Heinrici, commander-in-chief of the last forces for Germany’s final defense, had his headquarters here toward the end of the war. Not that it helped turn the tide.
The Red Army took over after the war, as was their wont, though they didn’t stay long in this case. They used it initially as a hospital and then as a casino for high-ranking officers. They were only passing guests.
The Stasi took over in 1959 and used the Schloss as a training and recreation center. They had important guests to entertain, party members and fellow snoops. There must have been more bugs in the place than in the Amazon. You’d certainly have to watch what you said.
Stasi top dog Erich Mielke had various works on the building carried out, generally to its detriment, while other non-descript ancillary buildings were built nearby.
Mielke and his bugs were rendered obsolete with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Schloss Dammsmühle served briefly as a hotel after German reunification. An ARD television series called “Haus am See” was filmed here from 1991. There were only 12 episodes. Probably 12 too many.
It wasn’t the end of the Schloss’ acting career. Later it was able to redeem itself with bit part roles in “Babylon Berlin” and “Polizeiruf” for domestic TV.
Hart’s heirs got the place back in 1997 but promptly sold it on again. It fell into disrepair during the years it was vacant.
A Berlin concert promoter held events at Schloss Dammsmühle from 2000 to 2003, attracting some 30,000 concertgoers to listen to some presumably awful music each year. There were plans to revitalize the site but they didn’t come to fruition.
Another company took over in 2008, MBM, run by Gerd Matern. He organized various events like a Biergarten lunch, rock concerts (more awful music) and a Spukfest, whatever the hell that is.
Schloss Dammsmühle was sold in 2017 to a group of investors including Berlin restaurateur Roland Mary, who owns the fancy Borchardt eatery on Französische Straße. Now there are plans to turn the Schloss into a luxury hotel with spa and restaurant facilities. The work is underway, albeit at a very slow pace.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Schloss Dammsmühle, a playground for more unsavory types through the years than you could shake a stick at. There were and still are plans to revive it. Construction work was already underway on the lestst visit.
- Where: Schloßstraße, 16348 Wandlitz, Germany.
- How to get there: Get the S2 S-Bahn to Berlin-Karow and the regional train (RB7 something) to Schönwalde (Barnim) from there. You’ll need to cycle the rest. Turn right coming out of the train station and turn right when the main road veers off to the left. It’s even signposted. You can also cycle from Basdorf if you miss your stop (like I did). It’s a bit tricky to get there through the woods but the area is scenic if you get lost. Here’s a map.
- Getting in: It pains me to admit defeat on this one. I didn’t get in. You’d need crowbars to prize open one of the metal plates, a grappling hook to climb in though one of the second story windows or a very large ladder. Of course I cannot condone anything illegal. You can hop into what was an old bowling alley to the side but there’s only limited exploring to be had in that. There are also the ancillary buildings nearby though they’re not that exciting.
- When to go: Daytime if you want to go swimming in the lovely lake. Nighttime if you want to go skinny-dipping in the lovely lake. You know, it doesn’t really matter. Just jump in.
- Difficulty rating: 10/10 I’m giving this the top rating for now.
- Who to bring: Girlfriend/boyfriend for a romantic picnic by the Mühlenteich, or some miners if you plan on tunneling into the castle.
- What to bring: A ladder. Bring togs/bikini for the lake, nothing if you prefer FKK. Either way, bring beer, wine or spirits to keep the thirst at bay, and maybe some mozzie spray to keep them at bay too. Bring a camera if you want to take pictures, and a picnic for the authentic Brandenburg excursion experience.
- Dangers: Construction workers.
More Stasi secrets
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.
East Germany checked out right before the Stasi could check in. Their hotel was never completed. Now it’s just a great hulking ruin between the trees.
The Stasi spy station Quelle 1 in Rhinow tapped fiber cable going from West Berlin 250km across the DDR to enemy state West Germany. Sneaky.