Achtung, this place has been demolished. It’s a stain wiped clean, but evidence remains below lest anyone forget.
East Germany’s last stand on Murderers’ Mountain
Rubbish strewn across the expanse of concrete somehow adds to the nondescript eeriness, heightens the senses, increases the tension, when suddenly you freeze as something rustles in the long grass.
You cower instinctively from the man about to lunge at you with a large knife. AAAAAGHHH! But it’s only a rabbit, only a rabbit. A large rabbit, he bounds away just as creeped as you are. He’s seen some crazy shit, doesn’t need to see any more…
Volkspolizeikaserne Blankenburg was a barracks for East Germany’s dreaded Volkspolizei-Bereitschaft (VPB), the “Standby People’s Police,” paramilitary riot police, part of the armed forces, answerable to the GDR’s Interior Ministry.
These were the heroes who could be relied upon to help the normal Volkspolizei, the regular VoPo, keep the local populace in check, to step in if things got rowdy. They helped their colleagues with the “erection” of the Berlin Wall by sealing the border on Aug. 13, 1961, while their predecessors helped the Soviets crush the 1953 uprising. As I said, heroes.
The Blankenburg barracks was home to the VPB’s 10th company, named after SED party member and VoPo lieutenant general Rudolf Tittelbach after he died in 1985, but they only took up part of the building complex.
Apparently the Interior Ministry had its central weapons workshop here, and there was also a supply depot for the VoPo Presidium in nearby Basdorf.
On the other side of the high barbed wire-secured fence was a dormitory building for students attending the engineering college across the road. All the buildings were made of the same shite prefab material, functional Plattenbau, nothing more.
But we’re only concerning ourselves with the police barracks hidden behind the metal fence. There were garages out the back capable of holding at least 50 personnel carriers, according to the excellent RottenRails website.
They swung into use on the nights of Oct. 7 and 8, 1989, as protests broke out in response to East Germany’s 40th anniversary celebrations. It was the beginning of the end for the GDR.
Protesters on Alexanderplatz stormed der Palast der Republik, were beaten back and retreated to Prenzlauer Berg, where VoPo and Stasi operatives surrounded them, brutally beat them, and arrested them. The Stasi worked closely with the VoPo of course. They were all the fucking same.
People who weren’t even involved were beaten and arrested too. There were so many arrests that the police ran out of places to bring their prisoners and so they brought them to the barracks at Blankenburger Pflasterweg as well.
“I was taken to a police barracks in Blankenburg,” Andreas Pfeiffer told the Berliner Zeitung. “I had to stand for five hours in an entrance hall with my face to the wall and my hands behind my back. Then a blow to the kidneys gave me the signal I should run up one flight of stairs. On this floor I had to do squats and pushups naked in front of 10 police officers. As I was giving them my details they shouted things at me like, ‘Now we hang you up!’ and ‘Now we’ll show you how Nazis were before!’”
The Berliner Zeitung reported that hundreds were injured and more than a thousand men, women and minors were arrested over the nights of Oct. 7 and 8, when protestors faced water cannons and armored police vehicles outside the Gethsemanekirche, focal point of the protests in Prenzlauer Berg, with lit candles and cries of “no violence!”
The Stasi even used skinheads to provoke the protestors into street battles – what slimy fuckers! – but they were left disappointed and the police took out their frustrations on those they could grab.
Apparently the worst stuff happened at Blankenburg.
“People were frightened during transportation with things like, ‘Now we’re bringing you to the rubbish dump!’ They were harassed or beaten on arrival, had to get down on their knees, go down the corridors like ducks and undress while outstretched (with legs spread and arms out on the wall),” wrote Birger Dölling, author of the author of Strafvollzug Zwischen Wende Und Wiedervereinigung (Prison Between Change and Reunification).
Berliner Zeitung reported that at least 76 people were detained on the night of Oct. 8, when they were threatened with machine guns and dogs, given the impression they’d be shot if they tried escaping, and beaten with batons.
The screams could be heard through the closed doors. The men were separated from the women, stripped naked and crammed 10 to a cell. Interrogations took place downstairs where four Stasi officers from Neubrandenburg decided what to do with their prisoners.
The whole barracks was cleared in a hurry the next morning. Twenty-three women and 53 men got in touch with the Gethsemanekirche to share their experiences. That’s how the Berliner Zeitung knows there were 76 people. Of course there were more.
The cops got away with it, naturally. Charges were only brought in 13 cases against lowly officers, two were acquitted, two got suspended sentences and nine were fined.
But all their brutality only fueled public anger. One woman was arrested on Lychener Straße in Prenzlauer Berg with her 12-year-old son as they were trying to get home. The kid was terrified of course – people were beaten in front of them – and they were brought away, humiliated, kept seven hours before they were dumped outside in the middle of the night with no way of getting home.
Those nights are the most ignoble in the Blankenburg barracks’ history but it could have been even worse. The Stasi had big plans for the five-acre site.
Taz learned in 1992 that it had been earmarked as a detention center for foreign enemies of the state and individuals the state deemed “suspicious.” They’d have had me locked up in no time.
Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich, head of the Stasi’s Division VII (responsible for defense), wrote in a classified document from 1982 that the “main tasks” of the facility were to “thwart any enemy plans, especially such hostile acts as espionage, subversive group formation, subversive agitation, provocation, outbursts, hostage taking and acts of subversion or sabotage.”
The Stasi would never get up to any such reprehensive behavior of course.
It was to handle a maximum of 1,200 prisoners, rounded up through nine collection points. This included the popular-to-this-day Clärchens Ballhaus(!), through which some 300 foreigners down for arrest in Mitte were to be funneled.
The plans were stamped every January without ever being realized. SED politburo member Günter Schabowski approved them on Apr. 5, 1989, just months before Mauerfall.
Schabowski achieved fame as the guy who mistakenly declared border crossings into West Berlin open, prompting a flood of East Germans to the checkpoints and a lot of head-scratching among border guards. The tide was irreversible.
“We’re overflowing, we’re opening it all up!” a guard told his Stasi overlord at 11.30pm, Nov. 9, 1989 at Bornholmer Straße. There was no going back.
Nor was there any going back for the VoPo or Stasi. They lost their jobs but kept their heads low and subtlety reassumed their places in the confident new German state.
The barracks was abandoned and suitably forgotten. There’s a temptation to take pleasure in its sorry end, left to arsonists and vandals who know nothing of its past.
Nature will do the rest as it fades into obscurity, but it’s just too convenient for the unpleasant truths of the past to be forgotten already.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Volkspolizeikaserne Blankenburg, a barracks for the Volkspolizei-Bereitschaft, East Germany’s paramilitary riot police, and others associated with the regime. Built hurriedly and occupied since 1981 (apparently), it was used even after its country and raison d’être ceased to exist. It seems asbestos spelled the end in 2001. Played a starring role in the ugliest scenes of the GDR’s demise, though thankfully they didn’t get any uglier.
- Where: Blankenburger Pflasterweg 97, Berlin 13129, Germany.
- How to get there: Get the S2 S-Bahn from Friedrichstraße or Bornholmer Straße to Blankenburg and walk in a westerly direction along Bahnhofstraße. Turn right at the bottom of that, then take your first left and you’ll be on the Blankenburger Pflasterweg. The abandoned buildings are on the right. You can’t miss them – they’ll be the abandoned-looking ones. The police barracks occupied the last buildings, the ones surrounded by that metal fence.
You could also cycle there fairly easily from Prenzlauer Berg, perhaps take in the abandoned railway yard in Pankow on your way.
Or get the bus. The stop is Mörderberg. You can’t go wrong. Here’s a map.
- Getting in: That fence is a bit off-putting but don’t let it, nor the signs warning you of all sorts of consequences, put you off. Go to the end, turn right into the field, walk up a bit and you’ll soon find two entrances where there’s no fence at all. The second one is even easier than the first.
- When to go: Depends on your objectives. If you’re planning on taking photos of a pretty unphotogenic site, then daytime is best. There are also open manholes around the place, so daytime is certainly safer. But if you’re planning on having a party, a wild hooley with loud music, dancing girls and fireworks, then naturally nighttime is your best bet. Better not make it too loud, or the current Polizei will be around to spoil your fun. The uniforms change but little else…
- Difficulty rating: 2/10 Piss easy. Follow the instructions above and you won’t have any problems. It gets a two because you need to put in a bit of work to get there and around the fence but really, it’s not difficult at all.
- Who to bring: Bring your partner if you’re into lovemaking in seedy sordid fucking fucked-up places, you weirdo. Bring your friends if you want a party. It ain’t romantic – this isn’t the venue for that ultra special first date.
- What to bring: Camera if you wanna take pictures, beer/whiskey/vodka/tequila/mescal/rum/gin if you wanna drink, wine if you wanna be sophisticated or save money while drinking. Sandwiches for when you’re hungry, a torch to see shit when you’re rummaging through blackened burned out buildings, and a jukebox if you wanna hear some music.
- Dangers: Asbestos. Don’t go sniffing the walls or eating the ceilings. Open manholes. Watch where you step. Smashed glass. Mind where you put your limbs as you’re climbing in through broken windows. The buildings are made of crap and liable to collapse as soon as you look at them – be careful. As usual, watch out for passing busybodies and the Polizei. Old habits die hard.
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.