Memories of medicine’s murderous past
But we’ll start at the beginning, when Berlin was finding its feet as the capital of the newly formed German Empire, expanding at a ferocious rate while diseases like tuberculosis and typhoid were doing their best to keep pace.
Buch, an idyllic little village out in the country with its unpolluted air, clear waters and abundant trees, was seen as a haven at a time when sanatoriums were springing up like mushrooms wherever mushrooms sprang up – away from the pollution of the city.
You already had Heilstätten with the likes of Beelitz and Grabowsee to name but a couple, and Buch soon played its part. Waldhaus Buch, the first hospital, was finished in 1903 and more were added, putting it among Europe’s largest hospital complexes by 1930.
At the time, the Waldhaus was called the ‘Heimstätte für männliche Brustkranke’ (Homestead for men with chest illnesses). Planning started in 1899 and construction began two years later. It was built to a baroque style in a T-shape with three wings.
The impressive hallway is modeled on the courtyard of an Italian Renaissance palace, with its vaulted ceiling, balustrades and columns, along with sculptures and floral motives along the balustrades. It’s very pretty.
The first of 150 patients with TB arrived in late summer 1905, apparently. It wasn’t until July 21st, 1927 that it became officially known as Waldhaus Buch, and it continued as a sanatorium for TB patients until the war, before becoming a military hospital for the Luftwaffe in 1942.
On March 28 and 30, 1940, the first physically and mentally ill patients from Buch were transported to the “euthanasia centers” of Bernburg und Brandenburg. One of the Buch clinics had to close seven months later due to a lack of patients.
Patients from other clinics around the country were ferried through Buch to be murdered too.
Another wave of killings under the “Aktion Brandt” scheme from 1943 just cleared patients to make way for wounded soldiers. Why have sick and useless people taking up valuable beds when fighting men could be repaired to carry on fighting?
Altogether, around 200,000 people were “euthanized” or removed from life under these schemes. The Nazis were a practical if murderous bunch and they saw the advantages in mass murder.
Some of their victims’ brains found their way back to Buch for research.
Apparently 698 murdered patients’ brains were delivered to the Buch-based Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research (Institut für Hirnforschung), where Julius Hallervorden carried out his work with the help of Hugo Spatz. A true professional, Hallervorden witnessed children being exterminated at the Brandenburg killing center on October 28th, 1940 to become his unwitting donors.
Hallervorden continued as a director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, (as it was renamed in the meantime) in Gießen after the war and was even awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 1956. I mean, what the fuck? This fucker went through more brains than your average zombie does in a lifetime. He lived to the ripe old age of 82.
“Even after 1945 Hallervorden never saw his actions as wrong,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote in 2007.
It cointinued: “In a letter to the president of the international court of justice in Nuremberg dated Feb. 11, 1946, he wrote: ‘I never had the least to do with the process of euthanasia. I’ve consistently condemned it and would have resigned if I were still a psychiatrist at the time. At least I didn’t think I was morally in a worse position than an anatomist who seeks the body of an executed person because he needs the freshest possible test material.’”
Waldhaus Buch, meanwhile, became an orthopedic hospital after the war and was integrated with the other four hospital complexes to form the Berlin-Buch Municipal Hospital in 1963. The whole thing had around 3,700 beds, again making it one of the largest health care facilities in Europe.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 seems to have spelled the end, as it did for pretty much anything East German.
Buch had 40 clinics, 4,200 staff and up to 4,000 patients at that time, but a period of downsizing and closures followed and it was only downhill from there.
The Waldhaus closed in 1992 and has been empty ever since. The rest shut down in the meantime, most have already been converted into fancy apartments. More than 500 are planned altogether.
The state-owned Liegenschaftsfonds Berlin has the Waldhaus earmarked for a ‘Researchers’ Castle’ apparently, as an educational site for life sciences with an exhibition and information center to be known far and wide for its innovation and food for thought. Buch will always provide food for thought.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Waldhaus Buch, former tuberculosis sanatorium, military hospital during the war, and then orthopedic hospital. It was just one clinic/hospital in a complex said at times to be Europe’s biggest.
- Where: Alt-Buch 74, 13125 Berlin, Germany
- How to get there: Get the S2 S-Bahn from Friedrichstraße or Bornholmer Straße to Buch, turn right out of the station, walk along Wiltbergstraße and take your first left onto Alt-Buch. Walk along until you hit Waldhaus Buch on your left. It will be the huge abandoned-looking building hiding behind trees, preceded by a fine house, which appears to be occupied by humans, and another ruin, which is not.
You could also cut through the woods upon leaving the S-Bahnhof and get hopelessly lost like I did, before emerging, cursing, on a street miles away and starting again.
Here’s a map so you don’t get lost, or so you can plan getting lost. You’re not lost if your plan on getting lost goes exactly to plan though.
- Getting in: Walk up past the “Am Stener Berg” bus stop and you’ll find a little overgrown laneway on your left. The fence is not worthy of the title ‘fence’ and easily overcome. Now, I’m not sure I can recommend getting into the Waldhaus Buch, simply because it was the hardest place I* ever managed to get into and I only barely made it back out again. All the windows are sealed with those metal shields they use when they’re determined no one should get in any more. I managed to squeeze in through a gap above two of the shields covering a doorway at the back, just big enough for my ribcage and spine to jam through. Fuck it was hard! And my ribs let me know for days afterward. Getting out was ten times harder because of the unfavorable angles involved with bars blocking the way inside. If you do decide to try this method, let someone know you’re going so they can ring emergency services to get you out again.
- When to go: Go during the day so you can see the place. Nighttime is not an option, especially if you’re determined to get inside. You won’t be able to fit your beer through the gap for a start.
- Difficulty rating: 9/10. The only reason I’m not saying 10/10 is because I* managed to get in. So it’s not impossible.
- Who to bring: Someone skinny. Or a mouse with a miniature camera. Better still, a mouse who’s handy with bolts and spanners who can remove one of the metal shields to let you in.
- What to bring: Camera, torch, sandwiches, refreshments – preferably alcoholic refreshments – and the aforementioned mouse.
- Dangers: The building’s in pretty good condition, presumably because so much effort has been made to preserve it and stop people getting in. (You can tell there’s money to be made.) So no need to worry unduly about ceilings falling on your head. Watch out for security though. I* went there twice in the space of a week and noticed several fresh tire marks on the second occasion. It looks like someone is doing the rounds from time to time, but they’re obviously too lazy to get off their fat arses and get out of the car. Still, listen out for approaching vehicles and security goons. Someone still cares for the place.
*Customary disclaimer. I is not me, nor anyone that can be held responsible for the words preceding this disclaimer.
Lurking in the shadows of the forest, Heilstätte Grabowsee creaks and groans through the gloom, sighing with echoes of the past as it sinks into decay.
Horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners were carried out at Heilstätten Hohenlychen, formerly a complex of sanatoriums, then military hospital.
Hitler and Honecker were among Beelitz-Heilstätten’s famous patients. The former TB sanatorium became the largest Soviet military hospital outside the USSR.