Olympic effort for an abandoned village

Almost too knackered by the time I got there to do any exploration at all. Cycled over 40km from Friedrichshain to Elstal, wind against me all the way, efforts compounded by several unforeseen diversions due to the slightly optimistic tactic of simply pointing the bike west. "Who needs maps anyway?" I won't be doing that again. And then I still faced the prospect of cycling back! Jaysus, I was wrecked.
Yes, it truly was an Olympic effort to get there - Jesse Owens himself would have been proud - but there was no way I could arrive at this abandoned village once home to 4,000 athletes, peep through the fence, and simply turn back the way I'd come. I
had to go in!
There used to be a time when the Olympics was interesting, and Berlin's in 1936 was the most interesting of all. Coming at a time when the Nazis had been in power for three years, it provided Hitler with a stage to show the world their greatness and prove the superiority of the Aryan race.
That notion was kicked back up his arse when a member of an inferior race ultimately proved superior to the rest. There was nothing inferior about the aforementioned Owens' racing in 1936 as his four gold medals affirmed, much to the pleasure of all but the Führer.

His native Austria only collected a measly 13 medals, compared with his adopted country's 89, so he masterminded the Anschluß a couple of years later, b
efore his insatiable appetite for more gold medals prompted his bid to take over the world in 1939. It's no coincidence Nazi Germany attacked, fought or annexed countries which finished above Austria in the medal table from that Olympics.
Thankfully Ireland escaped such treatment as it had boycotted the games, not for any bold political statement against the Nazis, but because of a row over northern athletes competing for the British. The Brits shared Adolf's penchant for medals and had long plundered Irish talent as their own.

Anyway, such thoughts were far from my head as I contemplated the empty buildings lurking ominously between the trees behind the fence. This was it! The Olympic Village, 14km west of Olympiastadion, built between 1934 and 1936, and abandoned once the last Russian soldiers left in 1992.
I'd circled the 550,000 square metre site and noticed a couple of vehicles behind the padlocked gates, on the other side, an unwelcome sign of pestering human presence. As long as they weren't Russian soldiers...The wind had died down (of course) and all was still. Feck it, I'm going in. Despite nearly impaling myself on the fence, I landed on both feet. I stopped. Listened. Watched. A dog barked in the distance. I froze. Was it a guard dog? Shit. All still again. The trees rustled gently. I moved forward, tentatively. If it was a dog I'd worry about it when his jaws were snapping at my heels. I made a beeline for the first building I could see, one I soon learned was the Hindenburg Haus, the main administration centre for the games with its own TV viewing room. (The Olympics of 1936 provided the first live sports broadcast to the world as I mentioned in a previous post on Tacheles.)No dogs came near me, and so I proceeded to the Plattenbau buildings, huge empty shells of soulless flats erected by the Russians long after the last athletes had left, after the war, when they were used to house Soviet military personnel from the nearby barracks.Now the flats are left to the wallpaper which still plasters their walls. The wind had picked up again, so it was flapping unconcertingly as I tip-toed through the doorways. Flap, flap, flap! As if trying to talk to me. My heart was in my mouth. These things are best not done alone. Strange noises came from below me, then above; wood creaking, paper rustling, doors groaning, metal banging. Banging, banging, banging. I realised then, that was actually my heart.Still I went on, exploring every room, taking more photos of wallpaper than I've ever done before. Up and up I went, up the glass-strewn stairs, until I came to a ladder which led to the roof. The ladder looked feeble but still I went up, the draw of what may be ahead proving far stronger than common sense.
Despite not finding anything remarkable, I was captivated. Everywhere was fascinating dullness, mundane marvels; everywhere an unknown story desperate to be told. Who lived here? What did they do? Where are they now? Where did they buy their wallpaper? I looked in every nook, every cranny (don't ask me what a nook or a cranny is), before eventually deciding to explore the rest of the site, the buildings from 1936.

It wasn't long before I discovered das Speisehaus der Nationen, where the athletes used to eat, and several of the 138 one-story houses where they used to live. Jesse Owens' has been restored (they can't leave anything alone) and one can visit it by going through the normal procedures, (i.e. just ask at the entrance when the site's open to the public).

Also being restored is the old swimming hall. It was all sealed off, so I had to squeeze in under heavy tarpaulin to get in. Thankfully, they hadn't yet ruined it by restoring it, and I could marvel at it in its original state. Again my heart was in my mouth, with the tarp flapping like mad in the wind, and the scaffolding creaking and groaning over my head as I surveyed the vibrant cyan tiles, the windows and the bars. Thump, thump, thump! I could hear footsteps outside, outside or in my head, the effect was the same.
RING! RING!! RING!!! What the fuck?! I jump out of my skin with fright. My phone's ringing, at a volume to wake the dead. Jesus, the noise!! I turn it off, cower at the bottom of the pool, and await my inevitable discovery.
After a few minutes, nobody comes, so I tentatively continue with my nosing. Up on the diving board, behind in the changing rooms, down the stairs to the cellar, in under the pool. I was literally getting in over my head. I couldn't see a thing, relying on the red focus light from my camera again, when I realised I really should be getting home. It was already 7.30pm and I still had to cycle back.

Outside I met someone as surprised to see me as I was to see him. A rabbit. Probably used to having the whole Olympic Village to himself, hopping around, imaging every day he's Jesse Owens winning another four gold medals. We both froze and looked at each other. He twitched his nose and then he was gone, running as if going for another gold. Nothing inferior about his race either.

What
Olympic Village built for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin
.

Where

Elstal, Wustermark, Germany.
How to get there
Well, you could cycle like I did from Berlin, but I don't recommend it. Better to take the S-Bahn to Spandau and cycle from there (about 15 km). If you're too lazy for that, best option is by car - head west from Straße des 17. Juni (the big one in the middle of Tiergarten) and keep going straight on the B5 until you see the signs for Elstal. The marking on Google maps is wrong, but I've marked the site
here.
UPDATE - Thanks to Robin for pointing out the RE2 goes from Alex to Elstal Bahnhof, and buses 662, 663 or 667 are good too.
Getting in
Go around to the other side away from the security and nosy guards, and just hope over the fence. Be careful!
When to go
Anytime before dark, preferably when it's not raining.

Difficulty rating

6/10 Getting there is the main problem, but once you're in, you're laughin'.

Who to bring
People who don't mind the sound of wallpaper flapping.

What to bring
Camera. A few bottles of Sterni to break up the journey and/or toast your success on getting there. They'll be warm once you arrive, but what the hell. Maybe bring a few snacks to nibble on too. Unlike the Olympics nowadays, there's a surprising lack of catering stands in this abandoned village. I can't recommend pistachios enough.

Dangers

The imagination tends to run away with itself when exploring on your own, so watch out for that. Strange noises and eerie silences make for tingly nerves. Otherwise, keep an eye out for the security guards out the front.


Again, this guide is designed to help others get to and enjoy a wonderful site before it's too late. They're still in the process of restoration, so I guess it won't be long before they're charging people in and all the fun's gone out of it. Maybe they already are - I didn't check. Anyway, please share with all like-minded individuals on Facebollocks or whatever all ye young people are using these days.

I forgot to mention that the director of the Olympic Village, Wolfgang Fürstner, took his own life three days after the games ended. He had Jewish roots and learned he was to be dismissed from the Wehrmacht because he had been classified a Jew by the Nazis, so rather than face such humiliation, he shot himself with a pistol not far from the lake. The Nazis covered up his suicide to avoid unwelcome attention. Just another little footnote to a crazy story. I could write more, but it's time ye went explorin'.






WWII 6458043475044486975

27 comments

Nice dig at the Brits. You poisonous "Irish" can't help yourselves. I presume you are still upset your mates the Nazis lost after all these years? De Valera would have made a great Deputy Chancellor to Adolf I reckon.

Lennie

Thanks for the comment Lennie. No need to put the Irish in inverted commas though. I can assure you they are a not a figment of your imagination.
I also think it's quite unfair to say they are poisonous. Have you ever eaten one? Very tasty with a sprig of parsley.

EH just a question Elstal BHF seems to be closer than spandau?

Yes! RE2 goes from Alexanderplatz. Well spotted!

Hey I think you should downgrade your schwerigkeit. Its not even hard to get there :)
Bus 663, 667 stays outside the main entrance (But dont go in that way Ithe guards are there .... Go around and hop ver by the motorway. and if you want to go trough the other side (less guards) 662 to some Kirchecommunity.

Schwerigkeit downgraded as advised. Thanks Robin!

Thanks for another great post.

Just a small update: The place operates as a 'museum'. You can get in for 1 euro and walk around by yourself but then the only building you can get into is Jesse Owen's. A guided tour is 4 euro, it's about 2 hours and in German and you go into a couple of buildings which are locked. Nothing really special. The best sight was probably inside the Hindenburger building with a German WW2 wall of soldiers marching and a Soviet painting of Lenin. Using your camera costs 10 euro regardless of the tour choice. The buildings look pretty well boarded up and if you enter the site while they're open you're liable to run into a bunch of retired German tourists. I wouldn't exactly call the guides for 'guards', though. It's just a guy at the front-hut selling tickets and playing with his phone and then it was a woman conducting the tour :-)

http://dkb-stiftung.de/web/Oeffnungszeiten_und_Fuehrungen_im_Olympischen_Dorf_von_1936.52.htm

Still, a great post and thanks again for the inspiration. Hope to see more in the future.

Wow, thanks for the update! I haven't been out here since I wrote this post so any update on the current state of affairs is very much appreciated. Thanks again!

I notice tomorrow is the last day for the official tours, so I guess from Übermorgen, a bit of Betreten is called for again!

Interesting post!

I wish I had read it before I visited the place.

You might be interested to read my observations and see my photos here http://auftakt.blogspot.com/2011/10/1936-summer-olympic-village.html

Cheers Andie. Very interesting indeed. I didn't know that about Speer Junior. Mad! Cool pics too.

Was here last week (Wednesday). Workmen all over the place unfortunately, esp. around the main pool, which they're restoring. Jumped over anyway and started moving around discreetly but it was pointless - wouldn't have gotten anywhere interesting without being seen/caught. Even thought about approaching workmen and slipping them some cash for some photos/look around but too many of them (at pool) + even if they were cool prob not worth their while due to insurance issues. Maybe on a Sunday is clearer, but that pool is obv. gonna be restored in no time. I cycled all the way too. Gah!

ps - great site man, thanks for putting it all together.

I am surprised no one has mentioned the little hidden sauna just inside the fence near the motorway.

hello - Im coming to berlin tomorrow (for a rather impulsively book holiday )- just wondering if anyone had been to this place recently? has it all been re-developed since this old post?

Hi, I´m a student from Rome. I’d like to do my final project in architecture on the Olympic Village in Berlin.
Looking for information on internet, I found this interesting post. Do you know if the village is still partially abandoned? Could anyone tell me where could I find further information and more specific material (project drawings)?
Thanks

Thanks for a great post. Do you know anything about the state of it now? I know that there are tours and such, but is there still construction work going on? Was thinking it might be better to go after the guided tours are finished, so late afternoon, but am unsure as to whether it's best to go on a weekday or during the weekend, do you have an opinion on that?

I haven't been there lately so can't help you there I'm afraid. Best just to head out and see what you find!

Hi again,

I'm the last "Anonymous" who asked about the current state of the village. Finally went there today.

I found it super easy to get to (took the train to Elstal and then walked) but the fence was surprisingly high and with barbed wire. We luckily found a hole in the fence behind one of the construction sites opposite the red houses on the street called Zum Wasserwerk. Since we'd read that the "museum" closes at 4 on weekdays, we went there after that. The site was completely abandoned, there was no security at all. Some things have changed over the last couple of years though. The swimming pool has got a new building, though they've decided to preserve the inside so it still looks like it did in your pictures. The Hindenburg building, the swimming pool and Owens' house all seemed as if they were open during the day if you're willing to pay but we couldn't get into them since they were locked with things blocking most of the windows.

It was definitely worth a visit. However, it felt more like walking around in a museum for the village than just walking around in an abandoned village as there were signs everywhere. It's turning into quite a museum now I guess.

Love your site, keep up the great work!
Andrea

Hey Andrea, thanks for the update. Much appreciated!

I think better than blackmailing the museum, It's rather good, cause it better be a museum than utterly destroyed by f*cking retards!

btw: Hi, nice site you got. I like reading your articles! Keep up the good work!
I also live around Berlin, never been into urbex before, but for a beginner can you recommend me something please? I think its not really possible, but I like places which looks really much as they left and not attacked by vandalism. Thanks

Sorry about my english skills, I didnt meant "blackmailing"^^, what I mean is: "talking the museum bad".

I think I know what you mean. You mean it's better they preserve it than allow it to be trashed by vandals, right?
Well, I agree - if that's what you mean.
As for untouched abandoned sites, they are few and far between I'm afraid. Vandals are omnipresent. I've yet to come across a place that hasn't been touched by their mindless stupidity.
Thanks for your comment(s)!

Yes thats what I think.
Maybe they change the walls of the swimmhall with new paint, new tiles, but it will always be the same historic location which will look like the olympic games of 1936 was yesterday. It's better than decay and high possible vandalism.

Which good places do you know?
I would like to go to some place where you can see traces of war.

Wünsdorf-Waldstadt. The place is oozing history. There are broken bunkers, intact bunkers, museums, derelict sites and all manner of stuff to see. Parts of it are well-preserved too. You can do tours if you're not into DIY.

I would rather do "DIY". =D
It would be cool if I can find a intact bunker, then I could make good use of my new 4000 lumen flashlight.^^

Do you know where to find one, or is there a map with the locations of all bunkers?

As a side note Wolfgang Furstner mentioned above is buried at the Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin. It has many historical figures from German history buried here.

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