Teufelsberg Tale: Remembering life at Field Station Berlin

Filed 15/4/2013 | Updated 4/1/2015
While Berlin wrings its hands over what to do with Teufelsberg, many veterans who served on the site are watching with interest from afar. After all, those who worked at Field Station Berlin were trained to watch with interest from afar.
Lew McDaniel, of West Virginia, USA, was one of those stationed here between 1968-71, when he worked as a linguist.
He helped organized a reunion of his colleagues in Berlin for the 50th anniversary of the first permanent spying facilities (SIGINT) on the hill in September 2013, when they placed a replica of a commemorative plaque at the site. In Morse code dots and dashes, it states “In God we trust, all others we monitor.”
“It wasn't an official motto, just one we troops came up with,” McDaniel told Abandoned Berlin. “My favorite is from another installation along the Czech border: ‘First to know, first to glow.’”
The veterans hope one day they’ll be allowed place a permanent bronze plaque at the site.
McDaniel – that’s him to the right pictured in 1967 during his time at Monterey, California – was happy to share some (though not all!) of the details of happier times at the spy station in its heyday.

“This is all sort of difficult to discuss since we are still bound by oaths of the time. While the NSA admits it had a presence in Berlin, details are still cloaked. That presence was about 100 of us service types for every one of the (NSA headquarters) Fort Meade folks and without us a great deal would have never been known. They get the credit; we did the work,” Mr. McDaniel said.
“While there were certainly very around-the-clock busy times several times a year coinciding with military exercises, I don’t recall during my time any ‘uh oh, the balloon is going up’ incidents. Guys stationed there during the Czech invasion, initial construction of the Wall, and some of the air space issues – they were in tense situations. Nonetheless, anything out of the ordinary sharpened our attention.
“We were aware of the situation around us, but really didn't think about it that much. If we talked about it, conversations were usually humorous in some macabre way. I would say we were more aware of the situation around us in East Germany than troops in other units in Berlin, as well as Berlin citizens.”

“For us, it was strange to actually physically see the opposition. I doubt that I saw VoPos (Volkspolizei, the East German police) or Soviet troops more than 10 times during my tour in Berlin. Some were guards at the border where the American duty train changed locomotives. Though forbidden to do so, some traded Playboys and cigarettes and such for articles of Soviet uniforms. I have an East German flag obtained that way. Once in a while, we would see Soviet troops visiting the PX (American military retail store) on Clayallee,” Mr. McDaniel said.
“I took some slides of a building just east of the Glienicke Bridge. I was wandering around in that area when I noticed people moving around in the upper stories of a building in the wall and apparently abandoned. I also noticed the windows seemed to be cut straight across. When I got my camera up to take the picture, the people moved away from the windows. This, I think, is the closest I physically came to the opposition at work (other than the train guards). The building turned out to be an observation post watching US Military liaison mission cars come and go to/from West Berlin.
“I think I have to say our mission was somewhat more abstract than that of regular line troops like infantry, armor, artillery folks. Sure, we were trained in basic training like everyone else to fire rifles and such but after that we fired a weapon once a year. Regular line troops did that regularly. In a sense, we were sort of scouts ahead of the cavalry so to speak.”

“It was remarkable to me to see the effects of WWII – houses missing, others pockmarked with bullet holes, the Gedächtniskirche. And I was always aware of what rested under our site. (An unfinished Nazi military training college.)
“Years later, my father-in-law and I discussed the city. His view as a WWII B-17 waist gunner on night bombing runs was of course much different.”

“I am sure you have seen all the various T-Berg links on the web. There are a lot of them, some accurate and some not. No submarine tunnel, a favorite while I was there, no aircraft radar, and no secret escape tunnels.
“The first site on T-Berg consisted of mounted vans in the early 1960s or thereabouts. I am not sure when the first dome was built, but I think around 1963. During my time there, there was a single dome with metal structures radiating from it. I worked in one of them – hot in summer with no windows we could open and so cold in winter we wore coats, sweaters, and gloves. Gloves made typing very difficult so I cut the tips of the fingers out of mine.”

“The dome was two stories atop a concrete central pillar. The dome was made of some kind of rubberized canvas and kept inflated by air compressors from a WWII German submarine. At times the wind would overpower the compressors' capacity. When that happened, the windward dome side would partially collapse, causing a klaxon to sound. Upon hearing it, we all got outside and away from the structure as quickly as possible lest the dome fall and take everything in it down. The normal air pressure inside the dome was high enough that technicians who had to work occasionally in the top part actually had to decompress on the way out to avoid ‘the bends.’”

“The view from the surface of the Berg (hill) itself was phenomenal on a clear day. At night, we often saw flares firing off along what was then the Wall on the western border of West Berlin. Most of the time, it was caused by animals tripping the flare trigger. Near the site, we often saw wild boars along the perimeter fence.”

“We were cautioned to not be photographed if we could help it. However, Soviet mission cars were in the Grunewald area a great deal and photographed away when they wanted. They were pretty easy to spot – black low grade Mercedes with diplomatic plates and RDF antennae on the roof.”

“Work there was a mix of excitement at times, coupled with normal business at others. For most of my time there, I worked around the clock regardless of shift when there was urgent work to be done. I remember several three-week stints when I barely bothered to leave. Usually there was an even flow of things to learn and look out for that made the work very interesting – had my wife at the time not wished otherwise, I would have remained in the Army for a career.”

“We were keenly aware the Soviets and the East Germans considered T-Berg a prime, first shot target and could have readily obliterated us. Berlin was after all within very easy striking distance of several Soviet tank, artillery, and rocket divisions. Teufelsberg would have literally been vaporized within less than a second after the command to fire was given and that command would have been one of the first.
“We were a military installation with concordant rules and regulations, but for the most part we were left alone to do our jobs. While we were certainly in the Army, wore the uniform, and followed the rules for the most part, we did not feel like we were part of the ‘regular’ army that toted rifles and slept in tents and such. I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but our talents were more suited to what we did than to being regular line troops.”

“We were also dedicated partiers and nightlife people. We worked rotating five-day shifts and at end of the five days, many folks headed for the bars or to gatherings. Not many folks left Berlin – we could only travel via the American or British duty train or via American flagged aircraft and were not allowed in East Germany or East Berlin – so leaving the city was time consuming.”

“We lived in an apartment in Steglitz, so I was not subjected to life at Andrews Barracks where most were quartered, other than the first week I was in Berlin. My original assignment after language school was to the US Military Liaison Mission in Potsdam. However, the Army realized shortly after that that I was married and changed the orders. Married personnel were not posted to Potsdam.
“Living on Maßmann Straße in Steglitz was interesting. I was issued two weeks of C-rations in case the balloon went up and given an airline ticket for my wife for the same situation. I always felt neither would be of any use – see the comments above regarding the forces around Berlin. When I departed Berlin, I had to turn in the rations and the ticket.”

“The folks who lived in the other apartments there were nice. We were invited to their parties and family events and we often reciprocated. The Hauswirt and her husband were Czechs who came to Berlin before the Wall was built. We often took them cigarettes, bourbon, and beef and they cooked Czech meals for us now and then. We downed copious quantities of excellent Rumtopf they seemed to always be making
“Before that, we lived on a street over off Clayallee in a house that belonged to an old couple who had lived there through WWII. They said their house was occupied at one time by Russian troops who were civil enough, but didn't seem accustomed to a regular house.”

“What we did and how we did it remains cloaked in secrecy still. I can tell you the Army was in dire need of Russian linguists when I signed up in 1967. Which I did after receiving my draft (conscription) notice – draftees during the Viet Nam war did not usually have a choice of what they did in their two years in the Army, so I enlisted for four years in order to get a better opportunity to do something interesting. I originally wanted to be a helicopter pilot, but discovered during testing for that that I am colorblind and that disqualified me... So I was asked if I wanted to be a linguist. I said sure, how about German, since I had four years of German courses in college. But they needed Russian linguists and sent me to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California for nine months. Last time our vets group held a reunion at the institute, Middle Eastern language courses were the largest group – not much Russian taught there now that the Cold War is over.”

“’Cold War’ is a broad brush that paints over numerous interesting aspects of that time and place.
“Humor – a saving grace for us all – had its place as well. There is a tale you may have read about the stovepipe mortar. Reportedly – and there are several who claimed to have witnessed the events and many who don't believe them – the following happened at one of our sites in the southeastern part of the city immediately next to a VoPo guard tower by the wall. The guards kept a close watch on the site, prompting some jokesters to creep onto the building roof with a long piece of black stovepipe and a beverage bottle painted black. They carefully aimed the stovepipe toward the tower much as one would sight in a mortar. The guards watched closely. One of the gang carefully raised up and dropped the bottle down the stovepipe like dropping a mortar round down the tube. The guards bailed out of the tower.”

“I did not mention countless hours of endless boredom, depending on what your specific duties were. I was fortunate there was always something to catch my interest while others were not. Even so, there is nothing like 4 a.m. on a midnight shift after countless cups of coffee to make your mouth feel like an alligator camped in it.”

McDaniel left the US Army after his three-year tour in Berlin was over. He taught Russian at West Virginia University for a while, and eventually retired as its computing director in 2000.
He now lives with his wife 26 miles south of Morgantown, West Virginia, in the middle of a forest.

All photos (except those of Mr. McDaniel and the soldiers) were very kindly provided by the US Army Intelligence & Security Command. Many thanks especially to Mike Bigelow for his assistance.
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I got some Teufelsberg maps (not very interesting ones, though) by sending a FOIA request to the NSA. Maybe you could get more information about what they did and how using that procedure. It's relatively easy and often free of charge...
Keep us posted if you do!

Thanks for the suggestion. It's definitely worth a shot!

Is there security at the Teufelsberg at night?

The security guard I had the run in with said they slept there, but the boss of the company they work for denied it. Short answer: I don't know. You'd need to go up there and check it out.
Let us know how you get on!

Hey IB, we're currently hanging out in Berlin and have been using your page for information - thanks a lot dude it's very informative- anyhow I wondered if you had any more recent information on the guarding situation here. We can't seem to see anyone on site and wondered if you knew if there is anyone actually staying onsite atm? I think we've twigged onto a someone leaving the site this morning but we're unsure if it's just a patrol van passing by or someone actually onsite? Here's hoping you have more info :D

Just for extra info for you, we used your guide for Heilstatte Grabowsee and found that the guard wasn't there when we arrived. We snuck in and wrote up some helpful hints in our blog. I'll update in a comment on the HB info for you :D Toodles x

My father now deceased worked there from 62-78 apart from about 3 yrs
We lived at RAF Gatow
He was a Russian linguist

hello, can we talk about using the photos as props in a TV-feature, I contacted also Mike Bigelow by Linkedin.
thanks for Your support, michael

Hi Michael,
I can't give permission for photos I didn't take. I have permission to use those pictures here, but you'll need to contact INSCOM directly if you want to use them too.

I have an elevator key and a metal, "In Case of Fire Do Not Use Elevator" sign...

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