Heilstätten Hohenlychen: Hidden history with Himmler, Hitler, Heß et al

Filed 19/4/2014 | Updated 21/4/2014
Mere words or photographs cannot do justice to the jaw-dropping otherworldly beauty of Heilstätten Hohenlychen. Idyllic charms weave their magic to convey an air of secluded innocence, enveloping past nightmares in a cloak of dreamlike stupor, recurring euthanasia.
No traces remain of the atrocities committed here before, no references, no memorials, no signs of repentance. They get eaten by the words.
Its haunting spirits contrived to keep away my planned traveling companion so I* got there alone, tired and extremely cold after a long cycle, only to find the place engulfed in fog.
It was still, silent, eerily calm as I made my way around the site and down to the waterfront, where I disturbed a pair of napping ducks briefly before they accepted me into their peaceful world. Grumpy at first, they settled on a log floating on the lake and waited for the day to start.
Suddenly RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT rang out and shattered the silence. What the fuck?! RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT! There it was again! The ducks seemed unfazed and then I realized it was a woodpecker in the trees above, peckin’ wood, as woodpeckers do. Would peckers peck wood? You bet they wood.
I heard another one, off in some other trees and then I realized the place was full of them, pecking at trees like delinquent vandals, no thought whatsoever for the history these trees must have witnessed.
Gotthold Pannwitz oversaw the establishment of the sanatorium here at the turn of the 20th century under the auspices of the German Red Cross. Tuberculosis was in vogue at the time and clinics to counter it were springing up wherever the air was fresh enough to deal with it. That was the cure at the time, before newfangled treatments involving antibiotics were developed.
Pannwitz was the go-to man for all your TB cures, and so the first sanatorium, for kids, arrived in 1902. The others for women and kids with various other ailments quickly followed, spreading as quickly as the disease they were fighting…
The interesting shit happened afterward – Kaiserin Auguste Victoria visited in 1911 and the sanatoriums were used as military hospitals during the First World War. The really interesting shit happened after that, when the focus shifted from TB to sport.
The 1936 Olympics were coming up and naturally the Germans wanted to do well, particularly with the Nazis’ obsession of proving superiority over everyone else. (I could refer to Irish victories over Germany at this time but I’ll resist the temptation.)
The swimming pool and sports center were built and a department of sports medicine was established under the watchful eyes of Karl Gebhardt, who had been given the run of the place as chief physician in 1933.
Gebhardt was an old school pal of SS head honcho Heinrich Himmler. Himmler liked him so much he made him his personal physician in 1938. Both were beady-eyed evil fuckers.
Some truly horrifying things took place at Hohenlychen under Gebhardt’s watch, but I’ll come back to them later.
It started innocently enough – comparatively – with the focus on sport. Athletes enjoyed the best of facilities to ensure their success. The world’s first meniscus operations took place at Hohenlychen. (Allegedly. I’m open to correction.)
Otto Nerz, the German national team coach at the time, apparently spoke of a “Hohenlychen national team” able to beat all others due to the wonderful/dodgy practices being practiced.
But it wasn’t only sporting types who received treatment there. Important guests like Himmler and Rudolf Heß were there all the fucking time! Getting doped up on morphine and having a blast.
Others followed, including Hitler and his henchmen, as well as international guests from Italy, England, France, Portugal, Chile, Peru and Argentina. Apparently the mayor of Tokyo spent his holidays here, as did the Greek royal couple.
More than 25,000 patients were treated
between 1933-42, by which time of course the war was in full swing and the focus was on repairing soldiers as quickly as possible so they could go back to the fronts and send some other soldiers to other hospitals.
The aforementioned Gebhardt got into a spot of bother in 1942, when Himmler sent him to Prague to attend to Nazi Liebling Reinhard Heydrich, badly wounded in an assassination attempt. Gebhardt believed Heydrich would pull through the injuries and declined to give him the early antibiotic sulfonamide, as suggested by Hitler’s physician Theodor Morell. This didn’t go down well with the Nazi top brass when their beloved comrade popped his clogs from blood poisoning eight days after the ambush.
Himmler told Gebhardt he’d better do tests to prove sulfonamide would have done nothing for Heydrich, and so the experiments on inmates from the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp, just down the road from Hohenlychen, began on July 20, 1942.
There was an ulterior motive too – blood poisoning was killing loads of German soldiers, ending their usefulness for killing soldiers than weren’t German.
So Gebhardt simulated battlefield injuries on 57 prisoners, breaking their legs, slicing them up, sowing bits of wood, fabric, glass and/or other debris into open wounds, leaving the injuries fester over days. Only then would he administer his drugs to see what effect they had.
Loads of his victims died of course, including some who were poisoned deliberately with pus injected into their veins.
Gebhardt didn’t give a fuck. He got his reports, which he presented to Himmler on August 29. They played down sulfonamide’s effectiveness in treating infected wounds while playing up Katoxyn, which he had given to Heydrich.
Further experiments followed, in which Gebhardt investigated the drugs’ effectiveness on patients who were “treated” with gunshot wounds. Apparently he also attempted to transplant the limbs from camp victims to German soldiers wounded on the Russian front.
Himmler was impressed, and he wrote his old school buddy a thank you note exonerating him of all blame in Heydrich’s death.
Gebhardt’s standing was unharmed, if not enhanced. Later, in January 1944, he even treated chief Nazi architect Albert Speer for a swollen left knee and overwork, when he damn near killed him. Himmler allegedly wanted his chief rival out of the way.
Well, Gebhardt’s life ended at the end of a rope in June, 1948 after he was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial. He’d been up to his neck in cruelty. Perhaps it was apt that cruelty took his neck.
His accomplices were prosecuted, too. Fritz Fischer was also sentenced to death and Herta Oberheuser got 20 years. Kurt Heißmeyer somehow got away with his atrocities until much later, and even then, really, they all got away with them.
Ludwig Stumpfegger, who was Hitler’s second physician, committed suicide alongside Martin Bormann hours after Hitler did, like loyal dogs following in their master’s footsteps.
Gebhardt and Himmler, the snively nosed fucks, had attempted to negotiate a truce once they realized the Nazis’ days were numbered. They tried using the Swedish Red Cross as a go-between. Hohenlychen was already evacuated by the time of the third meeting on April 20, 1945.
The Red Army took over without a fight nine days later. They trashed the place, stole all the valuable equipment, and then occupied the vacant buildings like gleeful parasites occupying a fruitful host.
The Russians stayed nearly 50 years, using some of the buildings to house soldiers and the rest as a hospital and maternity ward until they finally left on Aug. 31, 1993.
Their contribution to Hohenlychen’s troubled past is but a footnote, however. It doesn’t erase what happened before. No wonder the woodpeckers were banging their heads. They just want to forget.

Heilstätten Hohenlychen. Began life as a complex of sanatoriums to treat tuberculosis and other ailments, became a wartime hospital in wartime, graduated onto “sports medicine” research and treatment, played host to evil hob-nobs and misguided royalty, then just evil and disturbing cruelty. By the time the Russians arrived they couldn’t lower the tone any further.

Pannwitzallee, 17279 Lychen, Germany

How to get there
You’ll need to get a regional train, the RE4358, from Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Gesundbrunnen to Fürstenberg (Havel) and cycle the 15½ km from there. It’s a fairly straight route directly east. Bring gloves if you’re cycling early in the morning or you’ll arrive with frozen stumps where your hands should be. Here’s a map so you can attempt to make alternative arrangements if my suggestions don’t sound too appealing.

Getting in
Go past the whole site until you see the church on your left, go behind that, and before you reach the lake (Zenssee), you’ll see where like-minded explorers have hopped the fence to get in. Be careful though! When I* went there were builders working on one of the buildings and I had to skirt around them to avoid being spotted. Only when I had explored the outer buildings did I dare attempt the ones closer to where they were, culminating in a tunnel right beside them. That was fun.

When to go
Hohenlychen’s beauty needs to be appreciated in daylight, though builders tend to work in daylight too. I don’t think this is a good party location due to the abundance of protective neighbors who’ll have the Polizei on your tail at the slightest whiff of verboten.

Difficulty rating
7/10 Some buildings are easy, the good ones are not. Again I* had to squeeeeeeeeeeeze through a gap I could have sworn was smaller than I am. Luckily I was able to squeeze out again or you wouldn’t be reading these words.

Who to bring
Someone who can squeeze their way through small gaps.

What to bring
Bring sandwiches. I know, I must be getting old, but seriously, bring sandwiches. Hohenlychen is a very large site with more buildings to explore than you could shake a stick at in one go. Luckily, you’ll pass a Lidl or a Netto or one of those on your right as you approach – you can pop in there and get yourself some sustenance. Get yourself some beer and/or wine while you’re at it. Bring a torch for those dark places and a camera if you want to take pictures.

Watch out for the aforementioned builders, who are working on one of the houses on the site. I* approached them once I’d safely explored the site and asked how they were progressing. Apparently it’ll be a very, very, very, very, very long while before Hohenlychen is fully renovated. So there’s still time.

Many thanks once again to Mark Rodden for his invaluable copy editing skills and assistance.

*I does not necessarily refer to a real person. Who knows if I exists at all? Descartes may have been a clever fella, but he didn’t put as much thought into disclaimers.
More pictures can be perused at your own convenience by clicking on the following link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/abandonedberlin/sets/72157644204125004/
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Another great article. Thank you so much for this site, the frequent updates and the guides too. This is seriously my number one website ever!

That's a mad one alright.Great work Spudnik!

Hello irishman,
We wrote you last year over Wunsdorf and now we are back again in Berlin.
We already visit Ballhaus Grunau and Trainstion Pankow ,yesterday we went to Hohenlychen and that was very good.
We wil send you pictures in a couple of weeks to you(it thake some time to sort out the good ).
The rest of the week we will visit other places which you have found thanks for that.
Greetings from Hans en Marianne.

This is a particularly beautiful site I must say, thank you very much for posting. It's definitely quite hard to get into the buildings, but I guess that's half the fun. We did have one strange experience though - when we went, it turned out that 'go2know fotobase' was holding some kind of organised shooting tour of the place - apparently this costs 60 EUR per person! At the very end we were 'caught' by the grumpy organiser, who was most irritated at encountering 120 unpaid euros wandering the property, but seemed to be pretty short on actual rights/authority (although they must have some kind of arrangement with Land Brandenburg - liability issues perhaps?).

This drew me to their website, and sure enough they have (over)paid tours of several of sites described on abandonedberlin - it might behoove one to avoid certain places on the dates when they will be there in order to prevent confrontations, as the fellow we encountered was several tents short of being a happy camper.

Hey Spudnik ,
Great site !!! Can I ask you for some help please (as one fellow Irishman to another) ? I'm heading to Berlin to work with a model or two and I came across your site while searching for locations. I'm staying on Pappelallee, can you tell me is there any nice sites not to far out of the city or far from me that are safe to work in for both me and the model?
If you live in Berlin it would be great to meet for a coffee if your about and at a loose end ...maybe we could do a site together? I arrive tomorrow and leave next tuesday. I have a model or two lined up but they are very unreliable but my friend is due to be around for saturday.
You can contact me on FB aetherlightphotography or email aetherlightphotography@hotmail.com

Thanks for the info on the site

Tried to visit last week and it was all locked down. Sure i could get in if i didnt mind shattering a few windows but that in my mind is on the wrong side of the spectrum. Managed to climb into a ladder only to realize that the building had been sealed inside too.

Big place, must be amazing to be inside.

Another absolutely fantastic article! Spudnik, i this in this place was filmed the "Mein Herz Brennt" von Rammstein. Isn;t that right?

We were there yesterday, it was really great. I didn't know about the horrors that took place there, which may be a good thing. It was easy to get on the grounds, and you can get into most of the buildings easily. They tried to seal all buidlings, but some people before us had already broken down some of those seals. So you just need to search for that one door or window that is open and hop in. It's really worth it, probably the best abandoned place I have been to so far.
Thanks Spudnik!

Biked here from Berlin yesterday and was able to easily access every building. Watch out for the caretakers on site who mostly just hang around the entrance. There's a car at the other entrance but I don't think anyone was inside. I wouldn't recommend biking as 200km is ridiculous in itself but the routes are few and include some pretty tough terrain. In the end, the site of that pool was probably worth 100km more. Really amazing piece of history.

Was there last Friday (10th of october) and it was really great. You can get there by train from Berlin to Fürstenberg/Havel. From Fürstenberg take the bus to Lychen (bus station “Friedhof”). From there it’s just a 3 minutes walk to Heilstätten Hohenlychen. I followed the tips above and got in behind the church….there is still the hopped fence. And the builders are still working on one of the front building near the street. It is easy to get in in all building. For the interesting ones there is only one possibility to get in….a window on the river side. I met a deer on the greenfield and a guy inside the buildings who was also there for taking photos. We had a nice talk before every one of us was going his way. After I’ve been in all buildings I walked out at the main entrance which was opened because of the builders. I don’t know if they haven’t seen me or if they weren’t interested in me. So go there, it’s a fantastic place and easy to visit!

Hi there,
We went there recently as well. Beautiful place!
I just don't understand why the admin put Heinrich, Himmler and Hitler in the title? The Nazi time was fairly short there and these three guys had little if anything to do with it!

Completely mindless commentary of course. However, those are some lovely photos. What a fantastic place it must have been pre-1945!

Seems like the case is closed. There is a guy living on the compound in the renovated building. Entered today, heard a dog barking and then the guy came after us. Before we managed to see a couple of buildings, all well sealed---

Gutted about that, I was planning on hiking North from Vogelsang to see this.

I last visited the end of April and the whole place was deserted. There might be construction/restoration work going on from time to time but by no means is it "case closed."
If you want to see the place, avoid the renovated building and just go around the back, as I did for my first visit when there were builders renovating it. Stay low, keep cool and you should still be able to explore without too much difficulty. And yes, some of the buildings are hard to get into but there are enough of them for all levels.

Thanks for getting back to me :)

In that case I'll certainly give it a go! Hopefully I'll get lucky!

Also, the book is fantastic! Hopefully you'll get enough material for a second one :)

I* went here earlier this month and its all pretty wired off and builders are busy at work on a building across the road and a builder guy does seem to be omnipresent its simply an incredible experience and i managed like you to nearly get stuck in building and i thought Ferks I'm here all night too..but got out a small crack that would make any gaelic man proud. Those stairways are just incredible to stand there and see them its just well beautiful. Sadly i bumped into the resident builder on my way and he was least pleased with me ..there was even mention of the chaps with Verboten on their lips but as i can't speak German he just told me to piss off..But this is an incredible place. i* was lucky in that the church was open too... Amazing place

We where there at the end of April. Two big buildings were still untouched, but there was a lot of constructions going on at the site, so go on Sundays. We did not risk going into a third big building because of smoke comming out of the chimeny. The awesome staircase is still there, but don't wait to long..

want there today with an organized photo tour..I must admit that the site is beautiful, the buildings look great from the outside, but inside there is almost nothing to see..just one empty room after another..and hardly any graffiti neither. I think there are better places (even with the organizer of the photo tours), such as Beelitz. in the next 2-3 years the site should be redeveloped into luxury houses. part of the domain has already been restored/redeveloped, and not longer accessible

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