Rapunzel's Stasi castle: Schloß Dammsmühle

Filed 10/8/2014 |
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!
Alas, the blonde damsel was no longer there.
On the ground floor all the windows were blocked.
I even tried the front door but that too was locked.
Oh Rapunzel, Rapunzel where did you go?
I must find a way in, or didn’t you know?
Damn that witch whose spell cast you away!
Or maybe it was because the Stasi held sway.
For Schloß Dammsmühle is no ordinary castle.
Never mind getting in, even its history is hassle.
There was the Stasi as mentioned before,
Heinrich Himmler, Nazis, the Red Army and more…
So it’s no surprise Rapunzel turned and fled.
If she’d shared her tower with that lot she’d likely be dead.

There’s a sting in this fairytale but let’s start at the beginning, when but a humble mill occupied this picturesque site in the 16th century. A hunting lodge was built here in 1650, though it wasn’t until Berlin leather manufacturer Peter Friedrich Damm bought the land from Andreas Grüwel in 1755, nine years after another watermill was built, that the story began to take shape…
Damm had friends in high places. He made saddles and had the exclusive right to supply the Prussian army with leather uniform parts. He lived in what is now the Ermelerhaus in Mitte but notions of grandeur make people do crazy things and Damm wanted his own royal residence out in the country. What would become known as Schloß Dammsmühle (Damm’s Mill Castle) was built in 1768. You can still see the date above the door.
Queen Elisabeth Christine, Frederick the Great’s wife, stayed here a few times apparently. Sure who could blame her? Oul’ Fritz may have been great but he was a lousy husband.
Damm died without an heir and his “castle” fell into disrepair until it was snapped up by Adolf Friedrich Wollank in 1894. The Wollanks were a big landowning family. Adolf’s dad was an official big wig after whom a street and S-Bahnhof are named in Pankow.
Adolf expanded Damm’s castle and had a fancy oriental-looking dancehall with an onion-dome and turrets on an artificial island out on the lake, the Mühlenteich. There used to be dancers, jugglers and musicians performing here. It must have been quite a spectacle.
His brother Otto took over when Adolf died in 1915. By this stage it was known as Schloß Dammsmühle. Adolf was buried in a pavilion opposite the Schloß though that no longer exists. I guess his bones ended up in the lake and he’s swimming with the fishes. Or in them.
Hermann Zirkel, a merchant from Zehlendorf, bought the place in 1919, and British businessman Harry Goodwin Hart, who was the director of Lever Brothers from 1915 to 1932, acquired it in 1929. The Nazis were on the rise at the time and got into power a few years later, so Hart, who was Jewish, had to flee, initially to Switzerland, in 1938.
Hart was forced to sell the Schloß to the Nazis for 445,000 Reichsmark, though the Nazis apparently paid 70,000 too little, leading to a claim from Hart’s lawyers after the war. It was fruitless.
SS chief Himmler took over in 1940 and used Schloß Dammsmühle as a base and a fancy guesthouse. He had up to 25 concentration camp inmates from nearby Sachsenhausen working on the place between January to July 1943, sprucing it up a bit and maintaining it.
General Gotthard Heinrici, commander-in-chief of the last forces for Germany’s final defense, had his headquarters here toward the end of the war. Not that it helped turn the tide.
The Red Army took over after the war, as was their wont, though they didn’t stay long in this case. They used it initially as a hospital and then as a casino for high-ranking officers. But they were only passing guests…
In 1959 the Stasi took over. You’ve heard of them of course. Everyone knows of the Stasi and the Stasi knows of everyone. They’re called something else now; someone somewhere knows you’re reading these words. Plus ça change…
The Stasi used the Schloß as a training and recreation center. They, like Rapunzel, liked to let their hair down. They had important guests to entertain, party members and fellow snoops. There must have been more bugs in the place than in the Amazon. You’d certainly have to watch what you said.
Stasi top dog Erich Mielke had various works on the building carried out, generally to its detriment, while other non-descript ancillary buildings were built nearby.
Mielke and his bugs were rendered obsolete with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Schloß Dammsmühle served briefly as a hotel after German reunification. An ARD television series called “Haus am See” was filmed here from 1991. There were only 12 episodes. No doubt it was utter shite.
Hart’s heirs got the place back in 1997 but promptly sold it on again. It fell into disrepair during the years it was vacant.
A Berlin concert promoter held events here from 2000 to 2003, attracting some 30,000 concert goers to listen to some presumably godawful music each year. There were plans to revitalize the site but they didn’t come to fruition.
Another company took over in 2008, MBM, run by Gerd Matern. He organized various events, like a Biergarten lunch, rock concerts (more godawful music) and a Spukfest, whatever the hell that is.
Now there isn’t even any spuking, and there’s no telling what’ll happen next. For all I know, Rapunzel is still locked up in the tower, along with her kid. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your heir.

What
Schloß Dammsmühle, a playground for more unsavory types through the years than you could shake a stick at. There were and probably still are plans to revive it but Berlin is preoccupied right now with “rebuilding” its old Prussian city palace, to be despised by Berliners just as much as the real one was. The feelings will be authentic if nothing else.

Where
Schloßstraße, 16348 Wandlitz, Germany.

How to get there
Get the S2 S-Bahn to Berlin-Karow and the regional train (RB7 something) to Schönwalde (Barnim) from there. You’ll need to cycle the rest. Turn right coming out of the train station and turn right when the main road veers off to the left. It’s even signposted. You can also cycle from Basdorf if you miss your stop (like I did). It’s a bit tricky to get there through the woods but the area is scenic if you get lost. Here’s a map.

Getting in
It pains me to admit defeat on this one. I didn’t get in. You’d need crowbars to prize open one of the metal plates, a grappling hook to climb in though one of the second story windows or a very large ladder. Of course I cannot condone anything illegal. You can hop into what was an old bowling alley to the side but there’s only limited exploring to be had in that. There are also the ancillary buildings nearby though they’re not that exciting.

When to go
Daytime if you want to go swimming in the lovely lake. Nighttime if you want to go skinny-dipping in the lovely lake. You know, it doesn’t really matter. Just jump in.


Difficulty rating
10/10 I’m giving this the top rating for now because I couldn’t get in. If someone has a large ladder I could borrow…

Who to bring
Girlfriend/boyfriend for a romantic picnic by the Mühlenteich, or some miners if you plan on tunneling into the castle.

What to bring
A ladder. Bring togs/bikini for the lake, nothing if you prefer FKK. Either way, bring beer, wine or spirits to keep the thirst at bay, and maybe some mozzie spray to keep them at bay too. Bring a camera if you want to take pictures, and a picnic for the authentic Brandenburg excursion experience.

Dangers
No inherent dangers to report as I was unable to get in. If that situation changes I’ll update accordingly.
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6 comments

maybe, you didn't miss that much
https://www.flickr.com/photos/tulpen/4869608494/

That was in one of the neighboring buildings. They were pretty trashed, full of rubbish. I didn't bother taking pics.

We took a grappling hook, threw it up into an open window, climbed up and got inside. The climb was extremely precarious and can't recommend this –– it was sheer luck that the hook caught something inside the window ledge that held the weight of a person. The view from the top of the tower is gorgeous, but the wooden staircase leading up there looks like it might fall through at some point soon.

Other highlights of the building include a spectacular wrap-around staircase and mezzanines that span three floors and the relic of a huge bath / small pool. The ground floor has several ballrooms –– you can imagine the scale of the parties that were once held here. The basement holds old stables and it looks like people have been living here. We saw a tent and a half-drunk bottle of beer. Not sure how anyone is getting in unless they have a key to one of the steel doors. The ground floor is ridiculously secure; there is no way to get into this building without a grappling hook or ladder.

On reflection, it probably isn't worth the risk getting in, the building is mostly empty inside. But the tower is pretty spectacular. On a final note, a minority of locals are vigilant about the site and the police are reactive to their calls.

I was walking around the small lake by the castle, when they police arrived, i think they make daily control in the area.

Watch the movie VIRUS UNDEAD (aka THE BEAST WITHIN). Is completely filmed there without much decoration.

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