Berlin’s Lost Places: Ghosts of Schöneweide*

When one lives in Berlin and explores the city through different eyes as those of a tourist, I end up searching for the unusual. Trolling around East Berlin is far more interesting for me than the highly commercialized West Berlin once you are through with all the obligatory landmarks. There is no denying that Berlin residents ever have to fear getting bored and running out of things to see, try, discover or visit. If you are adventurous and want to take urban exploration to the next level, then enter the world of Lost Places.

There are several websites to visit when it comes to Lost Places, however, many of the places listed have since been shut down by security or torn down by construction cartels and been replaced by un-sexy new apartment buildings or office spaces. The efforts to transform the dreary old facades of the former socialist architecture is booming and many of the old factories, public swimming pools or hospitals that were listed by photographers as excellent photo shooting locations are no longer valid. My personal favorite is Abandoned Berlin, not only for the long list of interesting and unusual places, but also for the reliable information and updates. Even if you never set foot in any of the places listed, it is very entertaining reading!

Before embarking on any adventure in Berlin, make sure the latest information you stumble on is updated and not older than 2016 otherwise you can forget the adventure. What used to be free of cost, like the abandoned Spreepark, is now behind gates and you have to book tickets for a guided tour. Others, though listed under lost places of Berlin, are actually further out and you do need a car to reach them and can expect at least a 90 minute drive out of town.

VEB Berliner Metallhütten und Halbzeugwerke in Schöneweide ©MTHerzog

The next thing I recommend for the lost places of Berlin is an adventure buddy, (or more). Entering these places on your own is not safe, not only from the perspective of wobbly infrastructure, but you never know who you are going to meet in those buildings. So it was perfect timing that I had three other like-minded adventurers to get lost with and we headed for the former VEB Berliner Matallhütten und Halbzeugwerke (BMHW) in Schöneweide. It’s the type of drive that if you have the nagging feeling that you are getting lost and heading towards a parallel world, you rest assured that you are headed in the right direction. The S-Bahn station alone (Schöneweide) is a story unto itself, and parking along the narrow side streets requires skill and patience.

Ernst Schneller Kulturhaus ©MTHerzog

The BMHW was officially shut down on 1990, after employing up to 2300 people at the peak of its production time. Originally built in 1880 as A&A Lehmann AG, this sprawling estate hosted three productions sites for the processing of various metals. Like many other Jewish companies, World War II was the end of the productivity and the company was then merged with three others in 1951 into the BMHW. In addition to the metalworks, the factory had a huge hall that was sublet to the Ernst Schneller Kulturhause and became the location for cultural and theatrical events over the years.

As of this writing, there was absolutely no security to contend with. You can walk in undisturbed and explore all the the buildings at your own risk. Rest assured, however, that you will never be completely alone because this is a popular hangout for children and youth alike. On the day we were there there was even a film crew that we kept bumping into. I’m not really one for architectural photography, but abandoned places have their charm and attraction for me simply because of the story behind it.

Gone with the wind perhaps? ©MTHerzog

Not only is the graffiti on the walls fascinating, but the echoes of a once glorious past will always come shining through in one way or another. A small flashlight is a must because some of the more interesting locations can only be accessed through dark staircases. Oh, and it goes without saying that closed, sturdy shoes are fundamental because of all the glass shards, wood, and metal poking out from all places.

If you don’t mind climbing rusty old ladders into unknown spaces to check out the view, or stepping over an old wooden stage of questionable stability, this is the place for you. The lighting inside the buildings is a superb challenge for all shutterbugs, and a perfect fountain of inspiration for anyone with writers block!

Unlike some other abandoned places I have poked my nose into elsewhere on this planet, there are very little or no offensive smells that assault your senses in these buildings. The hobos that may have inhabited these places at some point or another quickly realized that there are far too many visitors to set up shop there. And if you take the time to look around carefully, you will find some interesting artwork. Conspiracy theorists, which I am not, might say that if you follow some of the graffiti and pay attention to some of the signature work you will notice a pattern across other walls throughout Berlin.

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