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A Bird’s Eye View of an Abandoned Hospital Near Berlin

by Silke Elzner

I remember vividly the first time I came across the mysterious Beelitz Heilstätten. It was almost twenty years ago that we drove past this lost place in the middle of a forest near Berlin. From a distance, I could make out ruined buildings with gaping holes, overgrown by the Brandenburg forest, adorned with graffitied walls. I was immediately fascinated by the sight. Yet it was clear that the fence around the ruins was there to deter intruders, and so all we could do is forget that this place ever existed.

It almost seems as if nature is swallowing up the ruined buildings of the abandoned lung sanatorium. Thanks to the treetop path, we could get up close with the ruined hospital buildings.

It almost seems as if nature is swallowing up the ruined buildings of the abandoned lung sanatorium. Thanks to the treetop path, we could get up close with the ruined hospital buildings.

The name of the place that we discovered back then on the outskirts of Berlin was Beelitz Heilstätten. A historic lung sanatory and hospital from the turn of the century. After the fall of the Berlin Wall it was left to rot, to disappear in the darkness that comes with political turmoil, to waste away as it was no longer needed. Fences sent the unmistakable message to keep off, and so all we could do was to drive past and forget that it ever existed.

Fast forward twenty years and I am back living in Berlin. At the end of March, I celebrated my birthday, and it happened to be an unusually warm and sunny spring day. As we were browsing the internet for ideas for suitable excursions in and around Berlin we stumbled on the Beelitz Heilstätten once again. What was new was that today you could actually access the site, legally and safely, via a treetop walk. An elevated pathway that had been build right above the ruins of the abandoned hospital. What a beautiful idea, and the perfect way to spend my birthday!

Beelitz Heilstätten near Berlin is a hospital from the early 20th century which has many stories to tell.

Beelitz Heilstätten near Berlin is a hospital from the early 20th century which has many stories to tell.

A Short History of Beelitz Heilstätten near Berlin

To understand the history of the site you have to go back around 100 years. By 1900 some 1.8 million people were living in Berlin. This is just about half of the population as we see it today, but life back then was a constant struggle for Berliners. There were not enough apartments, and people had to live on top of each other. Hygiene was abysmal, natural light in the narrow courtyards non-existent, the air polluted with smoke emitted from coal ovens and factory chimneys. Sickness swept through the streets of Berlin in the form of big epidemics. Even wealthy city dwellers could not escape the constant threat of tuberculosis.

It was around this time that the Beelitz Heilstätten opened on the outskirts of the German capital. Just a short train ride from Berlin, yet a different world altogether. Blessed with fresh air and unspoilt nature, this place must have felt like paradise. Most of the patients must have known only life surrounded by constant dirt and noise of the city.

The clean air in the countryside was rightly considered an important aspect of the treatment of dreaded lung diseases like tuberculosis.

The clean air in the countryside was rightly considered an important aspect of the treatment of dreaded lung diseases like tuberculosis.

The treatment of lung diseases back then was no easy task and required a lot of patience. One big hope for the ill people was that exposure to good, clean air would make a difference. Every day for many hours patients would spend in their beds outside breathing the fresh air of the Brandenburg forests, rain or shine.

At the end of WWII, the Russian military took over control of Beelitz Heilstätten. They repurposed part of the around 60 buildings and turned it into a military hospital. For the public, the area became off-limits. After the collapse of the Eastern German regime and the retreat of the Russian forces, the buildings then lay deserted. Inspired people had to come up with new ideas to save the complex. One of these ideas was the treetop path which we now visited.

The treetop walk starts with the 40-metre observation tower which allows 360-degree views of the abandoned site.

The treetop walk starts with the 40-metre observation tower which allows 360-degree views of the abandoned site.

Exploring Abandoned Places From the Heights of a Treetop Path

Our visit to Beelitz Heilstätten started with a climb up a big tower. We ignored the generous offer of a lift which would have taken us to the top and chose the stairs instead. From a height of 40 metres, our reward was the panoramic views of the surroundings. Not just the abandoned hospital but also the woods of Brandenburg and all the way to the tallest towers of Berlin. It was amazing to see how nature took over the buildings around us.

We continued on the treetop path which meandered through the ruins of the sanatorium, allowing us to get up close with the historic sights. We walked above the roof of one of the buildings, hovering over the broken structures which were only held together thanks to the roots of trees. The scenery reminded me of a possible zombie apocalypse. Was this how the world would look like 70 years after the last human had left? It was hard to believe how quickly something that seemed so important to us humans at one point in time could be so easily reconquered by nature.

Today, 70-year-old trees are growing on the roofs of the ruined buildings. Some say the roots alone ensure that the buildings do not collapse.

Today, 70-year-old trees are growing on the roofs of the ruined buildings. Some say the roots alone ensure that the buildings do not collapse.

Tips for Visiting Beelitz Heilstätten Abandoned Hospital Near Berlin

Here are some tips to help you visit the site:

  • The weather doesn’t have to be perfect for an enjoyable visit on the treetop path. In fact, fog and even a slight drizzle might add some atmosphere to the abandoned buildings in the forest. We visited on one of the first true spring days when the trees just started to show their first virgin leaves and the sun would cast long shadows. I daresay, depending on weather and the seasons, you will always have a new and exciting experience when visiting Beelitz Heilstätten.
  • The easiest way to get to Beelitz is by car. Coming from Berlin, the journey will take around one hour, depending on where you start. Free parking is just some 200 or 300 hundred metres from the entrance, but it is a lovely, easy walk past some of the ruins of the hospital. If you visit with your dog you will be sad to hear that dogs are not allowed inside. But there is a kennel right next to the entrance where you can leave your friend for the duration of your visit. Kids will love the big adventure playground in the shadow of the observation tower. There is also a lovely cafe with lots of outdoor seating on the site.
  • As an added bonus, there are regular guided tours of some of hospital buildings including the famous Alpine House and the Old Surgery. I haven’t tried any of the tours yet, but I believe they will make a great complimentary experience to walking the treetop path. If you are looking for something else to do in the vicinity, there is also a popular barefoot park next door which is open in summer.
Crumbling walls, colourful graffiti, gaping holes – the treetop path allows intimate insights into the ruins of Beelitz Heilstätten.

Crumbling walls, colourful graffiti, gaping holes – the treetop path allows intimate insights into the ruins of Beelitz Heilstätten.

The Verdict: Exploring an Abandoned Hospital in the Woods

Our trip to Beelitz Heilstätten on my birthday was the best day trip I could imagine for my birthday. Even though we didn’t encounter any ghosts, thanks to the treetop path we did come so close to the ruins that we could make out many details inside, even on the upper floors. We saw lots of graffiti and interesting details and were eye-to-eye with the trees that grew on the roofs.

The atmosphere was magical. A unique symbiosis of man and forest, and also an interesting puzzle piece in learning more about the history of Berlin. Thanks to the elevated viewpoint we could see so much more than when just walking around the buildings.

By the way, if you are visiting on your birthday, you can enjoy free entry! This was certainly one of the reasons why we decided on a visit on that day. Everybody else pays around 10 Euros, children from the age of 7 pay slightly less. You will find more information on the official website: Baumkronenpfad Beelitzer Heilstätten (EN language version).

I couldn't have wished for a better way to spend my birthday with the family!

I couldn’t have wished for a better way to spend my birthday with the family!

Many thanks to Baum & Zeit, the operators of the treetop path in Beelitz Heilstätten who kindly allowed the publication of my photos in conjunction with this blog post.

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