If you’re a keen photographer, urban explorer, interested in history or just the type of person who likes to do something different when they travel, checking out Beelitz Heilstatten is a must-do when visiting Berlin. Never heard of it? Well that’s not a surprise.
Beelitz Heilstatten is a small town in the Potsdam district, south west of Berlin. Until recently it’s biggest claim to fame was it’s (I’m sure fabulous) Asparagus festival, but these days tourists are more likely to visit its huge, abandoned hospital complex. Built in 1902, it has over 60 buildings but they’ve lain empty empty since 1994. It used to be just urban explorers who would go there, but the amazing photos they took and put all over the internet led to the place being ‘developed’ into a ‘proper’ attraction. The place is amazing. Well, if you’re into this sort of thing.
The hospital was originally built to try to deal with the tuberculosis epidemic in Germany at the start of the twentieth century. Back then there were no antibiotics, so they had a more holistic approach, believing that the mind had to be well in order for the body to follow suit. So patients were sent to what would have been a stunning complex, out in nature, where they could recuperate, be fed well, do exercise and have lots of medical care and pampering. It later became a military hospital and even Hitler was once a patient after being injured in WW1. More than twenty years of dilapidation means it is now an amateur photographer’s dream.
To get inside one of the buildings you have to sign up for a tour with Berlin photo tour company go2know. You also need to be a little bit adventurous and independent (which you probably are already if this appeals) as the booking procedure, getting to the site (it’s located about an hour from Berlin by train) and finding the tour group on the day can be slightly tricky if you have no German. It took us a few minutes once we got there to realise the meeting point was on the opposite side of the railway station than where we had got off the train, but another German lady who ended up being on our tour and was also looking a bit lost suggested we try the other side and voila. I did the half day tour, which gives you three hours to roam around the ruins of one building, our was the Whitney Houston building – yes that’s a nickname. If like me you speak no German, I recommend reading up on it before you go because none of the info you get at the start of the tour is in English (out of twelve of us, we were the only two who weren’t German). But the guide speaks English and is more than happy to answer any questions later.
Doing a Google search of Beelitz Heilstatten images was what first got me interested in the place, but something we noticed was that nobody seemed to have included people in their shots. So we decided to do a sort of horror/ghost model shoot while we were there, which ended up being really fun.
After the tour, you’re free to wander around the complex (outside the buildings only) for as long as you like and there’s a more public area across the road with toilets, some food and yet more buildings.There’s even a treetop walk attraction if you’re interested. As you can see from the shots, the place is wonderfully dilapidated and even better, there’s no over the top health and safety procedures keeping you away from exploring every single nook and cranny. Just wear sensible shoes, bring some snacks, don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be absolutely fine.