The Urge

Beware the communists!!!

Today was a day that began unpromisingly. I woke at an unpleasant hour thanks to the daily roaring grinding noise that happens outside my window at just before 7am. In the night I had origamied my duvet into an incredible writhing plait that had allowed me to get thoroughly cold outside of the one insulated stripe diagonally across me – you see, German duvets are always half as wide as the bed that accommodates them, so they have a tendency to drift around on the mattress like seaweed on the surf. Thanks to another curious German quirk – their demand for enormous square pillows the size of a dinner table containing very little stuffing – I also awoke with a tremendous crick in my neck and found that the pillow had half-slimed up the wall like a slug trying to escape a flowerpot. 

My entrance into the kitchen to make a pot of tea aroused a cloud of fruit flies who whirred around the kitchen in a black mist. I went to the supermarket and was accosted by a wild-haired man who barked at me, “Excuse me! You! Can you tell me which damn cat food is the cheapest?!?” And I accidentally spilled my compost waste next to the bio-trash bin in the courtyard, sending a thousand furry mushrooms (geez Netto, thanks for selling me these mushrooms with EXTRA fungi!) rolling around like rotten eyeballs.

So, I sat and glumly looked at my computer for a while. Long enough to get The Urge. The Urge is something which hits every week or so, on a day when I haven’t achieved much and have spent more time than appropriate in pajamas. It is the thing which makes me suddenly, and without warning, think: “Hang on! This simply won’t do! It’s been far too long since I discovered a thing! It is time for a QUEST!” When The Urge strikes, it only seconds later that I am donning my coat and most kick-ass boots and slamming the door behind me.

My enormous calf muscles powered me on my way with a determined sense of purpose observers must only, I assume, describe as ‘inspirational’. I marched to Ostkreuz with only the occasional accidental detour and slipped directly onto the right train just as it reached the platform, with a silent and delicious expression of ‘booyah’. And with that, I began my quest to Grunewald to check out Berlin’s epic Teufelsberg.

The Teufelsberg is a surreal and slightly horrifying attraction. It is, in English, the ‘Devil’s Mountain’, so called because it is a rather large mountain formed from nothing but the rubble collected from the wreckage of a bombed and broken Berlin. Peacefully lying at its base is the ‘Teufelssee’ or ‘Devil’s Lake’, which is actually just a lake, although I like to think that it is equally doom-laden and actually filled with something tragic like children’s tears. If that wasn’t all strange enough, the Teufelsberg then had a huge observation tower built upon it during the time of the wall for people to conduct espionage and other devious things within sinister-looking white orb-structures, which have now been abandoned and covered with incredibly atmospheric graffiti. If you want to know more about it, I suggest you watch Matt Frei’s documentary series Berlin, which is amazing and eye-opening and shows you Berlin from the dinner jacket right inside to the entrails. An abandoned observatory tower on top of a mountain of tragic rubble? I had to case the joint.

First, of course, there came the challenge of actually getting there. Given that there was no signage (signs? Telling you were to go? Helpful and useful public information? Such a thing does not exist, child) I was nonetheless confident that an enormous mountain with two large white orbs on the top would be pretty impossible to miss. What I hadn’t reckoned with is the kilometres of thick, plush, green German woodland that surrounds it. Within seconds of striding I found myself in the middle of a vast and endless expanse of trees, and so I decided that the next best solution would be to at least always follow the path that went uphill, given that I was looking for a darned mountain. This also was not a foolproof tactic – although it led me past a gorgeous old-fashioned ‘gypsy’-style caravan nestled between the trees – and I finally arrived at the top of a very tall and very impressive…other mountain. I was surrounded by the epic views of Berlin’s landscape and, also, by loads of hobby model aeroplane flyers, who were whizzing little planes around me like noisy dragonflies. I noticed another mountain to my right with two orb-topped towers on top and uttered a quiet expletive under my breath. The only way from this mountain to that mountain was a crazily-steep smooth, dusty slope downwards, whose curves practically spelt out ‘broken leg’ in fancy handwriting. Luckily, on my climb/slide down I was distracted by two enormous and beautiful blue-metallic beetles pushing hunks of earth around and completely forgot my imminent danger, and I made it to the bottom. 

I employed my earlier tactic again and followed all the paths that led uphill until I reached a strange, angular, concrete structure with a large crucifix on top. “A memorial?” I wondered. “A sculpture? A grave?” I then noticed some people on the structure and a guy delivering a lecture on karabiners and realised that this was, in fact, a large and apparently religious climbing wall, right on the slope of the Teufelsberg. I hope my profound bafflement didn’t cause any of the climbers to lose concentration and fall.

Scaling the Teufelsberg is a strange sensation, because the path is littered with bricks. And cube-shaped rocks. And tile-shaped rocks. And rocks with strange textures. It is impossible to forget that this is little more than a heap of old, bombed buildings, which now have trees growing on them and squirrels fossicking in them. One might be walking on a blasted fragment of the original Reichstag, or simply a bit of brick from a woman’s home, where she lived with her husband and her baby. Maybe the brick belonged to a Nazi’s house, or simply one of the thousand dumbstruck bystanders. And all these rubbles were heaped up by women who, after the war, just had to sweep up their broken city into a nice neat pile, like onion skins on the kitchen floor. 

I knew I was near the top when I reached a double-layer of wire fencing topped with a barbed-wire ridge. It’s not surprising that they would close off the observation towers; they would be a hella sexy place to jump off, if you wanted to commit suicide in a trendy way, and they have been vandalised enough already that it’s worth looking after them just to preserve the rest of what remains keeping them eerie and weird. The fact that they are completely shut off to anyone except paying tour-guests did seem to have disappointed a number of adventurers like myself, however, as I encountered several young and active-looking men on my wander around who all asked me the same question: “Do you know how we can get in there?” (And then the more confused question, presumably because I look like a twelve-year-old: “Are you here all by yourself?”) The most ‘old-spice-attractive’ bunch then had the pleasure of speeding off on their hardcore mountain bikes, probably heading home to shave with a really good razor and drink ice-cold beers in their modern-minimalist apartments. I then had to walk back.

Of course I got lost. Of course! Don’t you know me at all!

But in getting lost it appears that I spent half an hour walking in a perfect circle and then ended up at the amazingly incongruous Teufelsberg Eco-centre, an open garden and ecological information centre boasting attractions like a bee-viewer and a bare-foot garden. Considering that this must be fate, I wandered around; the bee-viewer is in fact amazing, as it is simply a bee-hive with a door that opens on a window into the centre of the hive itself, so you can see thousands of glossy bees wandering over pregnant hexagons of glowing honey. There was a clay oven, and a wonderful vegetable garden, and – thank holy Christ – a WC, which is a joyous thing after two hours of accidental hiking. The hornet-viewer appeared to have been abandoned by the hornets, which was a somewhat unsurprising shame, and in the visitor’s centre they were preparing for a talk, in the universal ritual of arguing over how to make powerpoint work on the projector while one of them pours apple juice into a plastic jug for the refreshments. I realised I had squeezed everything I could out of this quest, and headed home. 

Well, actually I got lost again and ended up walking for 45 minutes to find ANY train station to take me home first. But it was worth it for the adventure. And good exercise for my gigantic, quivering calves.

Rose T