Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A once thriving hub of Cold War espionage, built on a Berlin hill made of World War II rubble.
European Union officials are none-too-pleased with the recent revelation that the United States has been spying on them. According to Der Spiegel, the National Security Agency taps about 500 million phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany a month, more than any other European nation.
"If the media reports are correct, this brings to memory actions among enemies during the Cold War," German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement.
It's also reminiscent of old times. During the Cold War, the NSA used a listening station (one of its largest, in fact) at the top of Teufelsberg, a 260-foot hill in Berlin, to monitor communications among Soviet and East German officials.
The forested area in Berlin where the former NSA listening station remains. View Larger Map
Located in the British sector of Berlin, the man-made hill was made mostly out of city rubble from World War II bombings and a partially built Nazi military-technical college. Surveillance facilities started being built on site in the late 1950s, the height of the hill and low density surroundings made it easy for the NSA to pick up communications signals around the city.
The life of a Teufelsberg worker wasn't necessarily as exciting as Cold War spy life might seem. As one former worker tells Public Radio International:
"They’d [East German officials] be discussing agriculture reports, things like that. They were having a bad crop of potatoes. And if you were on the graveyard shift, or really just after 8 o’clock at night, we just switched over to Radio Luxembourg and listened to rock 'n' roll."
Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and Germany reunified, the station closed and all of its equipment was removed. A group of investors bought the facility in 1996 hoping to build hotels, apartments and a spy museum on the site. The project has since been cancelled, and the the property has been classified by Berlin's land use plan as forested area, making any future construction unlikely.
The site has since been vandalized, with windows shattered, its copper wiring stripped and its walls tagged. Below, via Reuters photographer Pawel Kopczynski, a look at what the NSA's old Berlin facility looks like today: