The sprawling Beelitz-Heilstätten was built as a state of the art Tuberculosis Sanatorium just over 100 years ago, but since the Soviet Army occupation ended in 1995 large parts of the sprawling complex are abandoned and have fallen into disrepair.
More interesting than the architecture itself is the history of this incredible site. It has been home to the imperial German Army, the Red Cross, treated Adolf Hitler’s injuries sustained during the battle of the Somme, been the stalking grounds for a sadistic serial killer Wolfgang Schmidt, who murdered five women and a child, and it has provided shelter for Erich Honecker under the protection of the Soviets, when he was forced to resign as leader of the East German government and faced charges of war crimes in 1990.
Since the Soviets left in 1995, of the roughly sixty buildings that made up the formal hospital most remain in various states of repair, ranging from the recently refurbished disinfection station – now a hotel, and the former Men’s Pavilion, currently in use as a neurological rehabilitation clinic, to the more run down examples, such as the ruins of the Women’s Pavilion whose first floor was totally destroyed by allied bombs during the second world war, and never rebuilt.
The complex, designed by architects Schmieden and Boethke, was initially a Sanatorium built by the Berlin workers’ health insurance corporation in 1898, to provide a state of the art care facility for Tuberculosis patients as at the time the disease accounted for one in three deaths, and almost half the of all cases of incapacity to work among Berlin’s workforce.
It’s construction at the time was unique. Surrounded by large spacious gardens, the pavilions, were laid out along a north-south axis and had large arched windows, and high ceilings ensuring the patients were exposed to maximum sunshine, while huge underground tiled ducts, big enough to walk through, channelled a supply of fresh air from outside which was heated and moisturised before being released inside the buildings. A complex of underground tunnels also linked the buildings basements together and it was through these that municipal heating and services were provided from the central heating system that served the whole site, another first for a development of that time. These tunnels also served as a way to move supplies such as laundry and food around the site regardless of the weather conditions on the surface.
Unfortunately the time spent as a civilian facility was fairly short lived and with the outbreak of World War One the site was placed under the control of the German Imperial Army and by 1919 it had treated approximately 12,800 soldiers, including a young Adolf Hitler who had been wounded in the leg during the battle of the Somme in 1916.
The military use of the hospitals continued through World War II by the Red Cross, during which time allied bombs practically destroyed the first floor of the Women’s Pavilion which still lies in ruins today.
Following World War II the complex was a restricted military area under the control of the West Group of the Soviet Army and became their largest hospital complex in service outside of Soviet territory. Following the Soviet withdrawal, attempts were made to privatise the complex, but they were not entirely successful. Some sections of the hospital remain in operation as a neurological rehabilitation centre and as a centre for research and care for victims of Parkinsons disease. The remainder of the complex, including the surgery, the psychiatric ward, and a rifle range, was abandoned in 2000, and has since been used as a film set for The Pianist in 2002 and Valkyrie in 2008. Security at the site has been stepped up recently following the death of a young German urban explorer who fell through the floor in one of the decaying buildings, and more recently still the underground tunnels have been blocked off in four locations where they cross the main road which runs through the site North/South making easy access around the site significantly more difficult. Even so, it remains a fascinating place with plenty to show of its past from WW-I through to the present day.