During the cold war NSA Field Station Teufelsberg formed part of the Echelon spy network, a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of the five signatory states to the UKUSA Security Agreement. Today it stands derelict on the man made forested mound called Devils Hill, the single highest elevation in West Berlin.
The story of the hill itself is an interesting one. After World War II the city of Berlin was full of rubble, which had to be disposed of in order to start rebuilding the city. Much of the rubble from East Berlin was transported outside of the city, but after the division of Germany, West Berlin ended up an isolated area surrounded by the territory of East German, controlled by the communists. That, and the shortages of fuel in the post war period caused the new West German authorities to look for somewhere closer to dispose of Berlin’s waste.
Teufelsberg was home to the Nazi military-technical college (Wehrtechnische Fakultät) designed by Albert Speer but never actually completed before the end of the War. Allegedly, it was built so well that the allies had not been able to destroy the place with explosives so they decided the former Nazi school should be buried instead, also solving the problem of what to do with West Berlin’s post war rubble. Over the coming years around 600 truck loads per day culminated in an estimated 26 million cubic meters of rubble, forming the single highest mound in West Berlin.
With Cold War tensions rising the 115m elevation of Devil’s Hill became a regular spot for the allies to place their mobile listening stations which would capture Soviet, East German, and other Warsaw Pact nations military traffic, and in the late 1950’s the first permanent construction was made on the site which went on to be one of the USA National Security Agencies largest listening stations.
Teufelsberg enjoyed excellent reception in most radio bands that were otherwise difficult to receive at long distances as it had unobstructed reception of signals from all directions. Given its importance Teufelsberg also had an effect on what went on in Berlin outside of its compound, although at the time most people would never know the reasoning behind some of the seemingly odd decisions. On one occasion it caused the removal of a nearby ski lift as it was found to interfere with reception, and on another it allegedly delayed the removal of a Ferris wheel, used at a nearby German-American Volksfest Festival each year as it was found to aid reception. With Teufelsberg in the British sector of Berlin the Americans there were only there as guests, but given the intense collaboration of the British and American intelligence agencies this was only a technicality. Whilst little is known about the sharing of technical resources and intelligence, the site certainly had separate USA and British computer and analytically rooms, the close co-operation of the British and the Americans was reflected throughout the rest of the site, with shared dining and auxiliary services such as waste, electricity supply, and sewage. It is known that the tallest red and white mast, which was removed when the base was closed, belonged to the British organisation GCHQ.
When the field station closed as a result of the reunification of Germany and collapse of the Soviet Union the small unusual radomes on top of the main tower and ‘Arctic’ Radome were removed by the NSA, along with all of the sensitive computer equipment, technology and most records. The site then fell into civilian hands when it was purchased by a group of investors, making the most of the post unification economic boom. Their plans to turn it into luxury apartments never came to fruition and although changing hands several times since it still sits derelict and decaying to this day.