Photograph: Katrin Schönig
Behind the fences the buildings stand in their beautiful decay. Plants grow between the crumbling brickwork. Trees have taken root where there once was a roof. Cyrillic signs are painted on the door in memory of former occupiers, and more recent artwork decorates windowless rooms from more recent explorers. The Beelitz Heilstätten, south of Berlin, was a sanatorium and hospital complex for less than a hundred years, from its opening in 1898 to the retreat of the Soviet military, who had occupied the site after WW2, in the mid-1990s. Now, as you walk between the buildings you get the feeling it will be visited as a ruin for far longer than it was used to cure the sick and injured.
It is because of our attraction for such abandoned places that there is a newer structure in the forest, a walkway of steel and wood that lifts the visitor high above the treetops. On a sunny weekday in October there are hundreds of people up there, turning their cameras and phones from the views across the top of the autumnal forest to the decaying buildings below and the fascinating glimpse into the rooms and hallways carpeted in rubble. Back on the ground, standing in the shadow of the walkway next to the frame of a building where women once took ‘air baths’ as a treatment against tuberculosis, it really is as if the ruins have been subsumed, very much part of the forest and somehow as natural as the trees, the bushes, and the mushrooms sticking up between falling leaves.
Read more about the Beelitz Heilstätten from our friends at Slow Travel Berlin
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