_ Devil's Mountain : Ronit Mirsky

(this is quite a long narrative. For images, please scroll down).

Teufelsberg, literally ‘Devil’s Mountain,’ is an artificial hill in West Berlin, made from an estimated 12 million cubic meters of war rubble. After the Second World War, when Berlin was heavily bombed, the city was full of rubble. The debris had to be cleared, and it was dumped on Teufelsberg. Teufelsberg is not the only man-made rubble hill in Germany, but what makes it unique is what lies beneath the rubble: a half-built Nazi military training school, designed by chief Nazi architect Albert Speer. The Allies tried using explosives to demolish the school, but it was so sturdy that covering it with debris turned out to be easier, so after the war it became a rubble disposal site. As the rubble was gathered up and dumped on Teufelsberg, it became the tallest hill inside the Berlin boundary and the tallest in West Germany. As a result, the US National Security Agency (NSA) decided to build one of its largest listening stations on top of the hill, rumoured to be part of the global ECHELON intelligence-gathering network. The station was in operation until the fall of East Germany and the Berlin Wall. After reunification it was closed and the equipment removed, but the buildings and the radar domes were left and still stand to this day.
A few years ago I travelled to Berlin, after managing to avoid visiting Germany all my life. Growing up in Israel, from a very young age I was exposed to aftershocks from the horrors of the Holocaust. This exposure created deep-seated memories in my mind. All children are afraid of the dark, but I was afraid of the Nazis that hid there. I was sure Hitler was hiding under my bed, or following me on the street. I was afraid gas would come out of my shower instead of water. Just as I was traumatised by the Holocaust, I was afraid of walking on German streets, or hearing German being spoken. Finally, prompted by my studies, I decided to face my fears, and went on a research trip to Berlin, a city haunted by its violent past. One of my points of interests was Teufelsberg. It is not your regular tourist attraction, but I wanted to climb on that ghostly mountain.
It was not easy to find my way there, but finally I arrived at the right train station. Paradoxically, this station was also the station from which the Nazi trains, filled with captured Jews, left Berlin towards the work and death camps across Europe. From the station, I could see trees in the distance and I set off in that direction. Eventually, I found myself at the entrance to a small forest. There was a map of the forest by the path so I tried to plan my way to Teufelsberg on the map. While I was looking at the map a strange man approached me. He was dressed oddly, wearing socks on his hands and carrying a bicycle. He came close and asked me with a very heavy German accent if I needed some help. I asked him for the directions to Teufelsberg. I was trying to be polite but I felt petrified. Despite the fact he had a bicycle with him, he offered to walk me there. As I didn’t see any way I could refuse him, I agreed.
We started walking, chatting, into the woods. I kept thinking what I should say, when he asked me where I was from. Should I say I was from Israel or from the UK? He started talking about a book he was carrying and how he got hold of this book. His English was not very good and I did not understand exactly what he was talking about: it had something to do with “Juden” and the place they were deported from in 1943. Then he asked me where I was from. I replied, “Israel”. There was no reaction. “Is English your first language?” he asked. “No, it is Hebrew,” I replied. He had never heard of Hebrew before. “The language of the Juden,” I said cautiously. I was anxious to see his reaction to this new fact: I was Juden. But he did not seem to be very bright and I do not think he made the connection. We were walking into the forest, alone, no one in sight, miles from anywhere and I was worried about the German (Nazi) – Jewish situation I had gotten myself into. Where was my common sense? It was quite unlike me to get myself into a situation like this. I was terrified. As we continued to walk into the forest, I realised my stupidity. Here I was, a young woman walking with a complete stranger, and I was worried about his German/Nazi roots. He could rape me, kill me or abduct me without any connection whatsoever to his or my nationality.
He talked about being from West Berlin and hating East Berliners; for him the East/West division would always be there. When we turned onto the hill path and started climbing, I started to panic. The sun was starting to set and my imagination was working overtime. We started climbing and not wanting to continue walking with him, I told him I could manage on my own from here. It looked as though climbing was difficult for him, and after a few minutes he excused himself and said he would have to go down. He asked for my phone number, but I took his number instead. We said goodbye and I continued on alone. I kept thinking that he might have allowed me to go and called his accomplices to execute his rape/abduction plan. With every turn of the path I questioned whether I should keep going or head back. Finally, I got to the radar station. I could not believe I was actually climbing on what had been a Nazi base. The deserted radar station was interesting, but I was still afraid – of Norbert, the German weirdo, of the Nazi forest and of finding my way back in the dark.
When I started heading back down the path, I realized I had been so preoccupied with my fears, I had not actually noticed the way I came from, or how to get back. I had no recollection of the path and had the distinct feeling I was getting lost. It was starting to get dark and I was frightened. After about 40 minutes of wandering through the forest, I heard noises. It was a German family, walking towards me. I asked them for directions, then just about ran all the way back to the train station.

Objects from Teufelsberg

Acid decaying the objects