The day we got stuck at an abandoned Turbeculosis hospital on Friday 13th.
Some parts of this story will seem a little unbelievable.
To me it serves as a great reminder that truth is stranger than fiction. That life is constantly trying to write incredible stories with us and when we dare say yes, the most unbelievable things come to life.
So, Friday the 13th, September 2013, Berlin.
We decided it would be the perfect day to go and visit an abandoned tuberculosis and military hospital, named Beelitz Heilstätten.
Now, I don’t mean to name drop but Hitler was once a patient there.
While it now has a sky walk and a guided tour, in 2013 this was a truly abandoned space and while some parts you could freely walk into, others required seriously tactful skills to access.
But let’s rewind for a second.
I met my friends Katy and Ryan in the morning at S Plänterwald station and we headed towards the hospital together. Katy was inspired to do a Friday the 13th themed photo shoot at the hospital so started putting on gothic makeup. Ryan and I thought we’d have a laugh and got our goth on too.
The first synchronicity of the day was that Katy and I had both not bought train tickets for the last 2 weeks.
At the time the maths said it was cheaper to pay a fine once every couple of weeks if you got caught. We both separately had an intuition that morning to get our first one, and while applying our makeup, we had our tickets checked. It was a nice little omen to kickstart our mission. The last couple of weeks catching up with Katy often seemed to revolve around discussing personal problems, so to avoid this we declared that today was ‘Kein Problem Tag!’ or, ‘no problem day’.
We got off our first train an hour out of Berlin. After getting a bit confused about which train to take next, we decided it would be easier to jump in a taxi to the abandoned hospital. The day had a weird gloomy overcast feel, and with the date and our mission, we all were getting a Hollywood horror film vibe. We joked about this and from the back seat of the cab, Ryan laughed that like in the films there will almost certainly be a scary old lady along the way telling us not to go there, to which he tried to imitate.
“Don’t go to the abandoned hospital” he said, and cackled with laughter.
But his old lady accent sounded much more like a Thai lady and I turned around and called him on it.
Ryan then redid the impersonation.
“You no go to hospital. Me give you a massage instead?”
We all laughed and in a few quick back and forth incarnations the joke soon (de)evolved to,
“You no go to hospital. Me give you a massage instead with a nice happy ending?”
Please excuse the stereotype; the subsequent synchronicity that lined up with it makes it a crucial detail I can’t omit.
The taxi pulled up near to our expected destination and we began to walk the rest of the way. While walking I ran my hand over the back of a parked vehicle, only to find it was covered in oil. Oops. We kept walking but it felt barren; something was not right. This didn’t look like the kind of location you’d find a big abandoned hospital, it was way too suburban.
I pulled out my phone and retyped the hospital name, only for it to say it was an hour walk from where we were. Fuck…
In that moment we felt pretty defeated as the day was getting on and we really wanted to see this place. We started walking back towards the nearest train station to see if we could still make it happen. On the way back we stole a political ‘Vote For me’ placard from someone’s front yard, with a candidates big face on it, and declared her our loyal mascot for the journey ahead.
By this point the Thai lady telling us not to do the mission and instead go for a Thai massage had become the running joke of the day, and it seemed to get funnier every time we uttered the words. We kept rinsing it and cackling at the absurdity of our Hollywood horror film with a happy ending twist.
Then out of nowhere, as if our collective imaginations had been brewing in some cosmic soup where thoughts become reality, lay two buildings before us. The only two things in this whole town apart from the train station:
A pub called ‘Happy Ending’ and a Thai massage parlour next to it.
We lost it. The slight deflation of getting lost and potentially cancelling the mission turned into pure elation. We couldn’t stop laughing and were mind-blown by our ongoing personal joke coming to life right in front of us. We actually were living in a movie plot!
Ryan suggested we go in for a beer, which in hindsight sounded like a great idea. But in my head this moment was an epic sign that if we kept letting this story be told, there was so much more to come to life and I was too excited to stop the momentum. One of my favourite things about this moment is that looking back at a photo we took; Ryan wearing a t-shirt that had the Hollywood sign but instead of ‘Hollywood’ it spelt out ‘THE END’.
It certainly could have been a great end to the story, but this day was a tale ready to be written and we all decided to step into the next chapter.
We rode our train like cheeky little idiots, carrying our political mascot and laughing that she was most likely a far right wing politician that we were parading around with joy and talking to as if she was a real person. (Ryan later learned that our politician mascot was from CDU, and not Right Wing!)
After an absurd train ride, we finally arrived at Beelitz Station and walked along a beautiful tree-lined road to the hospital.
After having to fence jump and dodge security to get into and explore Spreepark (an abandoned amusement park), sneak through a hole in the fence to the main towers of Teufelsberg (an abandoned spy station built on the rubble of the bombed city) on previous adventures, it was so refreshing to be able to stroll straight into the complex.
The interiors were beautiful dilapidated spaces with overgrowth seeping through every crack. There were dreamy decaying colours on every surface, and a subtle and haunting vibe from both its aesthetic and history. After taking some photos of Katy down in a pit, with a massive hook suspended into it from above, we explored heaps of unique buildings, each with their own charm. One was an old dilapidated house with a dark room with nothing but a giant 2x2 metre oven tray that came out of the wall. I thought it looked like a giant pizza oven. Katy and Ryan had a darker take.
We then found ourselves outside the main building, a stunning construction that looked somewhere between an asylum and a classic mansion. In our excitement, we did a full lap of the building looking for a way in, but every door and window was locked, bolted or covered. We eventually got in through a window next to the main door that had not been boarded all the way to the top, leaving us a small gap to squeeze in through.
A ballroom-esque grand staircase was spiralling up each side of the first room, with rich yellow paint peeling off every wall to reveal a surreal oceany blue behind it. I ran up it in excitement and on the second level the late afternoon sunlight shone through. It cast its stunningly delicate warm glow onto the building’s subtleties, revealing a perfect blend of destruction and creation. This was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and felt. Having this gorgeous decaying space sitting in silence and basking in the golden light coming through the forest, it truly felt like a forgotten temple and we had it all to ourselves.
After exploring, taking photos and basking in the uniqueness of each space, from stunningly beautiful, to creepy and surreal, we decided on one final mission. There were tall viewing turrets protruding right up from the highest points of the building. Despite exploring all of the rooms, none of them revealed a way in. The entrances must have been covered up.
Eventually, I found a small, perfectly square hole in the roof of one of the rooms and got Ryan to boost me up into it. Ryan couldn’t help but comment how ‘cliche horror film’ it was to be sending me up into a dark attic with nothing but the torch on my phone.
The wooden attic space felt massive and ran over the top of all the rooms on the second level.
I scurried around and in the corner found a large brick cylinder room which was the base of one of the turrets. I looked up and saw a single steel ladder going all the way up to reveal the afternoon sun, contrasted by the dank and sparse wooden attic.
I saw some light coming up from one of the rooms and shouted out to the others.
The attic floor had partially caved in, and there was an electric fuse box cabinet upon which they hoisted themselves up and onto this level. I showed them the cylindrical brick room and we carefully scaled the thin cold steel ladder to the top.
Once up there Ryan pulled a beer for us each out of his bag and we cheersed to a truly epic day.
The scene was awe inspiring but also quite scary, as we were sitting on a dodgy thin round wood bench that outlined the top of the turret; with no floor below, dropping straight down to what would be a hefty fall onto concrete.
The view was out to a golden sunset drenched forest and looking down on the incredible rich red-tiled buildings below. One of my most gorgeous visual memories was of a tree cracking straight up through the roofs of one of the distant buildings and flourishing into the daylight.
The sun was about to set so it was definitely time to go; it was getting cold and dark quick.
We scurried back through the spaces and headed towards the train station with a real feeling of elation and accomplishment. Urban exploring for me is all about reclaiming space and feeling the peace and soul you are often unable to find in a world of such noise, obedience and order.
We went back to the train station with 15 minutes until the next train’s arrival at which point Katy realised she’d left her camera case in the freaky pizza oven room. It was a borrowed camera so she’d felt bad if we left without it. I was so buzzed up that I was completely convinced I could run there, retrieve it, and get back in that time. So I bolted, ran back through the buildings and found myself in a very dark room looking all over for a case using my phone torch. Things looked a lot different after dark and the whole place suddenly took on a very creepy vibe. During the day the beauty seemed to dominate, but now it looked like the scene from a horror film. I took a breath, told myself that this creepy feeling is just a Hollywood narrative I’d been taught, decided the camera case was a loss, and ran back to the train.
I arrived out of breath and despite my invincible optimism, we had missed it.
No worries we thought, next train in 15 minutes. 12 minutes. 10 minutes.
No announcement or word of why. Just a single LED screen telling us how many minutes we had to wait it out for. It was getting cold now and we hadn’t dressed for night at all, still wearing t-shirts from the day without any jumpers. We talked lots of shit to pass the time, like asking a local who was also waiting for the train how to sing ‘What is Love’ by Haddaway in German.
‘Was ist Liebe. kannst du mich hören. nicht mehr’
After proudly belting this out on and off for the next half an hour, we later learned that he’d incorrectly taught us to sing the words as:
‘What is love, can you hear me, no more’
We kept talking shit, comforting each other and trying to keep warm and sane as the LED screen saw 50 minutes go down to 20 minutes, only to again become 40 minutes again.
This strange behaviour of the screen seemed to match the mood of our already bizarre day and somehow felt like a part of it all.
I asked the nice guy who taught us the song in German if he had any food. He kindly gave us an apple and some snacks to share. I felt proud of my post-apocalyptic survival skills which at this point was what our situation was starting to feel like.
People had been giving up on the train and leaving the station. Our phones started running out of battery and over the next hour they died one by one, alongside the ever delaying train.
Katy’s phone was the last one to go and just before it did her attempt to call a taxi was met with an engaged signal. We approached the last man at the station who was walking away, and said we would pay for a cab for us all to get back to Berlin if he would make the call. He wasn’t interested at all and hastily walked away.
Now it was just us. Alone. Stuck in this cold limbo.
The number of minutes until the train came started going up. There was no announcement and was now 80 minutes, to which we laughed was just a dodgy way of saying it was over an hour.
We had no idea what else there was in this area, apart from this nightmare train station and the creepy abandoned tuberculosis hospital, which we were definitely not heading back to.
If life was telling us anything at this point, it was that nothing was going to go our way.
We decided to go for a walk to see what we could find for respite. The first corner from the station had a house with lights on and Katy excitedly said:
’Hey, they have their lights on!’
Literally the moment she said those words, like an instant curse, their lights went off in a single flick.
While freaky, it was all just too uncanny and synchronistic to be frustrating.
It was bewildering watching this unfold like a movie before our eyes.
We walked further into the unknown until we came across a fire truck out the front of a small building. Now, freezing and desperate to just be inside, we were hopeful this meant help. We scurried around to the back of the building and looked through a glass door into a beautiful cosy scene.
Two firemen with their feet up, snacks and a crackling fireplace, watching T.V.
The room was plush and it looked like a perfect homely winter scene. I gently knocked on the door, which was answered with a look of surprise.
I kindly explained to the fireman that we were stuck in this town with no way out. I asked if we could get some warmth for just a moment.
- ‘We cannot help you’.
* ‘What do you do for a living’
- ‘I am a fireman’.
* ‘So you help people for a living?’
* ‘and you can’t help us?’
With a cold look on his face he closed the door on us.
I really thought my social skills were on point during this interaction so I was confused.
But after looking at the others in the artificial light and seeing their gothic makeup, I realised our looks may have not helped sell the request.
So back to the train station, back to the joke of being stuck in a never-ending limbo and waiting for a train that was never coming.
We seemed to be taking turns losing willpower as the other two tried to keep spirits strong.
The arrival timer was still high and our only option left was to patiently hope the train would eventually come. It was freezing, dark, we were starving, losing morale, had no water and all hope of a way out was seeming less fruitful by the second.
After a long wait we finally saw the train lights belting towards us and we jumped up in excitement ready to finally board. It pulled in and with stunning speed blew cold air all over us, rolling straight off its hard steel.
It was an express industrial freight train.
I remember looking to the sky and with complete clarity feeling like we were in an experiment. Being tested, tormented and pushed to our brink to see if we would break or pass the test. As a fan of Derren Brown at the time, I felt like we were in a cosmic version of one of his twisted psychological games. I was no stranger to these bizarre moments and had learnt that when you stay strong in what seems like the worst situations and keep persisting, there is always an epic reward waiting on the other side.
We were many hours in now and Katy was freezing and really starting to feel fragile and break down. I let her hug me and put her icy cold hands onto my back under my shirt. I embraced her and let her feed off my warmth.
The number until arrival started getting lower again.
40 minutes. 20 minutes. 15 minutes.
Katy and Ryan started to get excited that it was finally over;, we had cracked the 15 minute mark for the first time.
But I couldn’t help but feel that they were gambling their last spirits and hope away.
I knew if this train didn’t come that this final investment of faith would break them.
It was truly a case of bet it all on black and after what I had seen all night, I was not willing to put my chips on the table.
The number literally got down to 10 minutes, and went back up to the dreaded 40 minute loop again.
All hope had to be abandoned now.
But almost immediately something happened.
Something different from the last hours of tedious repetition and mind loops.
A train started coming in the other direction, going away from Berlin.
On impulse I told the guys we should jump the tracks and get the fuck out of this place, which they did with absolutely no hesitation. We knew this station would break us to insanity, and literally anywhere was better than being stuck in the haunted town of fucking Beelitz, even if it meant going further away into the unknown.
The train came to a halt with ‘BAD BELZIG’ written boldly on the front.
Ryan joked out loud “oh great, now we’re going to the bad place”.
Lying ahead, the tracks turned a corner towards pitch blackness with nothing but a low lying moon to be seen in the eerie night sky. It was yet another surreal but beautiful snapshot of our spooky film.
Katy and Ryan plonked down on their seats in pure exhaustion. I, however, was buzzing for solutions and quickly scouted the train for someone I could connect with, to find out what could come next. I scanned lots of people until I spotted a cute girl who looked friendly and on our vibe.
Her name was Heidi and she was a total babe.
I briefly told her our story, which must have been rushed or slurred as she just replied that we are going the wrong way and that we should go back to Berlin to where the parties all are. After re-explaining that going back wasn’t an option, she then said she was meeting her boyfriend and going to a friend’s house in the woods and that we were welcome to come.
My eyes lit up and I excitedly asked if my friends could come too to which she said was no problem. I jumped up, ran back to Ryan and Katy and told them we had somewhere to go.
Their eyes and smiles lit up instantly.
This turn-around from being stuck for eternity, to having a destination, happened in the few minutes between Beelitz and the next station.
We disembarked from the train and a friendly character ran up and hugged all of us one by one. No questioning who we were, why we were covered in gothic makeup, or how we knew his girlfriend. His name was Stefan and he seemed like a total legend. They then led us away from the village down a long and empty dark dirt road into the forest.
Ryan was internally weighing up the whole scene. He questioned why this nice girl who is meeting her boyfriend at a cabin in the woods would be ok with a bunch of weird looking Australian strangers joining them on their romantic getaway. She was now speaking in German to Stefan and Ryan pondered that she could have been saying anything, like how we were victims for the blood sacrifice, and that we wouldn’t have known.
Ryan then apologised for intruding on their weekend plans, and Stefan replied
‘No, it’s fine! It would be boring without you!’.
Stefan then asked if we’d like a beer.
Ryan and I literally dropped to our knees and smiled at each other, both with a completely over the top look of awe on our faces.
We had just temporarily given up attachment to everything, waited for hours in the freezing cold with inadequate clothing, lost communication with the digital world and hope of getting out. We had become truly accepting of this. We’d all but forgotten about the decadent pleasures of life so this offer of beer felt like it had come straight from some other realm, a realm where good shit happens. Life was back on our side!
For Katy however, horror narratives were still running fast through her head. It was Friday the 13th, we had been trapped in the middle of nowhere for hours, and now we were walking to a stranger’s cabin in the middle of the dark woods; murder seemed more likely by the second.
We walked away from the dirt road, down a small unlit dirt path deeper into the forest. Ryan was taking a mental note of the paths in case we needed to make a run if things turned south. We approached a small wooden cabin from the back and saw a bunch of machetes, axes and chainsaws that we questioned and were told were for ‘wood sculpting’.
Heidi knocked on the door and we truly had no idea who would be answering on the other side. The door creaked open and there stood a jolly fat german man wearing onesie pajamas. He greeted us with friendliest german ‘Halllllllo’ I have ever heard. His name was Klaus, and with his stodgy physique and pyjama-like onesie, he seriously resembled a particular Claus from the north pole.
Stefan explained in German what was going on and Klaus invited us all in, saying that he had just prepared dinner and there was plenty for us. He then asked us, ‘do you like beer?’ to which we replied the biggest (fuck) “yes!” possible!. We cheers-ed each other but instead of using the German saying ‘Prost’, we proclaimed ‘Brost!’, with the emphasis on the bro.
He sat us down at his table and offered us a warm jacket each. Suddenly a bottle of aged Scotch was on the table in front of us, then nice wine, dinner, beer, cheese and fruit. It was one exciting offer after another and these pleasures were flooding us in feelings of warmth and gratitude. It didn’t stop until the table was full with decadent options. Klaus then asked if it was okay to play music and put some beautiful old records from the German Democratic Republic era.
Ryan and I kept catching each other’s eye with a proclaimed glint of glory and awe for life, just where we had been, and had now found ourselves. The contrast made it so beautiful.
We were in such a pure state of joy, abundance and gratitude. We both knew we were feeling exactly the same. Life’s pleasures were so heavily amplified after going through the temporary hell of Beelitz.
Food, drink and music had never tasted and sounded so sweet
With his broken English, Klaus explained he was a paramedic on call and loved company to keep him occupied into the early hours of the morning. He told us it was a party house and that we could come any time we wanted. He couldn’t drink in case he was needed for work, but was happy to keep indulging us. He barely spoke English, but he knew all the kind welcoming words to make us feel right at home.
We felt so relaxed and I asked Stefan what the word in German for chill was, to explain my mood. He said it was entspannt and went onto explain that this meant ‘not tense’, using the example of a bow and arrow being fully drawn, and chill being the opposite of this. Ryan and I laughed instantly that the german word for chilling out was explained by referencing a weapon, and saying it’s the opposite of this.
The Germans in the room didn’t find this funny.
Katy wasn’t having a good time at this point. She was now lying face down on the couch thinking about all the ways Klaus was going to murder us. In hindsight, we probably should have checked in with her more. I’m sure we did try, but we really should have made sure she was okay. At the time, I think we were too entranced by the beautiful gifts we were being showered with, and couldn’t comprehend that Katy’s headspace was somewhere else entirely.
After hours of laughter, decadence, storytelling and joy, Katy, Ryan and myself ended up upstairs in a cosy wooden bedroom all cuddling to finish off the day. There were heaps of bunk beds which reinforced that it was a party house, but we all cuddled on the same one. Katy asked us if we were going to die, to which Ryan responded, “I don’t even care anymore, but according to horror movie rules we should survive as long as we don’t have sex.”
Katy started to relax. We laughed and reminisced about our real life movie, no one had sex or was murdered, and we said goodnight to a mind-blowingly strange and rewarding day.
The weather had been really glum for a week in Berlin with nothing but grey clouds.
We awoke the next morning to nothing but blue skies and sonnenschein in our private little cabin in the woods.
Klaus had set up a small table in his little forest backyard under the tall thin trees; it was laid out with a grand breakfast of cheese, bread, salami, beer, fruit, coffee and other kinds of delicacies.
Stefan explained that today was national health day, which we declared ‘Gesundheitstag!’, and that he was doing some workshops at the local primary school and would love us to join in.
We walked through the sunny forest to the primary school and our once-horror narrative was now clearly a happy German family friendly tale.
We helped run some of the workshops, played with the kids, shared music on the piano, taught circus and met the friendly community.
This new town, Borkheide, was such a beautiful and friendly place.
On display at the school fete was a collection of old student paintings which had recently been found in the school attic. They were 40 years old and related to a project for kids in the ’70s to paint what they thought the future would look like.
We asked if we could buy one of these relics each but they just smiled and with only a gesture offered them to us as a gift. While Ryan and Katy got sci-fi and optimistic outlooks for the future, my painting was of a car driving off a cliff and a symbol of a beer bottle with a big red cross through it. Poor kid.
We said thank you and goodbye to all these beautiful people and headed back to the train station, proclaiming that we were in love with the beautiful Borkheide and would never go back to Beelitz again. At this point we felt the high and magic you get from a beautiful acid trip, buzzing in our hearts. We were completely on that level despite not taking anything.
The clarity and peace was felt in the air and there was a residing feeling of resolution.
On the return train journey I told Ryan how lucky we were for it to all go this way, to which he just let out a joyfully mocking laughter and replied
‘I don’t believe in luck any more’
I understood immediately what he felt. We had co-created a story with the universe and anything felt possible. The constraints of life bound by what we previously believed currently felt irrelevant.
Freedom and a glowing dream sat in our souls the whole ride home.
Now I’m back in Berlin, 6 years on, typing this on a full moon and little synchronicities are occurring again every day, begging me to tell new stories with them, which is exactly what I am going to go out and do. Whether at home or travelling, I highly recommend exploring. Listen to that sacred pen wanting to write you a story and go along for the ride.
You will end up in amazing places. I want you to know nothing in this story was fabricated for the sake of a good story; telling it truthfully felt like doing this amazing memory justice.
Thanks for reading ❤