I have been following the Abandoned Berlin blog since before we moved to Berlin, a little over 3 years ago. I don’t remember how did I find the blog but I remember spending a lot of time reading everything I could on it. This is when I got bitten by the urban exploration bug of Berlin. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, let me stop everything and explain this. Abandoned Berlin is a urban exploration blog that documents all the abandoned buildings, airports, train tracks, parks and former military places in and around Berlin.
Since I read on twitter that Abandoned Berlin was about to become a book, I was looking forward for it to be available and I got my copy as soon as it was online. After reading it all, I knew I had to spread the word about the book and this is why I got in touch with Ciarán Fahey and asked a few questions via e-mail. Below you can see what he told Fotostrasse.
An Interview with Abandoned Berlin
How did you get into urban exploration?
I’m not sure I’m even into it now to be honest. We’d need another conversation, preferably over a few beers, to figure out exactly what urban exploration is. Many of the sites I cover aren’t urban at all, and I’m not sure sneaking around trying not to be caught by security constitutes “exploring” – maybe it does. All this, what I do now, whatever you want to call it, started naturally enough.
Someone told me there was an old abandoned fairground just rotting behind a fence in the forest, so curiosity kicked in and I had to see it for myself. When I eventually got enough courage to hop the fence – I hadn’t been in Berlin for long, and I wasn’t sure what German security guards or dogs were like – I was astounded at what I found. It was Spreepark.
I’m a journalist so I guess I’ve a natural compulsion to dig for the stories behind things. When I got home I did the research and found the story was as incredible as the place itself. I wrote about it in a blog post and that was the start of Abandoned Berlin.
How was the first time “invading” and exploring a place? Where was it?
I think I answered that already, but when we were kids we used to invade places all the time, graveyards, ruins, people’s gardens. I supposed we were exploring too, exploring the places we found and ourselves, testing the limits of what we could get up to.
Did you start the blog after this first time? Why did you ended up writing the blog?
After Spreepark, someone else told me about Teufelsberg, the old American/British Cold War listening post, then someone else about Krampnitz, a military camp once used by the Nazis, later the Soviets. Then there was the Iraqi embassy, and the Garbáty cigarette factory before that. The more places I wrote about the more I heard about – one led to another. Once I had a few places written about on my personal site, I transferred them all to Abandoned Berlin and it took off from there.
I wanted to share the places with others and also to document them before they’re gone. They’re all doomed in one way or another. I felt it was better others enjoyed them, or at least had the chance to visit them, while I took plenty of photos because no place ever stays the same – the documentation part is important to me.
How did you feel about turning Abandoned Berlin into a book? How was the experience?
Nerve-wracking. The problem with all these stories, all these histories, is that you’re relying on other people for facts and accounts or what happened before. I wasn’t around when the Nazis were, or when the city was divided between occupying powers, so I have to rely on second-hand, third-hand, maybe even fourth-hand information.
With a website you can update a page if new or corrected information comes to light, with a book you can’t. So my greatest worry was making sure everything I had written was true, or as close to absolutely true as I could make it. Nearly every place I researched had conflicting and contradictory sources – the challenge for me was to give some more importance over others, weigh up the probability of someone getting something wrong. I found nearly every source had issues of one kind or another. The best part was talking with people who could tell me directly how a place had been – like veterans at Teufelsberg or with the granddaughter of a man whose villa was destroyed in the war.
Which was the weirdest place you ever explored?
Possibly the underground U-boat bunker in a forest in the middle of nowhere. It was getting dark outside, claustrophobic inside, and I wasn’t sure I’d find the hatch to get back out again. All I could hear was the “drip, drip” of water and the blood rushing in my ears. There was water everywhere. I imagined myself stuck in the bunker forever, licking the walls for sustenance. Then I thought I heard voices but they were only voices in my head – I think. Luckily I was able to find my way out again before I went completely mad
Which place you wished you could explore?
I have a long list of places I still need to document, a very long list. Time is the main problem. I have a kid and real work that I need to keep if I want to provide for him.
How do you manage to find all this places and the information about them?
You learn about places when researching others. For example when I was researching military camps around Wünsdorf I learned that there are loads of others in the same area. Many of these stories are connected. Once you open one door you find two more behind it.
At this stage as well, I get a lot of tips from people who may notice an abandoned place they know isn’t on the site. They want to know the stories behind them, too.
Urban Exploration seems to be really trendy in Berlin. Why do you think this happen?
It’s all my fault! No, I’m joking of course, but I do think I’ve contributed to making these places more accessible to English-speaking people. The local German explorers who were doing this before me are more tight-lipped, more guarded with their secrets, and they don’t like sharing. I take an alternative approach and the response – both from foreigners and Germans – has been crazy.
Berlin also has this dark side, with its turbulent history. Everywhere you look there is some ruin or another, victims of its past. People see these places and of course they’re curious too. You’d need to be made of stone not to be.
How do you see social media and the destruction of these places?
I’d be quite happy if social media was the biggest threat these places faced. Development, construction work, corruption, vandalism and time itself all take their toll to a much greater extent than social media does.
Some people blame your blog as one the sources of destruction since you openly post addresses and how to get it. How do you see this and why did you decided to publish these informations about the places?
I’ve had this accusation leveled at me quite a lot – usually by people who knew about the places before me and are upset their secrets are revealed.
I understand the concerns. I did weigh it up for a long time, if it was right to publish addresses or if I was doing more harm than good, and came to the conclusion that it was better for people to know about these places and discover them before they’re gone altogether. None of these places will stay the way they are, we’re talking about a finite resource, and I think they should be enjoyed while still possible.
Why would I keep them to myself? Is it better to leave a ruin crumbling in a forest with no visitors or to tell people about it so they can see it too? Should people stop visiting Machu Picchu or the Nazca Lines in Peru because they’re contributing to their demise with their presence? I think not.
I find the usual accusation that vandals will find the places once their addresses are published to be moot, as vandals always found these places before and they’re not exactly the type of people known for forward planning – they see, they vandalize. They don’t look up potential targets on the internet and then vandalize.
I have to make the assumption that most people who visit these places will treat them with respect and care.
If somebody reading this wants to get into Urban Exploration, do you have any words of wisdom to them?
Just be fucking careful. None of these buildings are safe and they could drop on your head at any time. A ceiling collapsed in a room I’d just left in a ruined villa in Köpenick once. I was being very careful, hadn’t poked the walls, had tiptoed and all that. I was lucky it didn’t land on my head or I wouldn’t be talking to you now. So that’s the biggest danger, watch out for that. You can always talk with security if they catch you but there’s no talking to a falling ceiling.
After reading this interview, I’m pretty sure that all you want to do is get the Abandoned Berlin book as soon as possible and you can buy straight from the blog like I did.
You should also follow Abandoned Berlin on Twitter and keep up with his endless list of abandoned places.