The Berlin Diaries – Devil’s Mountain, Part 1

One Friday a couple of weeks back, I woke up in bed next to Maya and looked at her while she was sleeping. She’s a sweet, graceful dreamer, not like me whose mouth hangs open with all the elegance of a kicked over dustbin. Our bedsheets were flecked with stubborn glitter from the previous weekend, and we woke every morning that week covered in it. She lay there dreaming, her chest sparkling in the morning light as it rose and fell with the gentle rhythm of her breathing. It was our last day together, she was flying home early the next day. I was due to start work at 9am, and it pained me to think I’d be wasting our last few hours together stuck in an office. Damn it all, I grabbed my phone, called in sick, then rolled over and kissed Maya awake. “We’re going on an adventure,” I told her. 

As Maya was stretching awake, I jumped up and opened the blinds, giddy as the morning poured in. I decided in a flash that today was the day we would go to Teufelsberg. In German, the name translates to ‘Devil’s Mountain’. It’s a man-made hill outside the city that was created to conceal a vast Nazi military academy that was left unfinished after the war. Unsure what to do with the site, the Americans simply piled a thousand tons of soil over it, then built a giant Cold War spying centre, Field Station Berlin, on top. Today the complex sits empty, save for a few artists who hang around decorating the place and slowly turning it into a giant playground for the weird.

First stop (after the späti, which goes without saying) was at a paint shop near Schönhauser Allee, where we grabbed a couple of spray cans. I still don’t know the first thing about graffiti, but it’s fun anyway. I went with Dave, Vic and a few others to Mauerpark earlier this month and we spent a while drawing crap on the wall there. Tourists kept stopping to take photos of us, we hip Berliners partaking in edgy pastimes, not realising we didn’t have the first clue what we were doing. I wrote some Clash lyrics, Vic attempted a sun, Dave drew some flowers, and Johanna (new friend) painted a magical whale. Kind of sums us up, come to think about it.

Maya and I got the S Bahn out of the city. It took about an hour, and when we dismounted the train, we found ourselves in the middle of a quiet suburban estate skirted by icy woods. As I’ve said before, my knackered old phone is a loutish gobshite, and wasted not a single breath in tramping us off into the woods in utterly the wrong direction. It wasn’t even the right wood. We only realised we were going the wrong way when we passed a high school vomiting kids in caps on sparkling iPhones. We were seeking an abandoned spy station, not a crèche swarming with carefree teenagers. I swigged my lunchtime beer and scowled as we passed, my grizzled visage of grimy denim jacket and hollow eyes a cautionary tale to the Germanic youth.

We were lost in the ice forest when we decided to take the 2CB I had left over in my wallet. We think alike, a pair of fools, two Jokers in a tattered deck. The only slight hesitation came before Maya took her half, as over the course of the day she had developed a strange redness across her back and arms. We thought maybe she had had an allergic reaction to something, but Maya assured me she felt otherwise totally healthy. She shrugged and took the pill, because she is every bit as senseless as I am. 2CB takes hours to kick in, so we forgot all about it and beat on, morons against the current, borne back ceaselessly into idiocy.

Defiant to the end, with its death rattle my phone jettisoned us off down a road that can only be described as infinite. The tarmac unspooled endlessly, gradually skirting a vast, brown hill that was growing on our right. No cars, no people, nothing but the hill. Eventually, we found a rusting signpost that gave us our approximate location, and realised the hill was THE hill. It started to rain as we began our climb. I had no hood, so wrapped my scarf around my head like a hijab and sang songs for Maya as we scrambled up the bracken. I sang her every verse of Seven Drunken Nights, while she watched me dance around with a soft blend of amusement and gentle pity on her face.

Note: Upon reflection, this may have been the beginnings of the drugs kicking in.

As we neared the hill’s summit, the exertion of the climb seemed to hasten the onset of the long forgotten 2CB. With this particular drug, before any psychedelic wonders transpire, your sense of humour implodes, and everything becomes delightfully stupid. The idea of trees became absurd, and I stifled my laughter at the thought of their existence. Then I felt guilty for mocking them, because they have likely have struggles of which I have no concept. I also was hit by the sudden realisation, as I stared around the wood, that all of humanity has been drawing trees wrong forever. “Trees are green,” I cried, “not brown! How has nobody ever realised this before? Trees are green!”

However, this lovely silly stage was cut short. I checked Maya’s back for her, and the strange allergic reaction had gotten much worse. She asked me how it looked, and I lied that it seemed to be clearing up, while my head clouded with visions of her swelling up like Violet Beauregard, and of me having to roll her down the hill and bowl her into an ambulance. A large portion of my time with Maya is spent with me fearing for her life, it seems. We recounted everything we’d eaten over the past few days but there was nothing out of the ordinary. I tried to dispel my concerns but they stuck, disturbing my consciousness like a toddler prodding a goldfish tank.

Just as my fragile heart had begun to believe that Teufelsberg was endless, we finally glimpsed the desolate towers of Field Station Berlin through the trees. By this time, however, the ice was shimmering and breathing beneath my feet, and I was wrestling the drug for control of my eyes, blinking furiously. I pointed the deceptive sight out to Maya, seeking a second opinion. Through the matted hairball of winter branches, barely visible, were three vast golf balls, camouflaged white against the clouds behind. “It’s hidden in the sky!” Maya gasped as we neared.

We reached the crown of the hill, its secret bald patch housing the rotting NSA compound. A crooked fence clad in dead vines ran around the entire perimeter, and we could see no way in. We set off to the right, and circumnavigated the entire hill before we finally found the entrance, 20 metres to the left of where we started. An old guardhouse squats at the gate, and strong herbal smoke was waltzing lazily from the open front door as we approached. We paid the guard the €8 to go inside, and signed a waiver stating that if we died, it was our own fault. We asked him where to go, and he shrugged. “Follow the cats.” He pointed to a succession of faint yellow cats sprayed on the floor, leading away into the ruin.

Some of the world’s best graffiti artists have their work featured at Teufelsberg, and every surface presents a masterpiece. The site is sprawling, an explosion of dismantled cars, crooked treehouses and strange little buildings of no discernible purpose, all dominated by one enormous structure in the centre. On top of this the three enormous golf balls sit, long relieved of their duty as spying tools, now slowly unravelling on the breeze. Two tattered white spheres reside at either side of the large building’s roof, while the third and most complete orb crowns a terrifying skeletal tower in the centre. High above, long dead electrical wires snapped in the wind against a coarse staircase that ran unguarded up its spinal column. I shuddered to look at it.

Anti-war murals, ghosts and ghouls, star children, wolves and soldiers; the scalding imagery of adventurers passed stared down at us from every wall. The pill was really kicking in now, a little too hard. I felt a lurch of anxiety as the eyes of pulsating skulls and demons watched us pass by. I couldn’t stop worrying about Maya, but I didn’t want to say something and panic her, too.

As we progressed, the muddy ground obscured our procession of feline guides, and we veered accidentally off-piste, winding up in a dead man’s alleyway dominated by a horrifying two storey painting of a gigantic baby with a woman’s face. Exploring this rotting monument to a narrowly averted apocalypse while warped by 2CB had already neatly placed the golf ball of my composure onto a tee, and this monstrous mural was the club that thwacked my sanity off into the stratosphere. I could feel panic rising in my throat.

Next up: Part 2, in which I go slightly insane and we eventually locate the Devil.

3 thoughts on “The Berlin Diaries – Devil’s Mountain, Part 1

  1. Pingback: The Berlin Diaries – Devil’s Mountain, Part 2 | World Hangover

  2. Hey Dan ! Just read your post on dropping your phone off the cliff, and I have to say, it has made me feel a bit better. Today after a beautiful hike in the redwoods, my phone plummeted off a cliff as I shifted my weight of my backpack to attempt to take a photo of a crane.

    There goes all 3 months of my van travels, all my good bye photos before leaving Texas, all my voice memos, contacts, etc. I tried to go after it. I almost died in doing so.

    I hobbled up back to the trail in tears and the next 3 miles back to camp we’re full of tears, panting, and then practicing letting go. I actually just wrote a poem about the instance on my blog.

    Anyways, hope you have a good one – and feels, from one fellow phone dropper to another.

    • Oh man, I know the feeling all too well! I was lucky because I’d sent the best photos to my family over the months I was travelling, so it wasn’t a complete loss – I still had maybe twenty photos remaining after my trip. Better than nothing! It’s kind of cool not having a phone though – for the rest of my travels I spent all my time living in the moment, unable to talk to mates at home or mess about on my phone to kill time. I think it made the trip extra special in the end. I mean – it would be cool to still have the memories, but it’s a small silver lining at least ?

      I’ll check out your poem now!

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