Potts disease, Consumption, White Plague…all names Tuberculosis has been known by throughout history. Call it what you will, by the end of the 19th century this merciless and rampaging disease was a huge issue for the health authorities of Berlin. The modern medical minds of the time believed that treatment and recovery would be best achieved away from the industrialized environment of the city, and so Beelitz Heilstatten came to be. It was, for its time, a thoroughly modern sanatorium.
The Sanatorium was a series of buildings and parkland that together made up a self-sufficient village with its own medical facilities, greenhouses, gardens, laundry, and living quarters. The buildings were designed to be beautiful as well as functional, a place where patients could be exposed to fresh air, light exercise and nourishing food. This was a place of healing and forward thinking.
As time and treatments moved on , and Germany was twice plunged into war, the Heilstatten found itself pressed into service as a military hospital. Hitler himself recuperated here after being injured in service in WW1.
In 1945 the town of Beelitz and the hospital were the scene of fierce fighting between Soviet and German forces. In April 1945, the Red Army claimed victory and took the Heilstatten buildings as their own. And once they had it, the Russians were reluctant to let it go. Beelitz remained the largest military hospital outside the USSR until the early 1990s. Erich Honecker received treatment here during this era.
Following the departure of the Russians, the sanatorium was left to fall into ruin and disrepair. Despite the buildings age, having survived two wars and long periods with minimal maintenance and restoration, the former glory of the impressive architecture can still be seen, even if it is a little faded now.
Today, the parkland is being reclaimed and rather than try to erase the history, it has been embraced.
Visitors can view the ruins from ground level by following a circular walk, but the best view is found from the treetop walk or baumkronenpfad baum & zeit. Translated, this is literally a walk through ‘trees and time’. The 23m high walkway skims the treetops and allows visitors to look down on the remains of the hospital. Information boards at various points offer a glimpse into the history of each building along with images of how it looked in its glory days. A 36m high observation tower at one end also provides stunning views across the parkland and surrounding area – on a clear day you should be able to see the iconic TV tower of Berlin in the distance.
The Beelitz Heilstatten has long been a destination for urban explorers, but it has lost none of its eerie charm now that it is a legitimate visitor attraction . It is a beautiful places to wander through nature and let your imagination wander through time. It would be quite easy to add this place onto a Berlin city break, and well worth the effort. If this kind of thing interests you as much as it does me, read my musings about another abandoned hospital closer to home here.
Any pictures of Beelitz and my recent trips around Luxembourg and Germany that didn’t make it onto here will be up on Instagram @thingshelenloves in the next few days. If you don’t already follow me on there, I would genuinely love to have you !
Until next time,