I've never done anything like this before. Until the day I did it, I wasn't sure if I could work up the courage. I wrote down a few addresses of abandoned buildings in Berlin as fall-back plans, but I told myself that if I couldn't work up the courage at the first place, I'd either go to the next place or give up and go draw the Berlin TV Tower or something. On top of breaking the law, tresspassing and entering private property etc, there was the danger of getting caught, or getting into the building only to find unfriendly vagrants, drug junkies and the like. I could fall or break an ankle, cut myself on glass. I wouldn't be the first one to get killed in those abandoned buildings: four people at least have died in there since the buildings were abandoned. Two of them died of smoke inhalation, one froze to death, and somebody fell, probably out of the many broken windows. Though I suppose they could've also fell down the open elevator shafts too.
A high double fence ran around the abandoned buildings most of the way, topped with barbed wire. Even without the wire it would have been hard to climb. But as I went around, I could see that the way the fence was set up varied. The height changed here and there, and the double fence only ran about half way around. It was a single fence in a lot more places. Still, it was high. Twice my height at least. I walked around two sides, and then turned and followed the misshapen third side. It ran parallel to a gas station, then turned off into an alley, with the fence on one side, and a residential home on the other, with clothes hanging on the line in the backyard. Here, the fence was shockingly low. Maybe seven feet tall or so. The best thing was, another fence that was even lower bumped right against the other one, so I could climb up it as support to jump over the first place. At this point, I'd only run into people washing cars in front of the nearby gas station, and they hadn't given me a second glance. At this point I put my ipod away so I could listen for people coming. I hesitated right in front of the fence, knowing that it'd be much harder climbing out of the area than into it, since the lower fence stopped before entering the blocked-off complex. Then I realized that the longer I waited around staring at this fence, the more likely I'd be caught. There were a ton of weeds and brambles and other vegetation choking the area over the fence, but I could see a path through them. I decided to go for it in a rush, and scrambled over the fence, gripping my backpack against me so it didn't get caught on the jump over.
I really couldn't believe how easy it really was to get over. On the other side of the fence, I immediately started moving through the narrow path. It forced me to walk straight, making me visible from the alley and the backyard of the nearby house for a good minute before the path finally turned around the huge weeds and hid me completely. I kept thinking to myself how easy it was to actually get in. I had climbed that fence with my camera around my neck, a bulky backpack full of sketch books, and a thick jacket, but it hadn't been a challenge. And then I realized that if it was that easy for me, it would be that easy for anyone. I could see why the place would be so appealing to homeless people, and I was super worried that I'd run into someone. I kept pausing and listening as I made my way through all the plants. The closer I got to the place, the more trash there was, the more signs that people had been around. The main fence was behind me and out of sight, but to my right side there was another much lower fence that led into the construction area. I thought that if anyone jumped out at me, I could go that way to get away from them.
Coming up to the closest building, I started looking for a way in. I couldn't see any proper doors, but I did see a window so thoroughly smashed that there was no glass left in it. It had been barred, but the bars had been pried open, leaving a space big enough to crawl through. Did I actually want to go into these buildings? They were huge. 1,200 refugees used to live here, after all. People could be hiding all over the place in there. They could probably go for weeks or months on end without being caught. I had been watching the many broken windows all the time, trying to predict in advance whether or not there were people inside, but I hadn't seen anything. Of course, it was hard to keep every window in view at once. But I'd come this far, so I went in, being careful not to cut myself on the pieces of glass left on the windowsill.
Every floor was virtually the same in terms of layout: a hallway of what were presumably residential rooms, numbered like an apartment.They'd been decorated with different kinds of wallpaper (most of which was now torn down or hanging like open wounds). There were even peepholes on the doors. Many doors were now lying on the floor as if blown of their hinges. The residential rooms were book-ended between washrooms,--a woman's washroom on one end of the hall, and a men's in the other. I could only tell because of the urinals. The washrooms also had shower stalls and little baths. It had obviously been close quarters back in the day when refugees used to occupy the place.
I went into three of the towering residential buildings, as well as two single-story buildings in the middle of the complex that seemed to once be some kind of administrative office or canteen. There was a lot that I saw, but a lot more that I didn't see. Unfortunately, my camera battery ran out after about three hours there. I was sure that I'd brought my second battery with me, but it turned out that I left it charging back at the apartment. Oh well. I took nearly 300 photos of the place, so I'm satisfied, but I would have stayed longer if I'd had that second battery.
So, I got to see a part of Berlin's history I wasn't supposed to see--what happens to old buildings that were once used to house refugees. In the midst of this new Syrian refugee crisis, where space is so valuable and precious to those that come here, a private developing company has been sitting on this ugly swath of property for fourteen years, talking of converting the space into affordable living. Maybe the cleared area of trees is a sign that they're finally going forward with it, clearing away all the debris and making homes again, this time not for refugees, but for locals. Maybe if it had been done sooner, those four homeless people (at least) wouldn't have died here. So I'm conflicted about this whole abandoned place thing. I'm happy I got to see this place as it was, abandoned, a sort of embarrassment in the local layout, before it got cleaned up and whitewashed. I even got to keep myself a little souvenir.