Some 25 kilometres or so to the north of Berlin as the crow flies, is the small town of Oranienberg. A little further still into the Brandenburg countryside, passing the infamous Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp on the way, is the beautiful lake of Grabowsee, surrounded on all sides by dense pine forest and bordered to the south west by the deep, wide Berlin - Stettin canal.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries the newly emerging nation of Germany was desperate for man power to drive its exponential industrial expansion however the world Tuberculosis epidemic of the time meant that the nation was struggling to maintain a sufficiently large workforce. As many as 1 in 3 deaths at that time were directly attributable to the disease which proliferated in the highly populated and insanitary accommodation of the poorer people in society; the very people so necessary for the industrial growth. In order to fight the disease state of the art treatment sanatoria were built all over the country and Berlin, being as large as it was, needed more than one.
Below right - The East Building in 1910.
Surgeon Gotthold Pannwitz from the Imperial Health Office began planning the construction of a Lungenheilstätten - literally a “lung sanatorium" - in 1895 with architect Arnold Beschoren taken on to design and oversee the work. In 1896 work began on a 35 hectare site and by completion there were a total of 34 buildings in the complex, the main ones linked by corridors to form a layout along three sides of a square. The wards were aligned to the south in order to make best use of the sun. An underground railway linked the buildings at the front of the site to those directly opposite in order to facilitate the rapid movement of stores etc. from area to area. The underground railway also had two separate branch lines running at right angles off the main tunnel. As with all German architecture of that period functionality was combined with beautifully aesthetic architecture. Lungenheilstätten Grabowsee later became known as the "Red Cross Sanatorium for the Working Class" and in 1920, ownership was transferred from the Red Cross to the State (Brandenburg) Employees’ Insurance Company who also constructed various other sanatoria in Brandenburg. including the enormous Beelitz Heilstätten some miles away on the other side of Berlin.
Before the advent of antibiotics the treatment of TB was very experimental in nature, and if you would like to learn more about how the problem was tackled at that time then please visit our Beelitz Heilstätten page by clicking on this highlighted word link. Suffice it to say that despite advances in surgical intervention the main treatment was, and would remain for at least another 4o some years, prolonged bed rest in quiet, peaceful surroundings, with above all, lots and lots of fresh air. To that end the sanitaria of the time were always constructed in the countryside away from the city in order to avoid exposing the patients to air born industrial pollutants. Beelitz Heilstätten was built in a similarly isolated forest area for the same reasons, and whilst Lungenheilstätten Grabowsee is much smaller than its brother sanatorium on the other side of the city, it still has many similarities. The principle difference is the fact that Beelitz’s buildings tended to be completely separate from one another in a four quadrant layout, whilst Grabowsee’s are almost all joined together with communicating corridors to form in effect one large and sprawling building. Heating and ventilation was achieved at both sanitaria in a remote plant situated away from the ward blocks. Steam was raised in huge boilers then piped to each building where the heat from the steam was used via calorifiers to heat water for washing etc. and to warm filtered air for the heating of the buildings. Grabowsee has a unique arrangement where the water tower, built to maintain a sufficient head of pressure for domestic water supply, had a hollow core which is the chimney for the boiler room. The immense height of the Grabowsee tower ensured the boiler fumes were adequately dispersed.
Exercise was very important for patients once they were sufficiently over the worst of the disease, and as at Beelitz, a large exercise hall was built. This is situated in the main block which faces the access road running down to the hospital. In addition to being an exercise hall it doubled as a function hall with a large stage, and even a cinema projection booth. Forward of the exercise hall is a large kitchen complex and it is here that the primary access to the underground railway can be found. A large dumb waiter communicates with the railway loading bay directly below the kitchens; thus the food cooked in the kitchens could be moved across to the wards on the south of the site very quickly.
After the fall of Germany in World War II the Russians occupied much of Berlin and this hospital went the same way that Beelitz did, becoming a military hospital. It was finally abandoned after the reunification of Germany in the mid 1990’s and has rotted away quietly amongst the forest ever since with no maintenance what so ever upon the site. Fairly recently some of the outlying buildings at Grabowsee were used for an urban street art project. Rooms within these buildings were allocated to individual “artists” and they are now festooned with spray paint graffiti of an extremely high quality and not inconsiderable artistic skill.
There is also evidence that parts of some of the buildings have been used as film sets, not least the main hall where the carcass of a baby grand piano sits upon a square of red carpet on the stage and deep scarlet curtains frame the pros arch. Four week after our visit we received a link to a You Tube video. - CLICK ON THE PHOTO LEFT - It is a music video by a Scandinavian band called, Euzen, and considering the somewhat "aesthetic" nature of the video - which appeals greatly to us! - there's no real point in explaining what it appears to be about! Perhaps it's best if you just go see it for yourself and enjoy the content which was shot in and around the Grabowsee sanatorium!
As of the beginning of 2012 it appears that a large charity called Kid's Globe own the site, or are at least in negotiation to buy it, and they are planning to turn it into a large residential academy where their intent is, "to discover and pursue new approaches to education with children, young people, and grown-ups".
The access into Grabowsee was relatively easy despite the use of steel temporary airfield runway sections arranged on their edges to form a wall. Once within the complex we were able to wander freely as there did not appear to be any form of security – indeed we were not alone in our exploration, meeting two girls filming some sort of project/production on a Handicam, and two other small groups of explorers! We shot round the place fairly quickly and as a result we must have missed some areas, however the level of dereliction at Lungenheilstätten Grabowsee means that the interior is very much of a much ness, so our visit was probably of a suitable duration and intensity. That said we would not hesitate to return!
Below is a selection of the photographs we took in and around Lungenheilstätten Grabowsee...