Devil’s Mountain, the brick women, impermanence

Last Sunday, I climbed Devil’s Mountain (Teufelsberg).

Actually, “climbed” is a bit of an exaggeration.  The hill is only about 330 feet tall, with gentle hiking paths and paved roads leading to the top.  I couldn’t find out how wide it is,  but some numbers blew me away:  The hill is a human-made mountain of over 900 million cubic yards of bombing rubble from 140 thousand buildings.  At the bottom of all that debris is an under-construction Nazi military technical college, which proved too hard to blow up after the war.

At the top, to which admission is charged, are several geodesic-dome shaped “listening devices” which the US used to spy on East Germany.  I didn’t go up that far, though they looked intriguing.  My imagination was more captivated at what was under my feet.

A note about post-war recycling:  From the heaps of debris that were Berlin’s bombed-out apartment buildings, groups of so-called “rubble women” — for who was left in the city but them and children and soldiers of the occupying forces, who ordered the women to start the recycling process — climbed the mounds of detritus, salvaged intact bricks, and passed them bucket-brigade style to the street where others knocked off old mortar and stacked them, ready to rebuild.

Thus the 90 million cubic yards of rubble that make up Teufelsberg are what the women couldn’t salvage 73 years ago — broken items: bricks; cobbles; drainpipes; tiles from bathrooms, kitchens and subways;  bits of statuary and fountains and doorway guardians (nymphs, Greek or Roman gods and goddesses — perhaps Hera, the guardian of the hearth).

Now, as time, weather, and the desire for condos take their toll on the original re-built apartment blocks, workmen are renovating them.  In the process, I meet them carefully carrying buckets of bricks out of basements and emptying them into dumpsters.

I feel a humble gratitude to the brick women and the builders of Teufelsberg, over which I moved last week with a certain reverence, for reminding me that, in truth, nothing lasts forever.


Just a traveler in a fast-changing world, trying to write enough to keep up

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