About 30km outside of Berlin, not too far away from the small town of Oranienburg, you can find the ruins of what used to be one of Germany’s most modern lung clinics, the Lungenheilstätte Grabowsee. More commonly referred to as Heilstätte Grabowsee, this sprawling 34-hectare complex was originally built in 1896 to care for the rising number of tuberculosis patients coming from Berlin. The clinic survived both WWI and WWII, as well as the Soviet occupation. However, after the Soviets left in 1995, the impressive lakeside complex slowly fell into a state of disrepair. Today, the only inhabitants are a quirky Bavarian landscaper named Bernhard and his loyal German shepherd who, together, take care of this listed heritage site.
Industrialization, and specifically the increase in factory work and the squalid living conditions in Berlin tenements, meant that by the end of the 19th century every third death in the city was being attributed to tuberculosis. While many doctors prescribed recovery trips to the mountains and sea, this was not an affordable option for those in the working class. As a result, sanatoriums were a measure put in place to stop the further spread. Heilstätte Grabowsee was the first clinic to be set up in Northern Germany. At its height, in 1920, the clinic housed over 400 patients.
By the mid-1940s, anti-TB antibiotics were already on the market and these sanatoriums were no longer necessary. The imposing ensemble of buildings, surrounded by a picturesque lake and lush forest, would be used as a Soviet military hospital from 1945 to 1995. When the Soviets left it behind in 1995, the brick buildings were already in disrepair. They continued to decay over the years, only disturbed by vandals and thieves.
While many artefacts and scrap materials have been hauled away by looters who have visited the site over the years, you can still find many original furnishings there, such as ceramics from Gildenhall, and a coffin elevator. There’s also old clinic furniture from the Soviet military hospital that can be found in several of the buildings.
The complex is a sought-after location for photographers and filmmakers alike. Beyond the regular run-of-the-mill influencers, at least two major motion pictures have used the location as a set. Although the film was about the sanatorium in Beelitz, much of the award-winning German film, Heilstätte, was filmed here. Likely more familiar to international audiences, Heilstätte Grabowsee, many scenes from George Clooney’s Monuments Men were also shot here.
While the complex is not regularly open to the public to explore, you can arrange a visit to the site, including the now-decrepit buildings, by contacting Bernhard Hanke by phone. If you’re lucky enough to reach him, the Bavarian landscaper turned Heilstätte caretaker will meet you at the front gate to collect your 10 € (plus an extra fee if you’d like to take photographs), give you an overview of the site, and send you on your way. You can easily spend a full afternoon exploring the premises, so make sure you pack some water and snacks.
How to get to Heilstätte Grabowsee
From Berlin, you can hop on S-Bahn line S1 from Gesundbrunnen, Friedrichstraße, Potsdamer Platz to Oranienburg. From there you can take bus (#804) to Malz Grabowsee ferry. From there it is only a few hundred meters on foot to the Heilstätte Grabowsee. The Berlin ABC tariff applies to Oranienburg, but a ticket for the Oberhavel district (OHV) is required on the bus. Full-length Berlin-Malz tickets can also be purchased at the BVG or S-Bahn ticket machines.
If you’re feeling sporty, you can also jump on to a portion of the Berlin-Copenhagen cycling route. From Haselhorst U-Bahn station (U7) it’s about a 40km ride to Grabowsee (each way) via the well-developed long-distance cycle path. From Berlin Central Station it is 47 km in each direction. If you’re looking for an even shorter cycling route you can start from the S-Bahn station Hennigsdorf (terminus S-Bahn line S25). From there, it’s only about 22 kilometers in each direction.
If you’re looking to set up a visit and you need Bernhard’s phone number, leave a comment below and I’ll share it with you!