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Berlin by rail: a cold-war adventure | Berlin holidays

Berlin by rail: a cold-war adventure | Berlin holidays

Eagle-eyed football fans heading to Berlin’s Olympiastadion for the Euros may spot what looks like an abandoned space station topped with four enormous white orbs on a hill a mile or so south of the ground.

The stadium – which will host the Euro 2024 final – has a more storied past than perhaps any other. Built by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the great African American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals here in front of a watching Adolf Hitler, single-handedly debunking the Führer’s myth of Aryan supremacy.

But the weird sci-fi-looking building nearby has an even more fascinating history. Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain) is a manmade hill eight miles west of the city centre, created from 25 million cubic metres of second world war Berlin rubble that was piled on top of a Nazi military academy to form the highest point in the city. Then, at the height of the cold war, US intelligence agencies built a hilltop listening station on Teufelsberg to intercept East German and Soviet communication. The station’s towers and enormous antenna radomes – those white domes that resemble giant golf balls which protected the radars – are almost comically eerie.

Street artists from all over the world have left their mark on Teufelsberg. Photograph: Imago/Alamy

I’m in Berlin with my 15-year-old son, George, and we take the S-Bahn out to Grunewald, then hike up through the forest to Teufelsberg. After German reunification, the hill fell into disrepair and is now a weird and wonderful canvas for street artists.

We climb the listening station tower to take in stunning views of the Berlin skyline and what is one of the world’s largest street art galleries, with more than 400 murals by artists from all over the world. It feels like an abandoned set from Dr Strangelove that’s been reclaimed by graffiti artists. George thinks the whole place is “very cool but a bit bonkers”.

We’re in Berlin to explore the city’s enthralling cold war legacy. Like most teenagers, George has to be dragged around ancient landmarks, however momentous (on a recent trip to Pompeii he declared himself officially bored 30 minutes in), but loves exploring anywhere with a more relatable modern history. (Two of our best trips…

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