The Lounge  
19 Jan 2018
Copyright © 2018 by S. A. Joyce. Modified
14 Mar 2018

US Army Security Agency
Semper Vigilis

Photo: Wikipedia

United States Army Security Agency
Field Station Berlin
also known during the 1960s as
54th USASA Special Operations Command
78th USASA Special Operations Unit


Allied Army of Occupation ribbon

US Army of Occupation,
Berlin Brigade

Photo: Wikipedia


From the end of World War II in 1946 until the implosion of the Soviet bloc in 1989, the divided German city of Berlin was a surreal study in contrast, between the grim austerity of communist oppression in the east, and the gaudy show of democratic capitalism in the west.  But beneath the daily routine and surface posturing, there was also a seething underlayer of tense military confrontation, blockades and airlifts, wall-building and tunnel-digging, international plots and intrigues, prisoner-swaps and espionage.  Situated as it was 175 km. behind the Iron Curtain, the former German capital was renowned among Cold War intelligence and counter-intelligence forces as "the spy capital of the world."

Integral to this scenario were several installations built by the occupying powers—Soviet, French, British, and American—for the purpose of learning what their adversaries were up to, both politically and militarily.  There were four such American installations: Andrews Barracks in Lichterfelde (HQ & support); Grunewald (operations); Rudow (operations); and Teufelsberg (operations).

This was the world in which I performed my overseas military service, from late 1965 until early 1969.  The operations site to which I was assigned was located in the British Sector of West Berlin, on the edge of Grunewald forest.  It was perched atop a man-made hill, officially named Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain), and known unofficially as "Spook Hill."  The hill itself was built of 12 million cubic meters of World War II rubble trucked in from the western sectors of the city over two decades, and British and American security forces found its summit—towering 90 meters above the surrounding river plain—an opportune spot for an intelligence-gathering operation.  The photo below shows the site as it appeared in the 1960s during my assignment.

Teufelsberg: late 1960s

Photo by Andy Fraser, courtesy USASA FSB Reunion

For most of my 38-month tour of duty in West Berlin, my workplace was in the cylindrical structure supporting the single geodesic radome on the left in the photo above.  The larger ground structure with the triple-deck inflated dome on the right was where the bulk of the site's day-to-day work actually occurred, whereas my unit functioned in a research-and-development capacity.  Both were 24/7 operations, running three rotating shifts, plus a permanent day crew five days a week.  Even now, half a century later, I'm not at liberty to divulge exactly what went on there.  However, you're free to examine the declassified aerial photos, consider the circumstances of the time (Cold War, Vietnam conflict, Czech uprising, Israel repelling an attack by its Arab neighbors) and the meaning of our motto, Semper Vigilis (Ever Vigilant), and speculate to your heart's and your imagination's content.

Ever since its humble origin as a slap-dash mobile unit in 1951, the Teufelsberg installation has been evolving.  By 1975, the single-story structure to the right, supporting the inflatable radome, had been replaced by a permanent two-story structure topped by three rigid geodesic domes.  In addition, the British M.I. unit had installed a 100-meter high antenna tower (removed when the site was abandoned).

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, speculation arose that this site would eventually be decommissioned, and perhaps converted to a restaurant to complement the modest public ski run that had already been built on the northern slope—or perhaps a Cold War museum.  However, such hopes were never realized.  Intelligence personnel were indeed withdrawn from this and other sites in 1991, but plans to repurpose the facilities never materialized.

Teufelsberg: 2000s

Photo: Wikipedia

Gutted of the tons of equipment they once contained, the remaining ghostly structural shells are derelict and weather-beaten.  There they stand, slowly rusting, rotting, and crumbling away, eventually to become one with the toxic ground that supports them.   (Come to think of it, that might describe many of us who used to work there!)   Nowadays, the site is visited routinely only by wild boar and rabbits, and occasionally by vandals.