Photographing Abandoned Berlin

June 14, 2012 8 Comments »

Abandoned paper mill on go 2 know tour
A seat with a view…

“Be careful; watch your head.” the guide says as he shines a flashlight up towards the low doorway. I’m startled upon hearing his warning –  I look up and break my laser-like concentration on the floor, leaving my feet to fend for themselves on the uneven ground as I watch out for my forehead. My eyes adjust to the lighting change as a ray of bright sunlight pours through a broken window in front of me.

The shattered glass mixes with the other stone debris under my feet and makes a crunching sound. Even though I’m clearly somewhere I shouldn’t be, I have a rush of excitement pulse through me, and I clutch my camera case, which is slung around my body. Today, I’m exploring and photographing abandoned Berlin.

The guide is leading a group of us through the maze of stairways, rooms, and hallways, first explaining the different areas and what to be careful of, lighting challenges, as well as little hidden treasures. The old paper mill factory fell into disarray in 1994 when it went bankrupt shortly after German reunification. This building that is falling apart, rusted out, broken, and only lit by the natural outside light is going to be my photographic canvas for the next 4 hours.

The Wolfswinkel Paper Mill had been around since the 1800s and was producing some of the best quality handmade paper around the area. This 284-year-old paper mill was essentially a house on stilts, beneath which a picturesque creek rushed through. Now, the water is still flowing nearby, but the building is crumbling slowly to the earth below. Many of the old machines were cutting-edge technology years ago but are now rotting and rusting away.

Discover the best camera bag for travel – organized by travel style

One of the things that Berlin has in abundance is abandoned buildings left from the German reunification and the privatization of many East German businesses. The businesses, like the abandoned amusement Park (Spreepark) I visited and photographed earlier in the week, just couldn’t survive in this new world. However even though capitalism did them in, it was a couple of inventive, young capitalist thinking friends who have turned ‘abandoned’ into a business.

Go2Know is a unique tour company in Berlin that will take groups of photographers or videographers through abandoned buildings around the city. Buildings such as a Chemical plant, women’s clinic, sanitarium, meat factory, waterworks, Spreepark, and even the old Tempelhof Airport. They have secured special access from the owners to bring people into the buildings and photograph them. The men come from a video and photography production background and knew that photographers would love these types of photographic playgrounds to practice composition and lighting effects.

Today a group of about 16 of us all armed with SLR’s, tripods, flashes, and light meters get our initial introduction to the building and then we are set free – to roam into every dark little corner over the next 4 hours. We split up and wandered at our own speeds. The two guys periodically walk around and check on us and even leave little chocolate candy bars spread around the abandoned mill as treats for us as we wander. They are there to answer questions, give advice about the shooting conditions, and generally provide as much help as you want when it comes to shooting in this environment.

If you are looking for a unique tour or photography experience while in Berlin – then I found it.  This was a great chance for me to have a unique travel experience and brush up on my photography composition and shooting in low light skills while I slowly wandered around the building. I went up stairways, into dark corners, through puddles, and to find some amazing, eerie settings. The challenge was to capture the feeling of the place beyond simply snapping the photo. I’ve chosen some of my favorite shots from the day – what do you think? How do they make you feel?

papermill photography
Open, eerie space at the paper mill
old machinery in the mill
Old machinery left to rot away
material waste lays on the floor of the paper mill
A bunch of material waste lies on the dusty floor
wheels valves abandoned factory berlin
Wheel valves are rusted into place
Exploring differing levels of the paper mill
Exploring different levels of the paper mill
pipes in the paper mill
Piping runs throughout the paper mill
abandoned loading dock
Abandoned loading dock
Light filters through a doorway
Light filters through a doorway
The outside of the paper mill
The paper mill building is but a skeleton
Broken Glass
Glass shards lay on a window sill
Old palletes used in the factory
Pallets in disrepair stacked up in the corner

More Information

Go2Know Website – (only in German – however, the men who run the tours do speak a little English)
Paper Mill Tour specifics (located in Eberswalde)
List of tours through other abandoned buildings
Note that you can use your photos commercially too, however you must contact them (Go2Know) first. They will contact the respective owners of the properties and notify you of the use permit and possible share ownership.

Disclosure: Thanks to Oh Berlin apartment rental and Go with Oh for hosting me on this great tour.  However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!

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