“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 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 has fallen into disarray starting 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 1800’s and was producing some of the 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.
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 who will take groups of photographers or videographers through abandoned buildings around the city. Buildings such as a Chemical plant, woman’s clinic, sanitarium, meat factory, water works, 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 wander 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 this environment.
If you are looking for a unique tour or photography experience in 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 simple snapping the photo. I’ve chosen some of my favorite shots from the day – what do you think? How do they make you feel?
View all Abandoned Berlin Paper Mill Photography:
Go2Know Website – www.go2know.de (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 with the use permit and a 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!
By Richard June 14, 2012 - 11:28 am
I signed up for your site emails I think late last year and have really enjoyed your posts and photos. I really admire what you’re doing! I love to travel, but I have never done what you’ve done. I’ve been to Europe 16 times for vacation, but it’s only been 1 or 2 weeks at a time (one time, it was for a month). But, I did live and work in The Hague for 4 years, in addition to those 16 other trips, and while working, I made a number of short trips throughout each year to various places. It was great.
I do like your photos of the abandoned buildings very much. I personally don’t like shooting into a window, where the bright outside light just completely blows out the sky, but I think you’ve done a nice job here.
I’d love to shoot such locations, and I think many of these you have would look nice with HDR shots. Converting them to B&W also, I think, would produce very nice looking results.
I was hoping to make a nice trip earlier this year for my 50th birthday, but I broke my leg pretty badly early in the year. So, I have sites like yours to feed my travel bug! Maybe later this year or early next I’ll make that big trip, and perhaps it might include Berlin again! (been there a few times, including midnight on October 3, 1990….Unification Night!)
Keep up the great work!
By Sherry June 15, 2012 - 4:08 am
Thanks Richard for following along! I had a great time photographing Berlin – so many great stories to tell there. Yes, HDR in those abandoned buildings would have been great – and in fact the company does a special HDR workshop I think. Maybe next time I should look into it!
By Emily June 14, 2012 - 1:50 pm
I can’t help but shiver a little and think of those Eastern-Europe-phobic-torture movies when I see stuff like that. Great photos!
By Tim June 18, 2012 - 11:43 am
This is amazing. I can’t imagine a tourist attraction like this in the United States. There are so many safety regulations here that the experience would need to be simulated.
By Sherry June 18, 2012 - 5:08 pm
Good point I actually forgot to mention that we didn’t have to sign any legal stuff at all and you are absolutely right – a tour like this could never happen in the US. Even more reason to get to Berlin and give it a try!
By Globetrottergirls June 28, 2012 - 12:05 am
What a unique idea for a tour! We’re bookmarking this for our next visit to Berlin – would love to go on this tour. And your photos are fantastic,as usual 🙂
By Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker July 31, 2012 - 7:57 pm
Would love to do that in the spring when I plan to be in Berlin again. Last time I was there, and was hoping to “gain access” to a couple of these places actually… but in the end it wasn’t worth the potential trouble.
By Cassie April 11, 2013 - 6:13 pm
Really interesting tour idea and great photos! Have you ever heard of any tours like this in other cities? I have no plans to go to Berlin anytime soon, but this is something I’d like to look for in other cities.