Travel. With or without apps.

A couple of hours ago, I caught on social networks a discussion about the pros and cons of travel apps against the ‘pure art and freedom’. Of course that such a discussion was referred to a place from Berlin, a cult destination for all the hippie alternative people, but also for some curious individuals keen to discover the history of the Cold War: Teufelsberg listening station. The app in discussion presents a combination of various texts and audio guidance aimed to explain the history of the building. The author was accused of aiming to turn this place of pure arts and spirits into a fancy hipster location, altering its ‘Romanticism’.

During the Cold War, at Teufelsberg – a hill created from the debris of the bombed buildings – the US, with the approval of its Western Allies, created the biggest listening station in the free world. It was said that all the conversations held in the East  where only sounds away from the ears of the analysts from West Berlin, qualified to decrypt and interpret the exchange of messages in order to understand what was going on the other side of the Curtain. Apparently it seems that the decoding was not easy to be make as long as the Cold War lasted for so long. In 1992, the activity was resumed. In the good days, I am sure that the place was looking interesting and with the latest technology at the time plus a nice green view – it was hidden by the trees of the Grunewald forest. Nowadays, it is a cult place where even those without the single interest in the Cold War will visit it for the graffiti art and the journey through various dirts and rests of drinking and smoking sessions. You walk through rests of windows and cables laying on the floor like the Americans left only a couple of weeks ago. I recognize that I still don’t understand why all those deserted former official buildings give this impression of being recently left, decades after they stop being used. I ‘visited’ the former embassy of Saddam’s Irak where impressive amounts of propaganda files are flooding the entire place. It’s like you expect a grinning Saddam to pat you on the back and send you to the prison for overpassing property.

At Teufelsberg, the deserted place is huge and not necessarily recommended to be visited during the night. There are people specialized in offering tours of the place – including a former American employee of the station, because without some guidance and explanation, anyone curious to learn something about the history of the building will never understand what was all about. Try to explain to someone in his or her 20s, for instance why were all those cables about? And what about the while big balloon on the top of the building? (Offering a proper phonic isolation, among others) Officially, it is illegal to visit the place, but unofficially, around 80 people are going there each week, especially during the week-end when it can be as crowded as a museum. 

Hence, I think that an app or written guide or any support to the traveller for the first or second time in Teufelsberg is useful. This place, as the Iraqi Embassy and other similar places – it is a deserted former Soviet base in Potsdam as well, with military uniforms left on chairs -, is already a kitsch. (Parties at the Iraqi embassy, anyone?)  Feel free to pick 10 beers and spend the entire vacation there, reading the not-always-so-inspired scribbling on the walls. Or start a graffiti work. But for the less talented and sophisticated ones, everything that can bring more light into the strange recent history of Europe is more than welcomed. For years, the area is already considered as a good real estate investment and I am not sure that the former listening station will resist as such in the next 5 years.  At the normal human scale, it takes an average of around 3 years to pass over a big distress. In historical terms, maybe it is about time to go beyond the cables left and try to look to something different. 

Apps will not destroy tourism, as the GPS did not eliminated from use the simple paper maps. I love my Kindle, but will buy physical books as well. Everything that can help someone be more than a visitor is openly welcomed into my world. Technique in itself is not prone to destroy anything. People without education and not understanding the past can destroy everything. 

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