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Explore a maze of abandoned mines at Museumspark Rüdersdorf

This eerie industrial museum in Rüdersdorf traces the origin story of many of Berlin's much-loved landmarks.

Photo: Grace Henes

For meta tourists and bleak chic aesthetes, a trek to Museumspark Rüdersdorf on the eastern edge of the city is a two-for-one. It has the brutalist graffiti-covered buildings, the rusted machinery and the disquieting stillness of a forgotten place, but is also the origin story of some of Berlin’s most iconic tourist landmarks.

The open-air museum showcases a now-defunct limestone quarry, documenting the history of the area as a mine and processing centre – Brandenburger Tor, Sanssouci Palace and many other familiar buildings were built with the rock mined here.

Adventure time

The park is best enjoyed by skimming the plentiful display information and wandering where you feel most compelled. The abandoned ruins, oddly-shaped and dimly lit, invite the kind of fearful, thrilling exploration of childhood. Everything is imbued with an undefinable strangeness; the circular tunnels with rusted furnace doors, the fortress-like buildings with crumbling edges.

In a recreation of a mine worker’s apartment, you can wander through as if it’s your own house, examining the antique bath, oven and bed. A pair of mouldering Hausschuhe on display adds to the feeling that you’ve tripped back in time, disturbing someone’s space.

The abandoned ruins…invite the kind of fearful, thrilling exploration of childhood.

Beyond the apartment, there is a dirt path that leads to the mine. Despite the obvious gritty nature, the view is still shocking: a sprawling, apocalyptic quarry in greys and yellows. It’s perversely beautiful, exposing the innards of the earth and making the sky seem endlessly expansive, an odd couple with the dim mustiness of the buildings where its yield was processed.

Photo: Grace Henes

As you make your way through the park you’ll pass a number of interesting buildings – the old bell tower, the gate-like Seilscheibenpfeiler (sheave pillars) that moved wagons from the quarry to the railroad system – but the best of them is towards the end. The ‘Cathedral of Lime’, a series of shaft kilns used for producing quicklime from the mid-1800s to 1960s, consists of a number of towering red-brick furnaces, mottled with age.

It’s perversely beautiful, exposing the innards of the earth and making the sky seem endlessly expansive

From the upper walkway, you can enter one of them; perched on the grate (walk at your own risk, the signs say), you can look down into a dark abyss, where flickering lights give the appearance of a fire. Descending further to the inner hall, a cavernous room of filtered sunlight, gentle dripping and a resounding quiet, it feels like you’re not supposed to be there.

A floor further down, cautiously stepping into near-darkness, you feel even more like you’re trespassing. Remnants of an internal railway appear from the shadows, rusted graffitied machinery hang from the ceiling like twisting flower petals, and a dust-coated staircase beckons you to crawl into the bottom of the kiln where the flickering lights originate. Looking up, you feel as if you’re at the bottom of a deep, deep well.

Photo: Grace Henes

Beyond the Depths

While much of the museum is devoted to the boom in industrial mining in the 19th and 20th centuries, limestone has been extracted from here since at least the 13th century, when Cistercian monks would pry the rock from the earth with wedges, crowbars and hammers. The limestone itself was formed over 240 million years ago, in the Middle Triassic period, and is still being mined today – with modern methods, of course.

Next to the area’s history, those intrigued about the mechanics of open-pit mining and the geologic formation of limestone and fossils will find plenty of information scattered throughout the park and in the Otto-Torrell-Haus at the front, the indoor part of the museum.

With the most pertinent information presented in both German and English, you don’t need to worry if you’re still stuck at the “genau” stage of your language-learning journey. Some of the German-only plaques, like a year-by-year history of limestone transportation, are so dry you’re really not missing out anyway.

Side quests

After an afternoon in the industrial depths, a moment in less-oppressive nature is in order. A 20-minute journey on public transport (or eight minutes by car) will take you to Badestelle “am Film”, a small sandy beach with views across Kalksee to the forest beyond. If you’ve lucked out with a sunny day, wade out along the “reed pathway” and out into the lake, which is clear and glassy, especially in the off-season. Finish the day with a meal at Achillion in Woltersdorf, a Greek restaurant with generous portions and a lively, friendly atmosphere.

At a glance

Getting there

Train: Take the S3 towards Erkner (stops at Alexanderplatz, Hauptbahnhof, Ostkreuz and others), alighting at Friedrichshagen. Change to the tiny (and glacially-paced) 88 tram towards Rüdersdorf, which takes you through small towns and stretches of forest. Your stop is Heinitzstraße; the museum is a five-minute walk further.

Car: From the city centre, follow the B1 eastward, taking the exit for Rüdersdorf.

Museumspark Rüdersorf is open daily 10-18 between March and October. Achillon is open Tue-Fri, 15-22, Sat 12-22 and Sun 12-21.

Museum tickets are €8 for adults, €7 for students, €4 for children ages 6-16 and free for children 5 and under. Main dishes at Achillion cost around €15-20.