by Kate Groce
I sit in my room at Oxford sipping Earl Grey tea with the windows open and the realization that I only have another week in England, which leaves me both relieved to finish classes and go home, but also nostalgic as I reminisce on the absolutely amazing summer I have had.
Our everyday itinerary was packed full of the most popular “must see” sights and world renowned museums in Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, and many other cities. We were so immersed in culture and constantly on the move—
living in 10 hotels in only 5 weeks—that we hardly had time to miss home or relax. We made the best of every moment we had by spending our only free time exploring rather than taking a much-needed nap.
Once though, in an unexpected surprise separate from our detailed itinerary, we found a beautiful field of flowers in Vienna. There, my new friends and I laid down and rested quietly; relishing our discovery. And so I began to learn that the unexpected trips to less famous places could be the best ones.
When a skinny boy with long hair and a beard from our study abroad group walked up to me and asked if my friend and I wanted to join him to go to Teufelsberg (a place he read about in his Atlas Obscura book) I said, yes! Later, when I learned it meant “Devil’s Mountain” in German and had Nazi ties, I was suddenly unsure if we should venture out with this quiet, scruffy boy. Guided by his book of strange and wondrous places, Chris ended up taking us to the most eccentric and hauntingly beautiful places of art I have ever seen. It goes without saying that he came to be one of my best friends on the trip as well.
It turned out that Teufelsburg is a buried Nazi military-technical college that was too difficult to destroy with explosives. Instead, it was buried in a mountain of rubble, making it the highest point in West Germany. Later, it became the restricted property of the National Security Agency (NSA), where towers were built (which still remain today) to pick up on radio traffic and listen to the Soviet Union and East Germany.
As Berlin is the graffiti capital of Europe, it is no surprise that when you visit Teufelsburg now, it is covered in graffiti art. Not only are there beautiful murals and political jabs covering the walls, there are intricate tree houses in the surrounding woods with charming tire swings and glass roofs. Even abandoned televisions and toys have become art.
Teufelsburg is hands down the most eclectic historic place I’ve ever visited. From its role in Germany’s tragic Nazi past to its strategic location in the fight against communism–not to mention a brief period as a ski jumping hotspot!—Teufelsburg has been a silent witness to the great events of the 20th century.
So cheers to the unexpected: to Chris for introducing me to obscure travel, to the nattily dressed elderly Englishman on the bus from Oxford to London who struck up a long conversation on US nationalism and UK’s Brexit, and to deep friendships and memories built upon the spirit of discovery. Obscure places and unexpected connections … bring on the next adventure!