A journey through time

In 1898, the Landesversicherungsanstalt Berlin bought a 140-hectare wooded area from the town of Beelitz for the construction of a lung sanatorium and a sanatorium.

At the end of the 19th century, medicine, especially with regard to the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, good experience with spa stays in places with clean air. The forest areas around Beelitz, around 50 kilometers from Berlin’s city centre, seemed extremely suitable to the institution for such a construction project.

In two areas to the north of the railroad line, sanatoriums for the treatment of non-infectious diseases were built, and in the two areas to the south, sanatoriums for the treatment of non-infectious diseases. The areas were separated by gender: the women’s sanatoriums and sanatoriums to the west of the highway, and the men’s sanatoriums and sanatoriums to the east. Similarly, buildings in which mainly women were employed were to the west and those in which mainly men were employed were to the east.

In the spring of 1902, the newly built sanatoriums with a capacity of 600 beds were occupied for the first time. However, the capacity was soon no longer sufficient due to the rapidly increasing number of lung patients at the time. In 1904, the state insurance authority decided to build further hospital buildings (called “pavilions” in Beelitz). A separate construction department was founded for this purpose, which began work in the spring of 1905 and was commissioned with the construction of buildings with around 600 additional beds as well as the construction of further infrastructure facilities. One pavilion had a capacity of around 300 beds and the patients were accommodated in two- or four-bed rooms.

The first floor of the pavilions housed utility rooms, patient rooms and visiting rooms. Servants’ apartments were set up on the top floor and there was space under the obligatory roof tower for a large water tank, which maintained the water supply in the pavilion by pressure.

In front of the pavilions, there were reclining halls, as tuberculosis treatment at that time included the so-called “lying cure”, i.e. lying quietly in the fresh air. Halls between 250 and 350 meters long were built for this purpose. A separate church was also built for the patients, with space for 200 worshippers. Church services were held alternately by Catholics and Protestants. Between the opening of the sanatoriums in 1902 and 1926, 66,445 men, 43,953 women and 6,559 children had already been admitted as patients.

In 1929, there were a total of 1,338 beds, 950 of which were for lung patients and 400 beds for patients with nervous weakness, rheumatism, stomach and heart conditions. The primary aim of treatment in the sanatoriums was the “prevention of invalidity” and the “restoration of earning capacity” of the patients.

In 1903, the combined heat and power plant belonging to the sanatoriums, the waterworks and an “electric light and power plant” were built. The combined heat and power plant was the largest of its kind in the German Reich at the time and was already operated with combined heat and power. In the summer of 1907, seven apartment buildings for employees and craftsmen were added to the sanatorium grounds. In 1907/08, a separate post office building was built near the railroad station in order to cope with the increased postal traffic in the sanatoriums – with an occupancy of almost 1200 beds.

The large number of patients also meant that the sanatoriums had to set up their own bakery and butcher’s shop to provide for their own needs, as well as increasing the area under fruit and vegetable cultivation and purchasing two farms nearby.

Shortly after the start of the First World War, on August 3, 1914, all transportable patients were discharged from the sanatoriums, as the hospital grounds became a Red Cross hospital. During the war, 1,525 beds were available and 12,586 soldiers were treated, including the then unknown Private Adolf Hitler. It was not until 1920 that the military hospital became a lung sanatorium again.

As Berlin’s urban area also expanded considerably by law in 1920, more and more people in need of care were assigned to the state insurance institution. This led to capacity bottlenecks in Beelitz.

For the next three years, only women were admitted to the sanatorium. Male patients were sent to sanatoriums by the sea or in the mountains. Inflation in 1923 forced the sanatoriums to stop admitting patients. The sanatoriums stood empty for almost a year. When the situation improved and the sanatorium reopened in 1924, men were once again admitted as patients.

In 1928, the sanatorium grounds were once again expanded to almost 200 hectares by purchasing additional woodland. Among other things, a hospital for the surgical treatment of tuberculosis patients was built on the new land. From then on, the “new” treatment procedures were carried out in the surgery department: pneumothorax and phrenic nerve exairesis. Furthermore, in 1927/1928, a larger laundry building and a row of stores with six stores: shoemaker, stationer, soap workshop, bakery, tailor’s shop were built.

In 1942, the architect Egon Eiermann built an alternative hospital for Potsdam to the south of the women’s sanatorium. This was used as a specialist clinic for lung diseases and tuberculosis from 1945 to 1998 and is now mainly used as a nursing home and by the Academy for Nursing Professions.

When General Walther Wenck and the left wing of the 12th Army came to a halt in Ferch during the battle for Berlin, he was nevertheless able to rescue parts of the 9th Army and, with the “Scharnhorst” infantry division, around 3,000 wounded and the staff of the Beelitz sanatoriums, whose transportation to the west was immediately initiated.

After the end of the Second World War, during which some of the sanatoriums were severely damaged, the site was taken over by the Red Army in 1945. The sanatoriums served as the largest military hospital of the Soviet army outside the Soviet Union until 1994.

From December 1990, it was also the place where Erich Honecker, who was suffering from liver cancer, stayed before he and his wife Margot were flown out to Moscow on March 13, 1991.


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How to find us

Navigation (scan QR code)

GPS data: 52.268243843992, 12.915247632696934

By car:

You can reach us via the A9 Berlin – Nuremberg motorway, exit 2 “Beelitz Heilstätten”, or the L88 minor road.

By train:

Take the RE 7 regional express train on the Berlin – Dessau line and get off at Beelitz Heilstätten station, then follow the signs for the “Baumkronenpfad” Beelitz Heilstätten. The entrance is about a five-minute walk away.