Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
At the end of the 19th century, tuberculosis had taken hold of many major cities, including Berlin. It is estimated that during this time tuberculosis was the cause of one in three deaths or disability in the city due to overpopulation, overcrowding, and the resulting lack of hygienic living conditions. In an effort to battle this ravaging disease, the city of Berlin started a program to build sanatoria in the dense forests south of Potsdam. The largest site of this program was chosen at Beelitz due to the abundance of woodlands, as well as existing road and rail connections to nearby Potsdam and Berlin.
Architects Heino Schmieden and Julius Boethke planned to build the hospital in two phases across four equal-sized tracts of land. The two areas north of the line were designated for sanatoria, while the other two were to be for the treatment of non-communicable diseases. Each of these was split once again by the central road running perpendicular to the tracks; the west side reserved for women and the east for men. Buildings that were suited for a certain sex at that time were also placed on the correct side of the road - laundry services and kitchens on the woman's side, workshops and boiler house on the men's.
The first phase progressed from 1898 to 1902, and resulted in a 600-bed complex equipped with the latest technologies. The patient pavilion was constructed in an east-west direction to allow for maximum sunlight on the terraced balconies, used for "air-baths" treatments. The second phase, carried out from 1905 to 1908, carried out the construction of two sanatoria and another hospital building, making the total capacity of the site 1,200 beds. The hospital became a city unto itself, having its own post office, restaurant, nursery, bakery, butcher shop, stables, as well as two kitchens and two laundry houses.
During World War I, the Imperial German Army moved into the Beelitz sanatoriums, using them as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers. More than 12,500 soldiers were treated here until 1919 - one being Adolf Hitler himself in 1916 after receiving a leg wound in the Battle of the Somme.
Due to an economic crisis and inflation during 1923 and 1924, the sanatoria north of the railway were temporarily closed until funding could be restored to operate the hospital to its full potential, which did not happen until 1925. Then, between 1926 and 1930, a third phase of construction began to expand the hospital once more. A surgical pavilion was added to the woman's sanatorium in response to the lung operations that were thought to be necessary at the time. These surgeries were phased out in favor of chemotherapy by the end of the 1940s.
As the second World War came about, the military once again occupied the hospital, and an additional complex was built at the southern end of the campus. Some buildings were badly damaged during the fighting; the church (which was demolished in later years), the residence for bachelor doctors, and the 1907 Lungenheilgebäudes für Frauen (treatment building for women), which still stands in ruin to this day.
After the war, the institution became a closed military zone and housed the central hospital for Soviet troops and politicians; in 1990 Erich Honecker was admitted to Beelitz after his forced resignation.
The years 1989 to 1990 brought terror to the women living in the area as a serial killer began to murder workers and residents of the area; he became known as Die Bestie von Beelitz (The Beast of Beelitz). The killer often his own left pink lingerie on the corpse, and sometimes used it to strangle or gag the victims while they were raped. In March of 1990 one of the most heinous of his crimes was committed; a wife of one of the senior physicians at the hospital was taking her infant son on a stroll through the forest when the killer grabbed the child and crushed his head on a tree root. The screaming mother was gagged with a brassiere and strangled. In August of 1990 two joggers were attacked by the killer, however one was able to overpower the man and take him to the police. He was identified as Wolfgang Schmidt, and given a 15 year sentence in prison and detention in a psychiatric hospital. A movie about the killer was released in 2008, named Der Rosa Riese (The Pink Giant - in reference to his trademark lingerie).
By 1995 the Soviet military had moved out of the Beelitz campus, and although attempts were made to privatize the complex they were only half-successful. A health park was created, which include a neurological rehabilitation center and a research / care center for Parkinson's disease victims. The rest of the campus has remained disused since 2000, and has become a popular spot for photographers and filmmakers.
The website heilstaetten.beelitz-online.de (German) has lots of historical information, as well as some fascinating (albeit small) interior photographs of the interior during Soviet occupation.
An article about the serial killer is also available (German).