The Mysterious Woman of Andrews Barracks

A personal memory from 1970s Berlin…

In the late 1970s, I lived in Berlin for two years. My husband was in the military and was stationed at Field Station Berlin. We lived in an apartment off-base, on the corner of Ringstraße and Finckensteinallee—about a mile from the Andrews barracks, a former SS facility.

We walked in and out of those front gates a thousand times. After a while I began to notice an older woman standing across the street on the corner. At first my mind just acknowledged that she was there.

Then I began to wonder why she was there. Her posture was stooped and even if she stood straight, she probably wasn’t anymore then five feet tall. Always dressed in very dark garments, dark shoes and a dark scarf around her head.

You could barely see her face. Even during the hottest part of the summer she wore the same clothing. The closest I ever saw her was from the other side of the street. I was very young, hardly knew any German and would have never considered walking up to her and talking to her. But I was very curious.

Andrews holds a rich and dark history. It began life as a Prussian Cadet School, housed Hitler’s SS, then the Russians, contained a very large pool (still in use) then the US Army Security Agency. It was also the centrepoint for the ‘Night of the Long Knives.’

It was a place that when you visited you had that creepy, goosebump reaction. There were many of those places in Berlin for me, including one room of our apartment. We visited Andrews often to pick up mail, visit with friends, watch a movie, or visit the small PX (Army and Air Force Exchange Service).

At some point we asked the gate guard what the old woman’s story was. There seemed to be two stories. The first was that this woman’s husband had gone to Andrews on the night of the long knives and was never seen again.

The other story was that her son had been a member of the SS, and had gone into the barracks and never came out. Either or both stories could be true.

It was rumoured that there were many tunnels and passages below the installation and that many people entered and never returned. There were stories that the Olympic pool once held hundreds of dead bodies. I didn’t know that story until recently, but I can say that I never swam in that pool because the entire building gave me the creeps.

I have searched for her story on the internet, but have only found a few references to her made by American military personnel. Perhaps I would find something if my German was better.

It always gave my heart a pang when I saw the woman. It never mattered the time of day or the weather… she was always there. I imagine that many people stopped to talk to her during her early sentinel days, but after a period of time just saw her as a fixture, always there. She was very old when we were there and I have thought of her many times and wondered how much longer she stood vigilant.

You can find the original version of this story at Rose’s blog and see her wonderful handicrafts work here.