With a loud bang, the sturdy metal gate slams shut in the imposing frame of the large clinker-style building in Berlin’s Moabit district. Behind us is bustling Lehrter Strasse, while ahead lies an isolated interior courtyard with high walls. All we hear are a few scattered sounds from the neighboring construction site.
“Welcome behind bars!” the security professional on duty says with a smile. But there’s no reason for concern, however grim the historical complex may be. Umut Yasar does keep things under lock and key here, but he isn’t a prison warden. Yasar is a security expert from Dussmann Facility Management, and today, he is giving us an exclusive look at his day-to-day work providing security for vacant buildings. He has invited us to a very special property for the occasion: a former prison dating back to the 19th century.
Come along with us!
Professional services for comprehensive building security
The jail, built toward the end of the 19th century, has had an eventful history. It became known throughout Germany in 1977, when it was in use as a women’s prison and became the scene of a spectacular prison break. The facility continued to house prisoners right up to 2013. After occasional interim uses, the Berlin Senate is now planning to convert the property to studios for visual artists and music rehearsal spaces. And that makes it important to maintain the building and its value as much as possible.
Yasar explains just how diverse the tasks involved in providing security for vacant buildings are on a walk around the complex. He and his colleagues check the structures regularly, looking for signs of vandalism, damage, or break-ins. The security service portfolio at Dussmann Facility Management includes detecting attempted break-ins, preventing graffiti, and checking lighting and emergency escape routes. Any problems with windows, doors, or roofs due to weather conditions need to be detected swiftly and the owners alerted so animals and rainwater do not enter and cause damage. Another crucial aspect for vacant properties is regular checks to see whether there have been any reports of errors or leaks in power, water, and gas systems.
Discovering squatters or other unauthorized persons is an area of particular focus. Although a former prison might seem like a tough place to get into, these kinds of buildings, with their fascinating combination of history, architecture, and stories, draw fans of “lost places” time and again, and they may enter illegally. Checking a property as complex as the former prison site, with its long corridors, many individual cells, and twists and turns, is a lengthy and laborious process. “To me, it’s all about doing our due diligence,” Yasar says.
Normally, the former prison is vacant and empty. The only soul around is the security staff, walking their rounds in the deserted corridors. But recent years have seen spates of frenetic activity at this historic site, as the building has become a sought-after location for filming of German and international movies and series. For example, historical adaptations like Babylon Berlin, the mystery series Dark, and Steven Spielberg’s spy thriller Bridge of Spies have all found this the perfect setting to tell their stories.
Yasar views providing security for filming as an exciting change from his everyday work. Providing security for film equipment, teaching crew members about security, and blocking off roads and allowing only certain vehicles to enter are all perfect ways for our security expert to put his experience, expertise, and charm to work. All this is important when it comes to costly filming work. Day and night, everything has to go like clockwork. His professionalism really pays off at these times.
Yasar loves his work, and we can see it in every corridor and cell and at every new turn. He associates everything in the building with a film project. And he has a story to tell about every shoot. “Maybe I’ll write them all down someday,” Yasar says with a laugh. At the end of our tour, we ask about his most interesting encounter with a movie star. “As a security expert, you do have to keep secrets sometimes,” Yasar says with a twinkle as he lets us back out through the big gate, setting us “free.”