Northern Ireland

Sugar cube sculptor Brendan Jamison's Berlin spy mission

Brendan Jamison with his Tate Modern sculpture
Image caption Brendan Jamison with his Tate Modern sculpture, made from 71,908 sugar cubes

The murky world of espionage seems a million miles away from the sparkling white sugar sculptures of artist Brendan Jamison.

The "cubist" who has built an international reputation for intricate sugar cube carvings has taken on a new project - one based at Berlin's Devil's Mountain.

For the last year, he has been immersed in the world of Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain) and the old spy station codenamed T.H.E. Hill.

It was used by the Americans and British during the Cold War years to pick up conversations from the Russians and East Germans on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

"In 2009, I was watching a documentary by Matt Frei on the reunification of Germany and there was a 30-second throwaway comment about the abandoned spy station," Brendan explained.

"I was hooked and I made many trips to Berlin to try and find it. On the internet, I was contacted by former intelligence officers who had worked at Teufelsberg and were now retired.

"They are having a 50th anniversary reunion in Berlin in September and I am launching my exhibition to tie in with it."

Thousands have worked at the base down the years and Brendan knows of 60 veterans who are flying into Berlin for the celebration.

The spy station is a subject that has enthralled the Belfast-born artist. He knows Berlin well, calling it the art capital of Europe, and he was keen to learn more about Teufelsberg.

The officers were clearly limited in the information they could reveal but their stories intrigued him so much that he included them in his art work in a series of "intelligence reports".

They told him about the pranks they used to play - like putting peanut butter down the tubes which created problems for the officers in charge.

Image caption The old spy station in Berlin recreated in sugar

"Peanut butter ended up being rationed at the base," he said.

Devil's Mountain in the Grunewald (Green forest) is an artificial hill built upon the rubble of all the Berlin buildings that were bombed in World War II.

The field station expanded rapidly between 1963-1977. In the beginning there were no radomes - a radar dome that houses an antenna) but by 1977, there were five. These were used for radar to pick up signals and enable the Americans and British to spy on the Russians and east Germans on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

In early 1992, the intelligence community vacated Teufelsberg following the end of the Cold War after the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991. But the work undertaken there remains classified.

"From the outset, the field station was clouded in secrecy," said Brendan.

"Over the years, some of these mysteries have been revealed, whilst others have become mixed with myth and imagination."

The artist heard stories about the radomes and how the first one was made of black rubber and was very dangerous - in high winds it could have blown over. So the workers used compressors salvaged from old German submarines to keep the radome up.

Jamison's exhibition that opens in Berlin on 5 September, is funded by the British Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

It features drawing, collage, sculpture and photography - there is even a recreation of the spy station in Jamison's trademark carved sugar cubes.

"It has been a very full year and is very much a celebration of the history of the spy station - linking geography, the world of espionage, history and linguistics," Brendan said.

The exhibition will also include specially-invited artists and collaborations with Peter Richards, Ciaran Magill and a veteran of Field Station Berlin (code-named T.H.E. Hill).

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