Archive for the ‘Baden-Württemberg’ Category

After several poultry farms and regular nurseries I finally had the opportunity to explore an abandoned plant nursery – and all I had to do was traveling 10000 kilometers…

Yesterday was Greenery Day in Japan, a public holiday to remind people to appreciate the beauty of nature – originally celebrated on April 29th, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday (because the guy apparently liked plants…), it was moved to May 4th in 2007 to annoy Star Wars fans. Nah, it was actually moved due to a revision of public holidays in 2005, which included stuffing Golden Week with one more day off to make it really shine! Unfortunately this year GW didn’t really shine at all as it was rebranded „Stay Home Week (To Save Lives)“ – which seems to be much more successful than the rest of this weak state of emergency the government proclaimed in Japan.
Anyway, Greenery Day reminded me of an unpublished plant nursery I explored on a vacation to Germany back in summer 2016. Since it was a virtually unknown business in the outskirts of a small town I basically know nothing about its history – but since I’ve never explored a garden nursery before it was nevertheless quite interesting, despite sounding dull at first sight.

The location basically consisted of several green houses, some sheds and a private house – since there were no signs of a shop I assume that they either produced for wholesale, a shop in town, or had seasonal stands somewhere on the property. Unfortunately I’m not much of a botanist, so I have no idea what they were growing there; though I think I spotted a couple of blackberry bushes. I just snapped a few pictures and got the hedge out of there… I was late already anyway as the exploration of the nearby abandoned school *Alte Martinsschule* with its large indoor pool took much longer than expected…

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Nature loves Germany – no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tornados, hardly any venomous animals or floods! So bricks as a building material have been popular and in high demand for centuries… just not high enough to save the Brick Factory Rhine.

The Brick Factory Rhine was built in 1965 and therefore was a rather modern and large scale brickworks. Business was good for about 30 years, but in 2001 the financials finally collapsed and a company collecting and disposing materials like dioxin and asbestos moved onto the premises, actually using the ovens to burn off some of the stuff – when it also went bust after five years, tons of special waste were stored all over the place. It took local authorities three years and almost 2 million EUR to get rid of the inherited waste and they took over in 2012 when the compound was finally foreclosed – and of course soon later a case of arson destroyed the offices (causing damages of about 50k EUR). Not much happened since then. The local authorities are trying to sell the property, but developing a legally binding land-use plan apparently takes forever, especially since the factory is on land that gets flooded regularly once every decade or so.
In Japan I try to stay away from “abandoned” properties that are owned by the state, because… of bad experiences, but in Germany state employees are much more relaxed than in post-Imperial Japan. When I grew up in Germany, the police was promoted as “Your friend and helper”, with the informal version of “your” – and I don’t recall a single bad experience with the guys. In addition to that, the brick factory is in the middle of nowhere, but along a somewhat busy road, so we parked out of sight and walked the remaining couple of hundred meters. Nowadays there seems to be a construction fence around the property, but back in 2014 you could just walk in and have a look around. Unfortunately I explored the factory after the place was cleaned out… and after the arson, so there weren’t a lot of items left behind. Nevertheless the Brick Factory Rhine offered quite a few photo opportunities just based on the fact that it was a big abandoned industrial site with all kinds of tanks, pipes and ovens – which is hard to find in Japan, for whatever reason; I guess here factories are used till they are held together by little more than chewing gum and duct tape – and then they turn into dust during the next typhoon. The lack of items also made the factory look much better than it actually did, because there wasn’t a lot of broken stuff lying around, despite the fact that pretty much everything left behind was actually broken. An unusual, handheld, quick (40 minutes + plus video) exploration. I’ve experienced worse… 🙂

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The Patton Barracks in Heidelberg, once the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg, were closed in 2013, along with the nearby Patrick Henry Village – earlier this summer I had a quick look…

While the PHV was quickly used as an emergency shelter for refugees of the European Migrant Crisis after being transferred to the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben (“Institute for Federal Real Estate”) in mid-2014, the Patton Barracks went a different way and got bought by the city of Heidelberg, who has big plans with the property that included 29 buildings (everything from storages and repair shops to a theater and even a church!) on 14.8 ha and has access to two street car and bus stops. Currently there are two main projects going on – the planning and construction of an indoor sports arena for up to 5000 paying visitors (planned grand open: October 2019), and a brand-new high tech center (Heidelberg Innovation Park, HIP) for IT, digital media and industry 4.0 businesses to keep up with the city’s latest twin towns – Palo Alto and Hangzhou!
Sadly I wasn’t able to find out much about the history of the Patton Barracks. Apparently it was founded before World War 2, but the first mentioning I found was in connection with the 110th Infantry Regiment, which was activated in 1936 and lead to the construction of a new base (from 1938 on Großdeutschlandkaserne, after WW2 Campbell Barracks) as the existing Grenadier-Kaserne (now Patton Barracks) wasn’t big enough. In 1952 the Patton Barracks became the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg… and 61 years later they were closed, leading to the current activities.
Sorry, just a small article about a quick Exploration, but Abandoned Kansai has a long history of covering closed US military bases in Germany, going all the way back to the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* in 2011. Next week’s piece will be much more… mysterious… and Japanese! 🙂

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Abandoned military installations are rather rare in Japan, so whenever I go back to Germany, they are pretty high on my priority list – usually former American bases, sometimes British ones. The Depot De Munitions (or ammunitions depot or Munitionsdepot) in Iffezheim though was French… at least for a while.

The great thing about abandoned American bases is the fact that American soldiers are proud of their jobs and love to keep the memories alive. Even about small outposts you can find tons of information and photos from the glory days. Germans on the other hand haven’t been proud of their military since the 1940s (guess why…) – and not to disrespect the French, but I have no idea what the French are thinking… or saying: I chose Latin in 7th grade – the universal language of nearly useless; at least it made The Life of Brian a lot funnier. And so I guess it is not much of a surprise that it was close to impossible to get some hard facts on a former French base in southern Germany, just a stone’s throw away from the famous horse racetrack Iffezheim. There’s not even agreement on the size – while one source said 42 ha, another said “more than 60 ha”. While an official State website claims that the area was used till 1999, some local hobby historian claims that the French left around 1992. All I know for sure is that exploring the area was a bit underwhelming…

Upon arrival it looked like the main gate as well as the fence of this once heavily guarded area was still military grade tight, but luckily our first impression was wrong and it took me and my friend Nina about 30 seconds to get past this perceived obstacle. Easy victory, small reward. The first building to the left was rather big, but completely rundown and vandalized. Less than 15 years since abandonment? You gotta be kidding me! We continued to walk down the kilometer long, partly overgrown forest road, passing collapsed smaller buildings both to the left and the right. In the northern part of the former ammunitions depot we found some bigger buildings again, probably vehicle halls and various kinds of repair shops. Some in good condition, most in worse – and at least one of them showed signs of temporary visitors. Completing the full counter-clockwise circle we saw more dilapidated buildings beyond repair along the partly overgrown road through the forest. I don’t know who owns the property currently, but good luck with it – cleaning up both the ruins and the most likely contaminated ground will probably cost millions.

As far as woodland strolls go, this was actually one of the better ones – as an exploration though it was pretty disappointing. Especially in comparison to similar locations like the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*!

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And now for something completely different – an outdoor shooting range of the French occupying army in Neustadt, Germany!
After six years and more than 350 articles it’s not easy to present abandoned places you haven’t seen yet at all. Better ones or interesting variations… no problem. They keep me exploring and you reading. But basically new ones? Something else other than deserted hotels, theme park, hospitals, schools, … How about an outdoor shooting range then? I explored it back in 2012 and two more since then, but I don’t think I ever presented one here on Abandoned Kansai.

The first abandoned outdoor shooting range I ever explored was built and used by the French occupying army near the beautiful town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Germany. My sister and I were on our way to the now demolished *IBAG*, so we made a quick stop at a forest in Neustadt’s outskirts. The former military area was easy to find and even easier to access – a surrounding fence was still there, but the open gaps were as big as Alsace…
There is little known about the history of this outdoor shooting range, but people on the German-speaking part of the internet agree that it was used by the French occupying army… and sometimes by the German Bundeswehr, for joint exercises. The range consisted of two lanes, 600 meters each, with a bunker 15 meters high at the end; functioning as a backstop. The earth walls to each side were six meters high and about every 20 meters down the lane was a wooden clad concrete bullet trap to catch ricochets. Near the front end of the shooting range were a couple of abandoned and completely empty buildings without roofs, obviously beyond repair. Pretty much the whole area was at least partly overgrown and progress wasn’t that easy, especially since the exploration took place mid-summer.
Despite the fact that there wasn’t that much to see, the Military Shooting Range Neustadt was quite an interesting exploration – mainly because it was my first abandoned firing range… I didn’t even try to namecode this location as it is really well-known and easy to find, but if you want to have a look yourself, be careful in summer: that area is tick infested!

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Urbex is always dangerous – this exploration though turned out to be potentially crippling. And no doctor in Japan was able or willing to help…

Nature loves Germany. Every couple of years the country has to deal with a flood, but that’s pretty much it. No serious earthquakes, tornadoes or typhoons. No giant spiders or insects with deadly poison. The only really nasty threats out there are ticks transferring Lyme disease and ESME (early summer meningoencephalitis).

During my 2012 vacation to Germany I met my old friend Ira to catch up, and *like a year prior* we decided to explore something instead of having coffee somewhere. I was running out of time and really wanted to see an abandoned hospital (Klinikum der Stadt Mannheim, III. Medizinische Klinik) in a suburb of Mannheim, so we went there to have a look. Well, it turned out that the clinic had moved to a new building, leaving the old ones unused for now. Plans to turn them into a home for the elderly were rather theoretical, but the city clearly still had an eye on the premises and the surrounding park. The fact that the former leukemia hospital was empty and in the middle of a residential area didn’t raise our willingness to risk anything as people could watch our moves without being seen from the comfort of their own homes. The buildings looked interesting enough from the outside, so I took some photos and a video before leaving; though I went through some bushes looking for an easy entrance to a side building apparently used as part of a public housing project; in vain.
When I took a shower that evening I saw a tiny black spot on my belly that didn’t belong there, less than a millimeter in size… turns out that it was a friggin tick! I removed it and hoped for the best – after all, there was only a 1% chance that I contracted Lyme disease with that one bite.

A few days later I went back to the empty hospital with my dad to shoot another video – that summer I bought a toy drone and I thought it would be fun to take some aerial shots. While I was controlling the unsteady thing via a tablet and a WiFi connection, my dad supported my efforts as a spotter, making sure that I wouldn’t hit trees, cables or other obstacles; you can find the whole unedited, more than 9 minutes long flight at the end of the article – without sound as the drone didn’t record any.
Just before I left for Japan again I met my friend Catherine for a day trip to the Black Forest. Out of nowhere and without me even mentioning the tick bite she told me the story how she contracted Lyme disease a couple of years prior and how dangerous that stuff can be – which made me more and more uncomfortable, especially since it takes a while to see some symptoms. And sometimes symptoms never show or indicate a different disease / illness.
About a week or two week after I came back to Japan the spot where I got bitten turned red, another red ring formed around it, at the same time I felt extremely worn out all the time; two very serious hints that I contracted Lyme disease. Yay! So I had to choose between endless treatment by a useless Japanese doctor (95% of them are… some do more harm than good) or a potentially crippling disease – I thought about it for a couple of hours and then decided to see a doctor as Lyme can be really nasty. The one I chose spoke English and was recommended by the American embassy or consulate or something like that. I got an appointment and went there… and the doctor had no idea what it was, despite the fact that I told her the full story, of course. Even when I mentioned that I assume that it might be Lyme she was like “Yeah, but maybe it’s not…” – so she did some blood tests and asked me to come back later that week. Which I did. Her result was… inconclusive. What a surprise, I could have told her that. There was no rise in white blood cells yet and all the other things looked okay, but she talked to her daughter, a dermatologist, and she said that it might be Lyme given the very unusual rash I had (no kidding!), but she wasn’t sure either. What makes this even more ridiculous: Lyme is not an exotic, unusual disease. You can actually get Lyme disease in Japan, too, but only in the Tohoku area, so according to that doctor, there was no way to diagnose Lyme for sure here in Osaka! What the FUCK? Japanese doctors have a reputation for being incompetent by the standards of industrialized countries, but that useless? And what about really unusual diseases, contracted in Africa or South America? Germany has specialized clinics all over the country for that… and in Osaka, one of Japan’s biggest cities, you can’t diagnose Lyme, which you actually can get in Japan, to a point that you are actively willing to treat it?!
Luckily I was scheduled to go on a business trip to Germany soon (what a coincidence, as it was the first and last ever!) and I told her that I might be able to see a doctor then – and you could see her lighten up; finally a way out of this uncomfortable situation… for her! So I insisted that she would prescribe me antibiotics for a few days (to stall the disease in case I was right…) and sent me on my way.
Upon arrival in Germany I made sure to get enough antibiotics for a Lyme disease treatment, which enabled me to continue my business trip without having to worry about my job or my health. Three weeks later the rash and the constant fatigue were gone. Thanks to a business trip to Germany… which saved me from a crippling disease, because Japanese doctors really are as bad as their reputation!

Usually I avoid personal stories like that on Abandoned Kansai as the deserted locations clearly are the focus of this blog, but since it is closely connected to both the hospital in Mannheim as well as my life in Japan, I thought some of you might be interested – especially since my fractured ankle story was quite popular when I wrote about *an amazing abandoned hospital in Hokkaido two years ago*. And don’t you worry – all bad things come in threes, too, so you can look forward to a really messed up story about eye surgery gone wrong. Imagine the movie A Clockwork Orange minus the violent movies and Beethoven…

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The Kümmelbacher Hof, an estate with a long history and most recently a nursing home called pro seniore Residenz Neckarblick, was my favorite location back home in Germany. When I explored the massive building complex with my sister Sabine back in 2012 it was already a rather dangerous location – a geocaching friend of mine told me that the abandoned building was overrun by cachers, especially at night, and that neighbors were calling the police on a regular basis whenever they spotted people. Sabine and I were lucky, the Kümmelbacher Hof was not – after being visited by one logged group of cachers per day (!) in average (plus an unknown amount of visitors not logging their caches) and a somewhat serious case of arson on February 17th 2013, the building was finally cleaned out and bricked up in late 2013.
R.I.P., Kümmelbacher Hof!

More than 200 years ago, around 1800 AD, the Kümmelbacher Hof was founded as an agricultural and silvicultural estate in the outskirts of Neckargmünd near Heidelberg – a small town Mark Twain must have passed through while traveling Europe, which he described in his book “A Tramp Abroad”. In 1879 a brewery was founded on the premises and in the early 1920s the mansion there was expanded to a spa hotel… and closed in 1961, with the complex for sale. Three years later, in 1964, the department store group Kaufhof AG bought the Kümmelbacher Hof and turned it into a skill center for executive staff members. In the 1970s, the brewery had been closed too, further reconstruction work was executed – and the Kaufhof AG decided to train staff in Cologne, so the buildings were rented to the vocational promotion center of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Berufsförderungswerk des Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes), which offered an education to become a geriatric nurse. Soon after that, the Berufsförderungswerk (bfw) rented the former spa area to Pro Seniore, Germany’s biggest private operator of nursing and retirement homes. The pro seniore Residenz Neckarblick operated till 2005, when Pro Seniore owner Hartmut Ostermann as accused of tax evasion, but not convicted – he closed the Residenz Neckarblick immediately and with that pulled the financial carpet from unter the Berufsförderungswerk, which moved to Heidelberg in 2006. In March 2010 a geocacher named “Zaunkönig” posted a cache called “The Shining” at the estate, attracting thousands of fellow geocachers to the abandoned building – a second cache called “The Cache Hunt Project” was added in February 2011… Two years later, on February 17th 2013, a fire caused by arson destroyed parts of the Kümmelbacher Hof. As a result, Pro Seniore emptied the building, bricked up the windows / doors, cleared the savaged park and hired security.

When Sabine and I explored the area in July of 2012, we were as careful as one can be, taking our time to explore the vast area including both the bfw building as well as the Kümmelbacher Hof itself; this article though focuses on the former nursing home, the bfw skill center deserves its own in a couple of weeks / months…
Before we entered the Kümmelbacher Hof, Sabine and I spent about an hour outside, getting a feeling for the huge complex and the surrounding park area – and of course we stumbled across some cache item that deeply disturbed Sabine as she didn’t know about the cache and was worried that a child was abducted there! Luckily I could dispel her concerns, but there were signs of vandalism and we were aware that the police could show up at any moment, called by annoyed local residents, so we tried to feel comfortable with the area before actually entering the main building – through an open window next to the main entrance.
The former nursing home consisted of various wings on three floors plus a leisure area that lead to the medical and administration offices. Most rooms were almost empty, but some were stuffed with mattresses, medical beds or other equipment. Some parts looked like a typical hospital, others felt more like a pension. One of my favorite areas was a former bar with amazing post-war flair, probably renovated in the 1950s or 1960s after Kaufhof took over. The former “Cafè Panorama” had already lost most of its grandiose atmosphere, yet it surprised with a weekly menu from 1999 and the most disgusting placemat possible: comic drawings of two old pigs partying, labelled “Party Sau”; meaning party animal or rather party pig. Also rather unusual was a room with a handwritten “Fäkalienraum” sign, feces room; I assume that’s where all the bedpans and other medical equipment was cleaned.
Without the best part of the building was the lowest floor with the medical room and the director’s office, despite the fact that it reeked of mold. The medical room, or rather medicine room, was pitchblack and against my hope none of the photos turned out to be even decent, but the room was highly interesting as it contained boxes of medicine and medical supplies, like artificial urine (!) and gauze – most likely a problem for Pro Seniore if some controlling authority would have found out as I can’t imagine that it’s legal to stash that stuff and then disappear. The director’s office on the opposite end of a loooooong and gloomy hallway was stuffed with tons of folders, containing all kinds of patient information and financial data about both the clinic and the inpatients! We also found construction plans, handwritten presentation notes with headlines like “strategies for solving problems” and employee memos about things like closing the clinic’s tennis court (that’s how we found out about it – and we checked it out on the way home, though not much was left of it). Urbex heaven, it was like looking 10, 20, 30 years into the past.
Even back in 2012 the Kümmelbacher Hof had quite a bit of a graffiti problem. You can see the extent in the videos, but I don’t want to offer those vandals an encouraging platform, so I won’t post any specific graffitis as stills, especially since most of them were really bad anyway. Well, except for one. And coincidentally there is one thing I hate more than graffiti on abandoned buildings… which is the hypocritical way modern Japan deals with its role in World War 2. Before you call me Walter Sobchak – the graffiti I saw in one of the rooms resembled Shy Guy (of Super Mario fame) spraying “Unit 731” at a wall! I’m sorry, but that’s exactly my kind of humor, especially since the reference is even more obscure in Germany, where probably only a few hundred people have ever heard of Unit 731. Just in case you are with the majority who isn’t familiar with this disgrace for all humanity: Unit 731 was a top secret biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that killed several thousand people in human experiments (including vivisections without anesthesia) and up to half a million Chinese in field experiments. If you have a strong stomach, *read about Unit 731 on Wikipedia*.

Overall the Nursing Home Residenz Neckarblick was an amazing location, definitely my favorite one in Germany, easily Top 20 overall so far. The area was vast, the building complex was huge and there was so much to see, to explore, to discover. When we drove up to the Kümmelbacher Hof I expected to stay maybe an hour or two, in the end we spent almost six hours on the premises. When we left, Sabine and I both hoped that Pro Seniore would re-open the Residenz Neckarblick one day, so when I found out earlier this month that it suffered from arson and was bricked up, I honestly felt sorry that the urbex world lost such a great location!
For a somewhat similar institution in Japan, check out my articles about the *Abandoned Tuberculosis Hospital For Children*.

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Urbex is quite an unpredictable hobby, especially in Japan, where wrecking crews can demolish buildings in no time; abandoned or not. (It actually happened once that I went on vacation and when I came back a building in the neighborhood was turned into an asphalted parking lot…) But demolition is not the only enemy urbexers have. Sometimes you go to a place and you think you know exactly where it is, but it turns out that your research wasn’t good enough. Luckily that never happen to me, but I’ve been on trips with fellow explorers who carried wrongly marked maps – and in that case is can be enough to be off by a street or two and you will never find what you are looking for (it almost happened to me when looking for the *Amano Clinic*, a frustrating and time-consuming experience!). Sometimes buildings have been boarded-up and are therefore inaccessible now, on other occasions they are still locked and electronically secured, which explains why your source only had outside photos. Every once in a while you run into nosy neighbors who keep a close eye on you, and sometimes places are so trashed that it’s not worth having a closer look. The latest trend, at least in Germany, is turning abandoned military bases into solar parks – they get rid of the remaining buildings and use the vast areas of concrete and asphalt to set up some green energy. With no good videos and barely a handful of photos, those locations are not worth an own article, but as compilations they should be entertaining enough to carry this blog for a week. Welcome to the first issue of “Worst Of” – 14 disappointing locations on 6 exploration days!

The first dud of my trip to Germany in 2013 was the Türkenlouis-Kaserne (a.k.a. Quartier Turkenlouis) in Rastatt. Built by the French occupational forces in the 1950s and left behind in 1999, the barracks weren’t able to find a new owner, so they were demolished in 2011 – I had a hunch that it happened, but I wanted to see for myself and was (not) disappointed.
Just a few kilometers away I had a look at the vandalized entrance of the BWR, Bauknecht Werk Rastatt, founded originally as Waggonfabrik Rastatt (Rastatt Coach Factory) in 1897. The company struggled several times from the 1970s on, was split up and partly closed. Upon my visit, parts of the area were used by the BWR Waggonreparatur GmbH (BWR Wagon Repair Company) – and their employees kept an eye on the abandoned area.
Down the street in walking distance I found a partly collapsed, unnamed factory. Sadly the employees of a neighboring business had a company party on their parking lot…
On the way home I stopped at what supposed to be an abandoned gravel pit, but there were cars parked on the premises and a diving competition at the nearby lake prohibited any reasonable exploration.
But that’s not all! The fifth dud of the day (out of six locations!) was the Special Ammunitions Site Philippsburg, which actually looked quite active – it was probably used for training by the police or other groups. What a frustrating day, especially for my childhood friend Nina, who actually did all the driving. Sorry again, Nina – but that’s urbex sometimes… 😦

The next day I was going exploring with my sister Sabine. At the fortified Lampertheim Training Area I took a crappy photo through the fence – and the closed bunkers of the Panzerwald Viernheim were very disappointing in comparison to the awesome *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*.
The HMS I explored with my friend Catherine and it was in walking distance of another former military base, which is still visible on GoogleMaps, but has been demolished more than a year ago to be replaced with one of said green energy facilities, in this case the Solarpark Metro Tango Ost.
Since my article about the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* was a huge success I decided to go back there on a second day of exploration with my sister. We parked in the area and walked for like 10 meters, when a security guard stopped his car right next to us and forbid us to take photos. Straight ahead. No polite small talk, not friendly asking to refrain from taking photos. “I forbid you to take photos!” Well, I’m not a media lawyer, but as far as I know you can take photos on public streets pretty much wherever / whenever you want in Germany – hence Google’s Street View (though some people in Germany had their houses pixeled like Japanese porn, but they were not able to have Google remove the images completely). Since the guy acted like a stubborn a**hole right from the beginning of course I pretended to agree and just waited until he was around the next. He wasn’t even smart enough to come back two minutes later to see if we would really obey his rule. And nothing much had changed anyway, so I took a few snapshots and then we moved on to the Santa Barbara Village down the road and across the street – it was interesting to see though that they tightened security at the CFK instead of turning it into student dormitories, as the original plan was. The St. Barbara Village on the other hand is an example for successful privatization. Once a housing area for the surrounding barracks it is now a neat, quiet residential area and far from being abandoned.

The Old Argonner Barracks in Hanau are currently under redevelopment – the housing area is getting renovated, the former school on the premises is now a special educational center to support kids in the areas learning, language development and physical development, called Elisabeth-Schmitz-Schule. (I took a quick video, but with a different camera, so please excuse the quality…)

The Ray Barracks in Friedberg are famous for one special soldier, Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley, who was part of the 3rd Armored Division and met his wife Priscilla while being stationed there. The base was closed in 2007 and it seems like not much has happened since then – the grass kept growing and the surrounding fence was airtight, so my buddy Torsten and I left after a couple of minutes, realizing that it was a big mistake to suffer through a painfully long evening rush hour traffic jam…

Last on the list of failures in Germany 2013 was a three location streak with my old friend Gil.
The Quartier Castelnau, a former French military base south of Trier, was under redevelopment in its third year and one big construction site. We found a way onto the premises in a very remote part, but there was not much to see, barely worth spending any time on – so we didn’t and moved on.
The Quartier DeLattre, another French occupational military base, was definitely closed, but not really abandoned either. Parts of it were used by the municipal works, but it didn’t look like there was much activity on the premises. Much more so outside. Lots of kids and walkers, including an old French guy and his wife who wanted to have another look at the place he spent a couple of years at almost half a century prior.
Third and final flop of the day (and the trip) was the so-called Weingeisthaus (Spirit of the Wine House, an old mansion in the middle of a vineyard, famous amongst urban explorers for its beautiful exterior and the dilapidated condition inside. It seemed though that somebody invested quite a bit of time and money to keep intruders out, installing two lines of pretty tight fences. Running out of time that day and respecting the effort, Gil and I took a couple of shots from the distance before leaving.

And that’s it. Lots of short impression, but nothing really spectacular. What do you think I should do with small / failed explorations in the future? Ignore them completely and pretend they never happened, write collections like this one or publish individual small articles, but keep them as the lead for only a day instead of a week?

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The Abandoned German Villa I explored more than two years ago – a place so mysterious that it doesn’t even have an “official” name in the German urban exploration and geocaching communities. Some explorers call it Villa Zimmermann (“villa carpenter”), others Villa Waldeslust (“villa forestlust”, kind of analog to the word wanderlust…) or Villa Kinderheim (“villa children’s home”) – probably due to the fact nobody seems to know much about the villa’s history, except that it first was a mansion, then a brothel and finally a children’s home. Or at least that’s what one person said and the rest just runs with it, because I’ve never seen any proof or even a timeline to support that claim. The geocachers of course use a fourth name including the village the villa is in – which basically gives away its location even without exact coordinates as that village has like three different streets… Or better: they used, past tense, as the cache is archived now – probably because it attracted too many cachers and therefore too much attention. Luckily I did some research two years ago, and to quote a geocaching visitor from back then: “Today we were the fourth group to log this cache!” The fourth group in one day! Wow… The *Deportation Prison Birkhausen* comes to mind.

Exploring the Abandoned German Villa was an interesting experience as it looked so familiar and strange at the same time. Familiar, because I grew up in Germany with houses like that. Strange, because I picked up urban exploration as a hobby while in Japan – and locations like that of course are hard to find in the Far East.
Surrounded by massive walls and fences it was easy to see that the villa once must have been the mansion of a very rich family – probably built in the 1920s plus / minus a decade. The main gate, protecting a private road of about 150 or 200 meters leading up to the main building, was completely overgrown, so my old high school friend Torsten and I had to find another way in, which was surprisingly easy, despite the lush vegetation. Once on the premises we didn’t have to worry about getting spotted by anybody as pretty much everything there was overgrown.
The first area we explored was a really old garage / storage building – a paradise for spiders and bugs; nothing nasty though, because we are talking about urbex in Germany. Nature loves Germany! Back in the days this building must have been state of the art, with the ground being tiled and the walls being plastered. We continued along the private road for a couple of last meters, ignored the villa to the left and had a look at the barn, clearly modernized just years before the whole thing was abandoned. The lower part, most likely stables for rabbits and probably something like donkeys, looked a lot like the garage we just left, the upper part on the other hand was a rather nice wooden construction with only few signs of decay. In the forest behind the barn we found a small brick-built shack with a couple of old stuff inside – a perfect setup for a stunning nativity play.
Back on the other side Torsten and I first explored an annex of the villa, including a small basement too dark to take photos at without a tripod, but the heating system there revealed that it was installed in 2001 and last serviced in 2003. I was especially fascinated by the three generations of electricity switches right next to each. Sights like that make me love urban exploration so much! On the other hand the place saw quite a bit of vandalism and everything was dirty and full of spider webs. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
The main building, the Abandoned German Villa, was where we went next. Three floors plus an attic, solid stone, but clearly modernized every once in a while; for example using double-glazed windows. Sadly there was more vandalism than interior, nevertheless it was really interesting to explore the layout of the villa, seeing signs for its use as a private home, a brothel and a boarding house. I am sure when first occupied the villa was just gorgeous, with lots of space for a big family, especially considering how most people lived in the early 20th century. In the basements we found signs of a cheesy bar area, probably installed in the 1960s/70s during the mansion’s brothel days. In the attic and on the upper floor were signs of the last residents – a John Sinclair magazine (popular German pulp fiction with more than 2200 issues since 1973… and still counting!), amateur art, letters written in careless handwriting.
Torsten and I were already on our way out when we discovered another overgrown building the size of a single family home a little bit to the side. It took some effort to get past the blackberry bushes, but like at the dirty annex two hours prior, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour. The interior of the building was mostly empty and quite moldy, but it was all about the details again. For example neither of us dared to go down to the basement, just based on the smell coming up and the mushrooms growing on the stairs. Personally I loved the stickers on the walls and the doors, clearly from the 80s, with subjects like theme parks, clothing and electronics (Eifelpark – Der größte Wild- und Erlebnispark der Eifel / Eifelpark – The biggest wildlife and adventure park in the Eifel). Easy to miss details included the locks on the outside face of the room doors. If the villa and its surrounding buildings were really used as a boarding school, I guess some of the residents were locked in as punishment or security measures. My favorite detail of them all though was the wallpapers in a room on the ground floor. Not because they were mostly gone, but because there were several layers of them… and upon closer look one of those layers were actually newspapers glued to the wall! Old newspapers, in fact. A piece on the ground had written “February 23rd 1929” on it. A small readable article was about an 18-year-old student in Berlin, who was a member of the right-wing organization “Der Stahlhelm” and shot during a brawl with communists – “slyly”, according to the piece, so it probably was a right-wing newspaper.
Despite quite a bit of vandalism the Abandoned German Villa was a wonderful place to explore – little details were everywhere to be found, most of them revealed more about the location’s history. It wasn’t a spectacular exploration like the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, but the countless details totally made up for it. It took me a while to write about the villa, but it’s still one of my favorite explorations in Germany! (Next time with a tripod though, because even on a sunny day the place is gloomy like hell…)

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Sometimes you just gotta be lucky. Like my friend Nina and I were when we were walking up to the former Ammunition Depot Achern in the southern part of Germany. We didn’t know anything about the location except that it was there – and when we tried the handle of the gate it opened to our surprise. Right next to the entrance we found a small building in excellent condition, locked, a bicycle inside, the logo of the Technisches Hilfswerk (THW) on the side. In case you are not familiar with German institutions – the THW is a Federal Office, the official English name is Federal Agency for Technical Relief; the THW helps in cases of floods, earthquakes and other disasters. So the depot wasn’t part of the Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces) anymore, but now belonged to the THW… interesting, from military to civil protection. Right next to the building the road split 3 ways and we walked down the most southern one, towards the 17 former ammunition bunkers of different sizes and an abandoned train used for training missions. We took a couple of photos and then we heard voices… Damn! When we reached the end of the road we headed north to the middle road and saw a couple of guys on a training mission. Since they didn’t see us and we didn’t want to cause any trouble we took the most northern road and headed back to the entrance, continuing to take photos as we made a strange discovery in that area: A huge aviary inhabited by dozens of exotic birds. The former ammunition depot really wasn’t that abandoned…

I forgot how we knew, but when we came back to the entrance we realized that somebody must have had entered or left since we got inside. Maybe the gate was not fully closed anymore or we left it open and it was closed now. Maybe there was another bike… I forgot, but I remember that we knew that people were still coming / going. Being back to safety I got gutsier again while Nina decided to wait at the entrance just in case somebody would show up and lock the gate without us knowing; which would have been bad, because the place once was a restricted military area and still is in the possession of the German state – if we would have gotten caught we most likely would have been in trouble; but if we would have gotten locked in, there most likely wouldn’t have been a way out due to lots of barbed wire everywhere… and probably motion detectors on the fences. Nevertheless I went back inside to take a quick video before we finally left after about half an hour altogether.

I mentioned it before and I’ll stick with it: I don’t like infiltration and this was (hopefully…) the last time I did it; mainly because I misjudged the situation – I actually wasn’t aware that the THW is a Federal Agency, I thought it was a private NGO / NPO like the Red Cross, probably because 99% of its members are volunteers… So I guess I dodged at bullet at the abandoned ammunition depot! 🙂

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