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The most beautiful abandoned looking hotel I have never entered – this title goes to the Hachijo Royal Hotel, once the biggest hotel in all of Japan. I went there twice, at sunset and the next morning just after sunrise, both times I ran into several people, both times I had a feeling that this hotel wasn’t really abandoned… and I turned out to be right. Half a year after my visit several Japanese explorers changed their reports about the hotel, some of them apologizing – apparently they had been contacted by the current management…

In the past two years more and more allegedly abandoned hotels on *Hachijojima* popped-up on Japanese urbex blogs, and when I decided in early 2014 to have a look myself, I went there with one very specific picture in my mind: the front of the Hachijo Royal Hotel, the first photo of the gallery at the end of the article. Sadly none of those blogs did much research on the hotel’s history, so I had to dig a little bit deeper, like so many times before…
The Hachijo Royal Hotel was opened in 1963 – eight years after the former military airport on Hachijojima was turned over to civilian control and four years after the local tourist office was established. At the time the biggest hotel in all of Japan (according to one of the people I spoke with) the owning company celebrated their then-president Eiji Yasuda with a statue of himself in the vast park of the resort. Tourism on the Izu Islands was booming back then, especially on Hachijojima, since the government nicknamed it the “Hawaii of Japan” in an attempt to give the island a positive image and the population of Tokyo a warm place to visit. That couldn’t have sit very well with Okinawa back then as all they got were quite a few American military bases; something they are not really happy with till that very day. Nowadays Japanese people prefer to go to Okinawa or the real Hawaii. Most likely due to Hachijojima’s lack of sand beaches and spare time offers other hiking, surfing and diving – resulting in a steep decline of tourism on Hachijojima. In 1996 the Hachijo Royal Hotel reopened as the Pricia Resort Hachijo… as in Pricia Resort Yoron on one of the Okinawan islands. The Pricia Resort Hachijo closed in August 2003 and re-opened on June 1st 2004 as the Hachijo Oriental Resort, which is still written on the main entrance, the road sign and a car with license plates parked on the premises. In 2005 “Trick the Movie 2” was shot at the hotel, the sequel to a movie, based on a three season long Japanese comedy drama TV show. It seems like the hotel was closed again around that time, which is just proves how quickly places decay when they are refused any maintenance, especially on an island surrounded by saltwater.

I first arrived at the Hachijo Royal Hotel in the afternoon of a gorgeous spring day. This was one of the last big ticket items I really wanted to explore in Japan, so I was quite nervous when I approached. Thanks to Google Street View I knew that I would be able to get close to the hotel without jumping any fences, but I also knew that there would be a barber shop near the back, just across the street. To fill some of the blanks, I first approached the area that the Street View car couldn’t access – and of course the first thing I saw were two cars with license plates parked directly in front of the main entrance, a Suzuki Carry kei truck a little further in the back. Darn! Would my exploration end 30 seconds into it? Luckily it didn’t. I kept myself together and walked up to the cars, prepared for some small talk with an owner, security guard or some construction workers. Turns out the whole thing was a false alarm – all cars had flat tires, some were rusty beyond repair… and the kei truck was labelled Blues Mobile; very funny! I had a look around and it seems like the Hachijo Royal Hotel consisted of two parts. The main building with its amazing back towards the waterfront – and a White House style annex building opposite the main entrance. Following a couple of dozen photos, I started the obligatory video tour, when suddenly a huge roar was thundering down the coastal road, apparently a couple of bikers, also enjoying this warm spring day. Okay, second attempt, starting next to the White House annex. A minute or two into it, I just arrived at the main entrance, an old guy walking his cat size lap dog showed up in the background, so I stopped filming and approached him with a smile, again ready for some small talk. Sadly the guy seemed to be in a very bad mood (no surprise, I would be embarrassed, too, being seen in public with a dog like that…) and literally tried to shoo me away; which actually pissed me off quite a bit, because Senior McLapdog obviously had about as many rights to be there as I had; at least I tried to be a friendly person. Long story short, I pretended to go away, but ran into him again as I need to go back to take the video I wanted to take. After a while he finally left, but I wouldn’t have been the first vengeful person to call the police, so for the next hour or so I made sure to stay on public ground; after I took the video, of course.
The back of the hotel with its amazing gigantic and partly overgrown pool area as well as a huge park was mind-blowingly beautiful and all I hoped it would be – strangely enough it faced the main road, so the back of the hotel was the front… or vice versa. Anyway, I took some shots and after I was pretty confident that the police wouldn’t show up any time soon… I was approached by another elderly on his bike, telling me about the history of the hotel. 10 minutes later, the guy was finally out of sight, I walked up to the hotel. Up there were some outdoor showers, another (small) pool, a few European style statues, at one point in time probably water fountains, and a back entrance, blocked from the inside with a large rusty sickle! When you think you’ve seen it all… It was getting dark pretty quickly and I didn’t bring my tripod, so went for a stroll along the coast and for dinner at a sushi restaurant, serving flying fish, amongst other local delicacies.
Right after I woke up the next morning I went back to the Hachijo Royal Hotel. Different light from a different direction… but pretty much the same amount of people passing by. Heck, nobody was getting in or out, but the area was as busy as a beehive! After a friendly morning talk with a female dog walker I took some photos as the seriously damaged tennis courts before heading back to the “backfront”, to finally grab the photo I really wanted to take. A conversation with another biker later I finally descended to the partly overgrown pool area. One of the two changing areas looked like somebody was squatting there for a while (and what better place for that than an island so warm that it offers a free camping site all year long?), but other than that it looked as abandoned as the rest of the hotel – so signs of maintenance, no signs of any ownership, except for years old, trampled down ropes here and there. In its heydays the gigantic pool must have been amazing, at the time of my visit it was barely accessible – especially the concrete pathway with steps towards the backfront with the smaller pool and all the statues was completely overgrown and barely visible.
Even without entering the Hachijo Royal Hotel, it was a great experience exploring this wonderful resort and its absolutely stunning seaside front. It’s quite a big photo gallery this time, so make sure to not miss the hidden gems, like the picture on which the sun is setting behind Mount Hachijo-Fuji while a plane is just leaving for Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The four videos I publish show most of the resort’s exterior and I hope they will give you a better impression of how gorgeous the place really was. If there really still is an owner, I really hope he will act quickly and spend some money to save this modern classic – it’s one of those places that would really deserve to be saved!

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How to enter Spreepark?

That never really was a question. I knew I would find my way into Germany’s most famous abandoned theme park, though I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. When I first saw the sad leftovers of what once was Spreepark im Plänterwald on a sunny early Monday afternoon my heart sank a bit – all the horror stories about vandalism at famous abandoned places in Europe seemed to have come true at first sight, even from the outside. I just had arrived in Berlin to abysmal weather forecasts (rain, rain, rain and… rain), so I headed there immediately after I dropped some luggage at my freshly booked hotel – a mild disaster in comparison to what I am used to living in Japan. In Japan you go to the clearly labelled tourist information and you name your budget and the part of the city you are interested in. At Tegel Airport I first had to ask somebody if there was a tourist information at all and the first reaction I got there upon voicing my general request was „We charge three Euros for a hotel reservation!“ – I guess it’s needless to say that it’s a free of charge service in Japan. After not being asked, I tried to state my budget and the area of the city I was interested in, to which I had to deal with a rather rude „First I have to find out what’s available!“ Jawohl, mein Fräulein! Of course the hotel she found was 50% above my budget, which provoked her to the following snarky comment: „You can go to the city center and try to find a cheaper hotel on your own!“ After booking, the tourist information “lady” tried to send me on my way with the hotel’s address printed on top of a legal document 5 pages long, but without a map or information about how to get to the damn city center. Gosh, you gotta love Berlin… (It turned out that the hotel was not only over the price I had in mind, but it was also overpriced. Breakfast was 10 EUR extra per day, WiFi in the room an additional 5 EUR, the room had no fridge or complimentary toiletries like a toothbrush, and the bed was about half as wide of what I am used to from Japan – where I pay about half as much per night, but including all of the above!) If you think I sometimes rant too much about Japan, don’t get me started about Germany! 😉

Well, there I was, finally, at the Spreepark, just 15 minutes on foot away from the S-Bahn station Plänterwald, named after the city forest of the same name. The park opened in 1969 as the only amusement park in the German Democratic Republic a.k.a. East Germany. Called Kulturpark Plänterwald (cultural park Plänterwald) back then, it was privatized and renamed in 1991, one year after Germany’s reunification. Originally a pay as you go amusement park, the concept was changed in 90s as the Spreepark Berlin GmbH under owner Norbert Witte added more and more attractions – nevertheless visitor numbers dropped from 1.5 million per year to 400.000 per year, followed by the bankruptcy of the GmbH in 2001. In early 2002, Witte, his family and some employees made authorities believe that they would ship 6 attractions to repair, instead they sent them to Lima, Peru, where they opened a new theme park called Lunapark – later Witte and his son were convicted for trying to smuggle 167 kilograms of drugs upon returning back to Germany. The gutted park itself closed for the public in 2002 and became a famous spot for urban explorers, despite round the clock security. Taking advantage of that huge interest, a company offered official photo tours from August 2009 on, a café called Mythos opened in April 2011 on the weekends and from Mai 2011 on the park’s train Santa Fe Express became its first official active attraction again – and Spreepark turned into a zombie amusement park; looking (and probably smelling) dead, but being somewhat alive…
In early 2014 the city took over and I was told that for the first time in 12 years there were neither security nor official tours – and by coincidence I went to Berlin anyway, so I had a look myself. Remains of the park can be found as far as 500 meters away from the entrance, where I saw a huge ad box for the park, promoting raffles for free tickets. From there a path lead through the forest to the main entrance, damaged lamp posts from the GDR era on both sides of the way. Upon arrival the first thing I saw was a parked car right inside the gates, so I assumed somebody was on the premises, which made me have a look around first. A couple of minutes later I found several spots to enter Spreepark comfortably, but at the same time the sun was gone and it began to rain… heavily… at least for a while – the forecast was right after all. I took shelter in a little hut right next to the Spree and when the sun came out again I continued to circle Spreepark in full, amazed that the fence had more holes than Swiss cheese! On the way I saw several vandalized signs, a vandalized wooden kiosk and a locked up, fenced off and slightly vandalized restaurant for day-trippers called “Zum Eierhäuschen” (The Egg House), dating back to the 19th century and made famous by Theodor Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin.
Upon getting closer to the main entrance again, I finally saw the park’s landmark, a Ferris wheel 45 meters high – and to my surprise it was moving! I took a quick video, when I saw some people inside of the park, walking towards one of the gates… Half a dozen left, one stayed behind, so I talked to the guy and asked him when the next tour would start – it turned out that he wasn’t a tour guide, but security. Damn! He also told me that he kicks everybody out straight away and calls the police when he sees somebody twice – and that I was notice. Damn! And the Ferris wheel wasn’t running, it was moved by the wind… damn! Not my day…
Well, after a dozen years of vandalism and removing attraction, Spreepark was a rundown piece of crap anyway – and after 5 years of official tours and thousands of people entering illegally, there was no way I could have taken a photo inside you haven’t seen a million times on the internet anyway. So I decided to stay outside, taking some pictures from there – not spectacular ones, but new ones, stuff you probably haven’t seen yet; and to enjoy the atmosphere there for another hour or two. Minutes later I talked to a group of British students on a school trip to Berlin, who were eager to enter, but couldn’t decide whether or not to risk it. Then I went back to the Ferris wheel to have another look, when all of a sudden I saw a guy inside running like crazy, followed by a police car outside. The guy was able to hide and the police car left without catching him, but to me this was great – I am not used to that doing urbex in Japan, it’s a lot more mellow here! I headed back to the main entrance, when I saw two young women inside, just carelessly walking around, obviously not the slightest worried about security or the police – an attitude I saw repeatedly on two more locations the following day; people in Berlin don’t seem to have a sense of guilt whatsoever, their level of entitlement was amazing to see – though I guess some of them get crushed at the police station… 🙂 Despite that, I still had no urge to get inside and take some photos – again, there was close to nothing for me to gain. One big element of urbex is risk assessment. Spreepark is photographed to death and I have been to much better abandoned amusement parks in the past. *Nara Dreamland* for example – I was willing to take the risk to go there five years ago, when it was virtually unknown. Now it’s a vandalized piece of garbage much like Spreepark, and I pity the fools who nowadays risk getting caught by security and the Japanese police. At the same time I don’t mind taking a risk if it’s worth it – just three days ago I explored an abandoned capsule hotel right across the street from a police station, because it’s a unique location and I was able to take some amazing photos that no one has ever taken before; *click here for a first impression on Facebook*.
Anyway, I sat down on a bench, looking through the photos on my camera, when I was approached by an older man. We talked for a while and it turned out that he lived in the area for like 40 years and knew all about the park and its history, not happy with the current situation. He confirmed that the Ferris wheel hasn’t been used in a while and that it is actually very dangerous to get close to it as the authorities are worried that the whole thing might fall over as the foundations are completely rotten and a very strong wind could bring it down.

Wow, this visit really had it all – security, police, neighbors, wannabe explorers, risk takers; and me enjoying the atmosphere.
About four weeks later Spreepark made national news when four men started two fires that destroyed parts of the park. The city’s reaction? Increased security, a new fence all around the park… and new photo tours, probably starting in 2015.

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Nichitsu is a legend amongst Japanese urban explorers, a world-class ghost town that attracts visitors from all over the country and even overseas. In day trip range from Tokyo (but not from Osaka!), this mostly abandoned mining village in the mountains of Saitama prefecture is famous for its huge variety of abandoned structures crammed into a single valley – countless mining buildings (some still in use, even on the weekends!), several schools, a hospital, a gymnasium, a vast residential area and who knows what else.

After exploring a cute little regular ghost town on a sunny Sunday morning, my buddy *Hamish* and I arrived in Nichitsu to grey weather and low hanging clouds; at one o’clock, totally underestimating the vast amount of buildings to explore – though even a full day would barely be enough to see everything there, let alone document it properly. To make the best of the situation, we avoided the rather busy lower part of the valley (with company cars parked as well as a group of explorers arriving) and headed for a small parking area used by hikers. From there we wanted to find out what all the fuzz was all about… and it didn’t take us long!
Given the rather active area we passed through just minutes prior (feeding the rumors about security) as well as the fading light even rather early in the day, I decided to take a first video of what I thought was everything there was to see in that area – then we started to explore buildings on a sample basis as it was pretty clear that less than 4 hours of daylight remaining wouldn’t allow us to see everything anyway. From the very beginning it was close to impossible to take indoor photos without a tripod as exposure times quickly reached up to 30 seconds in darker areas of buildings.
A school, an office building, several private houses (ranging from completely empty to fully stocked and suitcases packed), a small fire station and some other structures later we reached the area at the end of the first video – only to realize that the really interesting buildings were still ahead of us and just seconds away; including a gymnasium and the now mostly collapsed hospital! Crazy…
With less than an hour of daylight left, we kept shooting and shooting and shooting, but even test shots to frame pictures properly took painfully long (as you might or might not know, I don’t even crop my photos). The last building we found was the hospital, of course, and despite the conditions we both managed to take a couple of decent shots – overall it was a bit disappointing though as it didn’t even come close to its reputation or similar places, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.
Overall the Nichitsu Ghost Town totally lived up to its reputation… and given that I didn’t even enter a mining related building means that another visit is in order – probably sometime in 2015 as I am pretty sure that Nichitsu will see some snow soon, rendering parts of the village inaccessible (then I will tell you more about Nichitsu’s complicated history, too…). The white stuff in some of the videos and pictures definitely wasn’t snow! Maybe some kind of gypsum? Solid when dry, it became viscous when in contact with water – I am sure during a typhoon you can watch it flowing down slopes and roads, slowly suffocating the lower parts of Nichitsu…

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You would think that after eight years in Japan surprises and weird situations should become rather rare, yet Hachijojima was full of them – good and bad…

In early 2014 a bunch of interesting looking abandoned hotels popped up on Japanese urbex blogs, with one thing in common: they all were located on an island I hadn’t even heard of before, Hachijojima. Turns out that it is right next to Aogashima, a hard to reach volcanic island that is often part of those “the most remote places in the world” lists that are so popular on Facebook and other social media sites. When you are living in Kansai, basically one big city of 22 million people (plus 0.7 million spread across the countryside), “the most remote place in the world” sounds wonderful, at least to me – so I decided to do a combined Hachijojima / Aogashima trip during the first half of Golden Week. Long story short: I was able to locate three gigantic abandoned hotels on Hachijojima, but I failed to organize the side trip to Aogashima due to unpredictable weather, high risk of boats getting cancelled and the season I was travelling in; *Golden Week can be a real pain* as even the biggest Japanese couch potatoes think that they should travel, because everybody else is. So I stayed on Hachijojima for 3.5 days – part relaxing vacation, part urbex trip.

For the first night I booked a small minshuku on the east coast, just five minutes away from one of the abandoned hotels. Sadly the place turned out to be in a very remote area with hardly anything around… and even worse, it was terribly overpriced due to Golden Week. So instead of extending my stay, I took a taxi to the local tourist information the next morning – and the super friendly staff managed to get me a cute little hut at a local lodge with breakfast, bathroom and internet for the same price as the basic tatami room with shared bath / toilet and without food or internet, a.k.a. the night before. They even drove to my new accommodation to introduce me to the owners of the family business as they barely spoke any English – a pleasant surprise after the cold reception at a local sushi restaurant the previous night; upon entering the chef, smoking outside, was asking his wife who just came in… and she answered “a foreigner”, using the slightly derogative term “gaijin”. Thanks a lot for the warm welcome! Luckily my new hosts were the exact opposite, some of the friendliest and nicest people I ever had the pleasure to meet. Should you ever go to Hachijojima and don’t mind a little bit of a language barrier, try the *pension Daikichimaru*!

I continued Day 2 by exploring the second big hotel on the island before climbing the most famous local mountain, Mount Nishi (literally “West Mountain” – guess where it is located…), better known as Hachijo-Fuji, thanks to its resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain. 854 meters tall and of volcanic origin, Hachijo-Fuji turned out to be quite an exhausting and steep climb, especially on the last few hundred meters – but the view up there was amazing; one of the most rewarding hikes I ever did. (You can actually see the hiking trail on the first photo I took from the plane during landing approach.) If you are free from giddiness you can even walk along a sometimes just foot-wide path along the crater, but from where I started it looked like a rather risky walk, so I opted to descent to the green hell of Mount Nishi’s caldera; 400 meters wide and 50 meters deep it is home to lavish vegetation and even a shrine!
On the way down from Hachijo-Fuji I made a quick stop at the Hachijo-Fuji Fureai-Farm, a dairy products selling petting farm, which offers a great view at the plain between Hachijojima’s two mountain ranges. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, near the airport, I came across a local guy and his dog. Despite being on a leash, the pooch ran towards me at full speed, barking like a mad dog (not a spaniel!) without any Englishmen; stopped by the slightly mental grinning owner maybe 20 centimeters from my ankles. Luckily it was one of those field goal dogs and not a German Shepherd or a British Bulldog, so I wasn’t too worried, but still… what a weirdo!
Almost as weird as my visit to a local supermarket the night before. After the sushi snack I had (made from local varieties like flying fish), I thought it would be nice to get some local products, so I entered a mom-and-pop store, the owner at the cash register talking to a customer. I grabbed a couple of things and when I was about to pay I saw the other customer leaving – and the owner told me that the shop was closed. So I asked if I could pay for the items I already grabbed. No! So I put the stuff back, which probably took longer than paying for it, and left empty handed… literally. Really strange 24 hours!

Day 3 was a lot more unspectacular. I took a bus to the southern part of Hachijojima and explored the third gigantic abandoned hotel after passing a police car basically in sight of it. Then I continued by bus to the Nankoku Onsen Hotel – which turned out to be a vandalized, boarded up piece of garbage with a neighboring house just 10 meters across the street. So instead of wasting any time I enjoyed a soak at a really, really nice onsen (without a hotel).

My last day on the island I spent mostly walking – to the Kurosuna sand hill and then along the coast back to the second abandoned hotel and then to the pension, from where I got a free ride to the airport.

Spending a couple of days on Hachijojima was one of the best things I did in all of 2014 – it’s just such a surreal and yet neat place! The main roads on the island for example look brand-new and very expensive. Given the massive drop in tourist numbers one wonders how a place like that can survive financially. Sure, three planes and a ferry per day bring quite a few tourists, but at the same time the three biggest hotels on the island and a few smaller ones are abandoned. Back in the 1950s and 60s Hachijojima was known as “Japan’s Hawaii” as it is much closer to Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka than Okinawa, but those days are long gone and I doubt that fishing and some local farm products can pay to keep the island as neat as it is today.
Some of the islanders were just plain weird… and others were quite the opposite, the most helpful and welcoming people you could dream up. While mainland Japan became somewhat predictable to me over the years, Hachijojima gave me that “first visit feeling” back, where you just roll with the punches and expect the unexpected at all times. The nature on Hachijojima was absolutely stunning, the food was amazing (especially at the *izakaya Daikichimaru*, same owners as the pension; the best sushi I ever had!) and I even enjoyed the onsen visit… though usually I don’t like onsen at all – but the entrance fee was part of the bus ticket, so I gave it another try and liked it tremendously.
*Facebook followers of Abandoned Kansai* might remember two photos I posted to the “Brand-new and Facebook exclusive!” album in late April this year – those will show up in future articles as I will start the Hachijojima series with the most unspectacular of the three hotels on Thursday, two days from now; though unspectacular is relative, especially if you are into abandoned arcade machines…

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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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My summer vacation to Germany in 2013 felt a little bit like the weirdest USO tour ever as I was basically heading from one abandoned military base to the next – in the end I went to about a dozen of them, ranging from “demolished” to “dangerously decaying” to “in almost perfect condition”. And of course some of them turned out to be just closed and heavily guarded… but since urbex is one big grey area I’ll write about all of them sooner or later.
The Babenhausen Kaserne I remember vividly from back in the late 1990s, when I saw it every couple of weeks on my way from my hometown to my place of study – I was always impressed by the massive red stone wall and the surprisingly beautiful buildings, but I had no idea that its history dated back to the turn of the century (between the 19th and 20th century that is…).

After the necessary negotiations with the Reichstag and the war ministry in 1899 (pre-Orwell and therefore pre euphemisms like Ministry of Defense!), the construction of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in the following year, with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 3rd. 15 months later the construction of 21 buildings and a water tower were finished and the 2nd battalion of the 61st field artillery regiment of the Grand Duke of Hesse was the first unit to move in. Almost 13 years down the road, on August 7th 1914, the regiment was transferred to fight in World War I. Now empty, the Kaserne soon was used as a hospital during the war. Upon Imperial Germany’s defeat in November 1918 the regiment briefly returned and then was deactivated in December; three months later the hospital was closed. In the following 15 years the Kaserne had many tenants: a French infantry battalion, a Reichswehr regiment, the Hessian security police, the Hessian police school, a section of the University of Darmstadt, the SA, the 36th Field Artillery Regiment, a horse riding and driving school for the German cavalry, a flying school and development detachment, a maintenance company, a Flak unit and several other smaller groups – and for some time it was even completely empty.
On March 25th 1945 the 3rd infantry division of the US Army liberated Babenhausen, confiscated private houses and used the Kaserne as a camp for displaced persons and as a POW camp for up to 30.000 German soldiers – PWTE-A-20 was disbanded in October 1946…
In May 1947 the US Army officially took over the Kaserne for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), organizing refugee camps for Russians and Poles as well as shelter for displaced people from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
From February 1951 on the Kaserne became a military purpose again. The US Army expanded the base and in August the 36th field artillery group moved in – followed by the 36th FA GP; 18th, 519th and 593rd field artillery battalions, the 41st field artillery group (later becoming the 41st field artillery brigade). In the early 1990s the HHB 41 Brigade, 1/27 FA, 4/77 FA, 77 Maintenance Co and the 72nd Ordnance Battalion supported Operation Desert Storm from Babenhausen.
The deactivation of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in 2005 and on July 9th 2007 more of 100 years of military history ended with a closing ceremony.

Phew – researching and writing about the history of the Kaserne in Babenhausen actually took a lot longer than exploring it as the whole area was fenced off and guarded very well. Heck, when I got close to the main gate a watchdog started to bark and didn’t stop until I was very, very far away. Heading for the back of the area, now home to a small airfield, didn’t do much either – barbed wire metal fences, concrete blockades and massive gate made it impossible to infiltrate the base without getting hurt or caught by security.

Sadly the future of the Babenhausen Kaserne is still uncertain. Right after the barracks were closed several interest groups developed the Brundtland-Park concept, but a dedicated homepage in German hasn’t been updated since 2009. More recent news articles show that there has been lots of talking in the past years, but no decision making – and so the area is slowly decaying, heavily guarded…

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The Taro Mine is supposed to be one of the most beautiful mines in all of Japan – it certainly is one of the most dangerous…

After Mike, Ben and I visited the *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings* for a second time, we headed for the pacific coast to stay the night for an early start to the Taro Mine. Despite being about 250 kilometers north of the infamous Fukushima Nuclear Power Planet we were still able to see and experience the struggles the area is going through after the tsunami hit in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake 2011. The hotel we stayed at, one of the few in that part of Japan, just opened half a year prior – and when we reached the coastal town of Taro, we realized that barely anything happened to the disaster zone in the past 2.5 years. The local Lawson we stopped at after our exploration is still housed in a container building above sea level and the previously flooded area still has barely any new buildings… (By coincidence there is a German documentary called “Die Helden von Taro” (The Heroes of Taro) about the town and its inhabitants; you can watch it on Youtube if you are interested.)
The Taro Mine itself wasn’t damaged by the tsunami, but I assume the earthquake gave it a good shake, probably causing some of the heavy roof tiles at the sifting plant to come down – another reminder of how you don’t want to be in an abandoned building while a natural disaster strikes!

Like most mines, the Taro Mine has quite a long history. In this case it dates back to 1857 and it was a troubled one from the beginning, when convicted Yokohama smuggler Takashima Kaemon fled to the north and discovered sulfide ore in the mountains. Due to the financial uncertainty of the endeavor, he sold the mine to Iguchi Kenchi – who sold it due to financial difficulties in 1918 to what is now Rasa Industries, after actually closing it temporarily. The company started to invest and began massive examinations in 1919, which resulted in test operations that had to be suspended between 1923 and 1926 due to a depression, probably in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Construction of what is the present day abandoned Taro Mine began in 1933 and officially started operation in 1936 – fully operational for only 8 years, when a fire in the sifting plant rendered it inoperative in April 1944. A year later the Taro Mine started production again, only to be partly destroyed by U.S. air raids, resulting in another year of repairs. Between 1946 and 1971 the mine was fully operational, except for… one year between 1961 and 1962, when the mine was temporarily closed due to… you can guess it… a massive fire!
After being closed for good, Tokyo’s Meisei University took over some of the Taro Mine and the surrounding mining town to create their Taro campus. Today only their Cosmic Ray Laboratory is still in use, the rest of the area is abandoned. Or rather closed, as rumor has it that there is still security showing up once in a while…

What sets the Taro Mine apart from most other mines is the fact that the sifting plant wasn’t demolished – usually only massive concrete walls and pillars are left after a closed mine was stripped of any valuable machines and metals, but in this case the case was still there.
The first two floors were easily accessible and, thanks to the extremely high ceiling, quite impressive. The third floor required some climbing effort via a pile of bricks, which I wasn’t able to do due my minor *knee injury the afternoon before*. From there a rusty and party collapsed metal only staircase lead to the fourth and final floor, which I wasn’t willing to climb even if I would have been able to as it looked like a deathtrap to me.
Instead I found another way outside, where I hiked up a little slope to an exterior part of the third floor, disconnected from the rest of the sifting plant by collapsed metal constructions and intentional architectural decisions – you can see that *in the video*.
The rest of the Taro Mine actually wasn’t that interesting. One of the blue chemical pools the *Osarizawa Mine* is famous for was very active and welcomed us with a little fountain, other pools were more of brownish color and looked far less inviting. The already mentioned cosmic ray laboratory looked and sounded indeed quite active, while a huge four- or five-storey white building with a collapsed roof appeared to be so dilapidated, moldy and rotten that none of us felt the urge to get inside.
Even the 5 colorful two-storey apartment buildings down the road couldn’t get the attention of all three of us. Though there was one set of items in a wooden building we all were fascinated by – what appeared to be an old police helmet and a log with countless handwritten entries. Beautiful artifacts of modern archaeology, probably from an era when the Taro Mine was just a test operation…

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