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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Modern military ruins are rather rare in Japan. The country still tends to deny or cover up its responsibilities for the Imperial years, especially the 1930s and 1940s – or even worse, tries to glorify the past, for example my special friend Shinzo Abe and his wife, both being tied to the ultra-nationalist kindergarten Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka recently; *please read The Guardian’s article* to find out more as a lot of people missed that story. So most of my military explorations happened in Germany, where countless abandoned American, British, French, and German bases (or remaining parts of them) can be found within like a 100 kilometer radius…

The Shooting Range of the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden Barracks (or Schießanlage der Markgraf-Ludwig-Wilhelm-von-Baden-Kaserne) was one of the last remains of a Bundeswehr garrison in Achern, Baden-Württemberg, German. The barracks were officially opened in Mai 1962, about half a year after the first recruit moved in. At the end of 1993 the location was closed and occasionally used for band rehearsals and emergency drills. In 2003 most of the area was levelled and turned into an industrial park – for some unknown reason the overgrown shooting range on the edge of the forest survived…
My friend Nina and I explored this rather unusual location during my summer vacation to Germany in 2012, almost five years ago. The front end of the shooting range was easy to find and had lots of available parking spots next to it, but it was also so overgrown that there was barely anything to see other than the first bullet trap and a small wooden rain protection. So we went for a walk into the forest and actually found the massive concrete back end of the shooting range after what once probably was a small water-filled ditch. Now, outdoor shooting ranges in general are not exactly exciting constructions – basically a couple of earth walls and walls, some of them wood-clad. The Shooting Range of the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden Barracks also featured a massive bunker with a very outdated way to hoist up paper targets… and a few other items / installations left behind. Luckily this wasn’t a restricted military area anymore, so exploring this abandoned shooting range was not much of a deal – the overall lack of graffiti and rather low amount of vandalism were a real surprise.
Now, when it comes to abandoned military installations, places like the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne*, the *Langerkopf Communication Center* and the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage* are hard to beat and have become all-time classics on Abandoned Kansai as those articles still attract the attention of veterans once stationed there. The Shooting Range of the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden Barracks will probably be forgotten much sooner as German soldiers tend to show a lot less pride in and nostalgia for their service to their country, nevertheless it was a good experience for Nina and I as the shooting range was visually quite different from the usual school / hospital / hotel / repeat routine, and there is nothing like a nice walk on a sunny summer day…

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Abandoned schools are a dime a dozen in Japan, but in Germany they are rather rare – welcome to the Alte Martinsschule!

The (Alte) Martinsschule ((Old) Martin’s School – named after St. Martin of Tours, one of the most well-known Christian saints) was founded in 1978 after the German federal states Hesse and Baden-Württemberg officially funded this institution for about 180 to 200 physically disabled pupils in Ladenburg, a rather rich suburb exactly halfway between Mannheim and Heidelberg. The Martinsschule was a huge success, so the number of students grew and grew until the location in the Wallstadter Straße became too small – and so in 2010 the Martinsschule moved from the city center into a shiny new complex (matter of expense: 28 million EUR!) in the outskirts of Ladenburg, where currently about 240 students are educated.
To make some of the money back, the inner city building now known as the Alte Martinsschule was supposed to be sold – 10000 square meters of prime real estate: 400 meters away from the train station, 3 kilometers to the next freeway entrance ramp and right across the street from a small shopping mall, the local fire station… and the cemetery. To have control over the new use of the area, the city of Ladenburg started restricted tender a.k.a. architectural competition on October 19th 2012 and set the price at 550 EUR per square meter; not cheap, especially since getting rid of the old school was the new owner’s responsibility. In July of 2013 Bouwfond (a.k.a. BPD Immobilienentwicklung GmbH, part of the Rabo Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of the Dutch Rabobank) won the bid against six competitors with a medical center; including a café, a pharmacy, 40 condos and 65 units for assisted living. But the city still had some reservations about the shape of the building as they wanted to avoid getting another large concrete block, so in August of 2013 asylum seekers were moved temporarily into the Alte Martinsschule. From January 15th till February 5th 2014 they were split up across neighboring communities, and on February 10th the school was returned to the city, which spent 415000 EUR on renovating and converting the Alte Martinsschule as temporary quarters for the Carl-Benz-Gymnasium (Carl Benz Grammar School). In July the investment plans almost failed, when Bouwfonds handed in their final plans and some councilmen weren’t 100% satisfied as they thought the building was too big and that there were not enough public parking spots. After some back and forth the plan was finally accepted… more than a year later in October of 2015. In early 2016 the renovation of the Carl-Benz-Gymnasium was finally done, so the Alte Martinsschule was finally ready to be taken over by the new investor – but not before making the news again in early February, when a couple of vandals broke into the school on a weekend and emptied some fire extinguishers, causing the police to show up the next Monday, publicly appealing for witnesses. In late February refugees helped cleaning out the school as the investor expected it to be broom-clean when taking over… for demolition.

A couple of months later my sister Sabine and I showed up at the Alte Martinsschule, knowing little to nothing about the long recent background story. I thought we were exploring an abandoned school for the physically disabled, so you can imagine my surprise when we found the whole school surrounded by construction site fences… and a huge gate wide open on the back. Since there were no “Do not enter!” signs anywhere and the gate was open, we had a closer look. The school looked like it had been abandoned for years, yet posters inside advertised a school Faschingsball (kind of a Mardi Gras party) earlier this year – very mixed messages that only made sense after I did some research; the Faschingsball was basically the farewell party of the grammar school.
Most breakage of glass had been fixed and the only apparent way in was an open window at the main street, where cars and pedestrians were passing by constantly. Sabine and I kept looking and found steps leading down to an indoor swimming pool with an open area in front of it, allowing daylight in through the large, massive glass windows. One of those windows, out of sight of the traffic three meters above us, was broken – and before I could say anything, Sabine slipped through and headed for the control room. Not expecting to find a way in and not sure how long we would stay I left the tripod in the car and followed my little sister. The pool was in nearly pristine condition, even covered to prevent accidents and further damage. Through the dark underbelly of the school we found our way to the main area of the Alte Martinsschule – which in many ways was so exemplary for every school in Germany I’ve ever been to. It had a couple of more ramps for obvious reasons, but other than that it looked like a German school, it smelled like a German school, it felt like a German school. A mostly empty school, as the investor was supposed to take over any day now, as we were not aware of. Nevertheless an exciting exploration – very familiar, yet a first time experience. Some walls still featured the results of group tasks, for example about the American Constitution, musicians, and what to expect from the new school (again, confusing at the time as we had no clue about the temporary stay of the grammar school). Via the ground floor we also found a way to the gymnasium / sports hall above the pool area – lots of large windows again, and with it the risk of being seen. Exploring back home should have been easier than in a foreign country, yet I was quite a bit more nervous than when exploring in Japan. Still don’t know why. Probably because I know the laws better and can’t play the “I don’t speak your language” card… Anyway, when we left a staircase to get back to a hallway I opened the heavy fire door, passed, handed it to Sabine and instead of closing it quietly, she slipped through and past me – the door closing with a loud BAMM that must have been audible in both Mannheim and Heidelberg! Damn! I’ve been on at least a dozen exploration with my beloved sister, never ever did she something that stupid and I was pissed. Really pissed. Luckily it was towards the end of our tour, so soon afterwards she returned to the car while I videotaped the walkthrough – almost 20 minutes long, so to all you out there who think that my videos are too short, I hope you’ll enjoy that one!
Soooo… This exploration happened in mid-July, why do I write about it now? Because back then I was on vacation and had time to do some research on the Alte Martinsschule, especially since I was curious about all those alleged contradictions. And a few weeks later, in August, an article in a local newspaper laid out the plans for the school’s future. It seems like Sabine and I just got in and out before a company took over and removed the remaining materials in the school – with separate containers for wood, metal, insulating materials, and other stuff. The facadism was planned to take till late September, then gigantic hoisting cranes were supposed to dismantle the concrete elements of the Alte Martinsschule like a house built of Lego. The plan was to get everything done by late October. I did my best to find some updates on the progress, but no online source reported about delays or success of the plans, so I added six weeks buffer and finally wrote about this rather unusual German location in exceptionally good condition. If the Martinsschule still stands I guess I accidentally revealed a pretty amazing location, but I didn’t want to wait any longer and it would have been a waste to write about this unique school without telling its story!

Despite the BAMM towards the end, I absolutely loved exploring not only a German school (after I’ve been to dozens of Japanese school, which are amazing in their own regards!), but a German school with a connected sports hall and an indoor swimming pool; that’s pretty much as good as it gets in this category. Sure, a couple of more items left behind would have been nice, but I am pretty sure you are getting a general idea of what schools in Germany look like. Thanks for making it all to the end of one of the biggest articles this year: almost 1500 words, more than 40 photos and a 20 minute long video… 🙂

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Even Modern Ruins can be almost 200 years old in Germany – and the Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle (Hildebrand’s Lower Mill) was quite an impressive example, its history dating back to 1071…

The Codex Laureshamensis (or Lorsch Codex) is a manuscript created between 1170 and 1195 to document the rights and riches of the Abbey of Lorsch in modern Southern Hesse. For the year 1071 it mentions a grand mill in nearby Weinheim, owned by the abbey. Since today’s Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle has the location with the best conditions of all the mills in the so-called Sechs-Mühlen-Tal (Six Mills Valley), the general assumption is that the mill mentioned in the Lorsch Codex was a predecessor of the Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle. In 1845 the Hildebrand family bought the property, just before the industrial revolution reached the pre-unified Germany full on. Georg Hildebrand invested in the dying industry (countless small mills were literally and figuratively steamrolled by modern technology) with big plans – including a failed one to build a dam right next to the mill, 27 meters high. Instead the family business created one of the first fully automatic industrial mills worldwide. The landmark tower, finished in 1896 right next to the Gründerzeit mansion (1882), was able to store up to 5000 tons of flour.
In 1982 the company shut down and both the villa as well as the mill with the gigantic granary started to fall into disrepair. Several investors showed interest in converting the property into a senior citizen home, a hotel with a casino, an apartment complex, a brothel or a technology museum, but all those plans fell through… Mainly because the valley is rather narrow and has lots of traffic – and that the granary is heritage protected didn’t help either…

Upon my exploration of the Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle in 2012 a new investor just started (de)construction, fencing off the whole area, building a new bridge across the Weschnitz to provide heavy machine. The goal: Demolish everything that’s not protected by law, turn the villa into condos (between 500k and 625k EUR!) and build new apartments (283k to 735k) – the prices of up to 5900 EUR per square meter considered borderline insane for the area. In 2013 the first buildings were finally demolished, in autumn of 2014 the villa was scaffolded – the plan was to get everything done in 2016. The plan clearly didn’t work, as the last two photos of the set show, taken in 2016. The area is ready for the new apartment buildings and some renovation work, but except for demolition not much happened since my visit in 2012, mainly because the investor wasn’t able to pre-sell many of the apartments / condos.
Sadly those deconstruction works made it nearly impossible to get access to most of the area, and it took me a hike up and down a hill to reach the tower and the mill – the mansion was out of reach at the time. And even the area I was able to access wasn’t fun to explore, thanks to the more than questionable condition the buildings were in – it was basically one big death trap. Nevertheless I was able to take some neat inside photos and some scenic outdoor ones.

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If everything would have gone according to plan, I would have never been able to explore this abandoned nursing home somewhere in the mountains of Germany…

Japan is a great country for urbex, because of the general “out of sight, out of mind” and dodging responsibility attitude – plenty of buildings demolished a long time ago in other countries survive for years that way; places like *Nara Dreamland* wouldn’t happen there as a liquidator would step in and squeeze out every cent possible.
Germany on the other hand has a problem with bureaucracy and too much paperwork in general. Things that are clearly regulated and should take weeks or months to take care of take forever to approve – and then everything grinds to a stop, because somebody though he saw a rare frog nearby…
I guess something similar happened to the abandoned retirement home my sister Sabine and I were exploring during my trip to Germany in 2015. The facility was run by the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO, „Workers‘ Welfare Association“), who replaced it with a new one in 2005. The local city administration was aware of those plans, which required some planning, and decided in March 2004 to rezone the property from Gemeinbedarf (“public good”) to Wohnbaufläche (“general residential building area”), making it possible to build single-family houses with gardens that are so characteristic for this town. Sadly there is not much else known about the history of this retirement home – when it was built, how many rooms it had, what happened after it was closed…
When Sabine and I explored this location in summer 2015, almost all external walls were reinforced with iron lattice fence, and it took us a while to find a way in. The solid brick-built square construction was in decent condition, except for the fact that it was pretty much gutted and rather vandalized. Here and there we found small piles of cables, metal or fluorescent tubes, every other window still had little images on them children created for their grandparents. The former dining was still decorated with a piece of art hanging on the wall, a wheelchair standing in front of it. But overall it was a pretty empty building with a slightly creepy atmosphere. In it’s heyday though I am sure it was quite a sight, especially thanks to the large inner courtyard and the beautiful location in a Palatinate valley.

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Do you like beer? So much that you would like to bathe in it? No, because it sounds like a horrible idea?! If only somebody would have told the last owners of the Kurhaus Stromberg…

The history of the Kurhaus (“cure house”) or Kurhotel (“spa hotel”) in Stromberg began in 1909, when a teachers’ association revealed plans to build a convalescent home in the picturesque small town near Bingen, Germany. Planning and financing took five years (almost everything was a bit slower a century ago…), but on April 16th 1914 the laying of the foundation stone took place. After “the Great War” erupted, construction was put on hiatus, and finally finished in 1921 – mainly as a recreation home for the “Rheinischen Provinziallehrerverband” (that teachers’ association…), but also as a hotel and restaurant for the general public. In 1933 the Nazis took over pretty much all associations, including this one, and only years later the spa hotel became a military hospital. After the even less great war (WW2) and shorts stints under American and French military management, the Kurhotel was turned into a pulmonary health institute for released German POWs. State control continued in the 1940s, but switched from military to civilian use in 1948 when Rhineland-Palatinate’s ministry for social afairs took over… and finally returned the Kurhaus to the teachers in 1953. Turmoil continued as the hotel at first lost money and then was sold to the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (DRK, “German Red Cross”). In the following year the institution apparently made money and was expanded several times, until it was closed in 1983. After six years of maintenance without being used, the Kurhaus Stromberg was repurposed as a transition dormitory for ethnic German immigrants to Germany, when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989. In the mid-90s the DRK sold the hotel to a private investor, who did nothing with it until 1997, when the Hotel- und Restaurantbetrieb Kurhaus Stromberg GmbH (Hotel and Restaurant Kurhaus Stromberg Limited) introduced the previously mentioned beer spa… The sobering awakening followed in 2001, when the beery dream ended once and for all.
Originally built in a style called Domestic Revival and equipped with a mansard hip roof, the Kurhaus Stromberg is now considered a national heritage site under monument protection – at the same time it suffered from almost a decade of vandalism and 15 years without maintenance, which means that it can’t be quickly demolished, but it’s also highly unlikely that anybody would invest in the rundown building and its ragged garden the size of a park.

Since I focus on urban exploration in Japan, looking for abandoned places in other countries doesn’t have high priority to me… especially as I usually don’t have much time to travel within a vacation anyway. When I’m back home in Germany for two or three weeks per year, I usually explore in the southwestern part as this is the area where most of my family and friends live. The Kurhotel Stromberg looked kind of interesting, but the information I found was contradictive – some said the place was inaccessible, some claimed it was completely vandalized. Well, it turned out that the latter was true. Upon arrival my sister Sabine and I had the place to ourselves, but it took less than half an hour for about a dozen teenagers to arrive – on the one hand claiming to be surprised that the hotel was accessible at all, on the other hand making noise like a wrecking crew. It got even worse after they dragged it some boxes and bags, and it turned that they were trying to shoot an amateur horror movie. I told them that I would shoot some videos and that they might want to be quiet if they don’t want to end up on Youtube, but much like the noisy tourists at *Nara Dreamland* and the *Former Embassy of Iraq in East Berlin* they claimed that they don’t care and that I should just shoot whenever I want…

Both the Kurhotel Stromberg’s changeful history as well as the grand structure with its gorgeous white exterior reminded me of the *Maya Tourist Hotel*, probably the most traditional abandoned place in all of Japan. Both places are pretty much empty and quite vandalized now, both are used for photo and video shoots, both offer a couple of interesting angles, yet both are only shadows of their former glory. It’s a shame what happened to the hotel, but I guess that is what happens to the low hanging fruits. So if you ever wondered why I more and more often use generic names like *Kanto Hospital* or *Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel* – places like the Kurhotel Stromberg are the answer…

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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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