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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Why on earth would you nickname an abandoned mansion in the French mountains Chateau Banana? Well, the answer is surprisingly obvious…

Sometimes I wonder if I publish too many photos with my articles… probably around 30 in average, usually between 20 and 40. So far nobody has complained about too many photos, some people actually want even more pictures, but I often feel like I am watering down photo sets by posting too many average photos that show the average or below average parts of a location – because let’s be honest, only a handful of locations are interesting enough for 30 really good photos, a more realistic number is probably between 10 and 12 per set… and “just” good Pictures, which is in the ballpark of what I’ve seen of the Chateau Banana before exploring it. People were rather monosyllabic with information and stinted with photos, giving the impression that the Chateau Banana was a spectacular kitschy version of the now legendary *Chateau Lumiere*. The location wasn’t even on my radar as I just don’t have the time to intensely follow urbex trends outside of Japan, but luckily my reader Dennis made me aware of it and pointed me in the right direction without just handing me coordinates – very much appreciated!
The Chateau Banana is a rather recent discovery even amongst European urbexers, which is why there is only little known about it. Located in the Vosges Mountains, the Chateau Banana most likely originated as a private mansion maybe 80 to 100 years ago on quite a piece of land on the edge of a small town. Luckily my friend Nina and I found a quick and easy way in, because two hours and forty-five minutes into our three hour long drive it started to rain – the main door was locked, but the side entrance through the kitchen was only closed.
Kitchen instead of kitsch… The Chateau Banana was nothing like it looked like on the photos – at first. I’m sure it once was a majestic kitchen, but not at the time of our visit. The whole area was cluttered; boxes, cartons and random items stacked over each other, along the wall till underneath the ceiling – a path just wide enough to walk through leading deeper inside the eerie building. Lighting on the ground floor was difficult in general as most window shutters were closed and nailed shut – only a few of them had been partly “opened”, with the use of force and not without damaging the shutters. The hallway and most of the other rooms on the ground floor were as cluttered as the kitchen, only the gorgeous living room was in excellent condition… like on the photos I had seen. Since the lighting situation didn’t improve during the first few minutes we decided to explored the building from the top – two more floors plus the attic. The wooden staircase didn’t inspire confidence, but I had seen worse. At least it was made from massive, solid wood, much more sturdy than the lightweight construction I am used to in Japan.
The attic was not much of a surprise, maybe except for the fact that there was still laundry to dry on the clothesline rope. The floor below looked like it was privately used, with the peculiarity that that every room had its own bathroom, some even a dressing room. It was there where I found one of most unusual abandoned items ever – a fencing mask. A little less cluttered than the rest of the house it slowly dawned on us what was going on at the Chateau Banana. This wasn’t just an abandoned mansion – this was a failed conversion, private villa to hotel. The middle floor gave even more hints – most of the rooms there were almost done and ready to welcome guests, the most beautiful room with the biggest bath was labelled private though. Interestingly enough a lot of items we found at the Chateau Banana had German text on it – like the Happy Families card game with classical composers or pretty much all of the renovation material.
By the time I finished shooting the upper floors it stopped raining and the sun came out… for a few minutes, only to hide behind clouds again, and again, and again… Nevertheless I took a couple of photos in the beautiful dining room and living room – in such good condition that some of the tableware was still in the glass cabinet. Other items left behind included a great piano, an old bible and a turn of the century stroller plus quite a few pieces of furniture; whether they just looked like antiques or actually were antiquities is impossible for me to say. Just before we left I final look around, still wondering why this was called the Chateau Banana – and then it dawned on me. A lot of the boxes between the living room and the main entrance, stacked up to the ceiling, were actually banana cartons from a variety of companies…

At first the Chateau Banana was kind of a disappointment as it didn’t live up at all to the image I had in my mind based on the pictures I had seen beforehand. Luckily my friend Nina was extremely patient and allowed me to explore and take pictures for three and a half hours, sacrificing a second location I had in mind for the same day. It wasn’t an easy photo shoot, especially since I had to deal with a really crappy tripod (if you buy one, buy a good one – sadly I left mine in Japan as I was just on vacation…), some tight spaces and ever changing lighting. And yet I ended up with 40 photos again. Usually I post them in chronologically order – this time I will post them differently. The good ones first, then the crappy ones you usually don’t see on other blogs / urbex sites. So in the end the Chateau Banana was beautiful in its own way – but my favorite location in France is still the amazing *Chateau Lumiere*.

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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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Trains – most of us were fascinated by them when we were kids… and started to hate them when we had to take them to school or to work. I fell in love with trains again when I found a few of them fading away in sight of a still active line. Probably because they were the same models I remember from the 80s and early 90s.

I know that train aficionados are an extremely passionate and knowledgable bunch of people – and I have no clue about trains. As a history buff I know about their origins and importance for the industrial revolution, but when it comes to details… no idea! So there is not a lot I can say about the trains and machinery I took pictures of, maybe I even mislabeled one or two; my apology in advance for that!

The railroad system in Germany has a rather negative image – people love to complain about the prices, the lack of service, the frequency of trains, the (perceived) large amount of delays (interestingly enough the Deutsche Bahn counts trains up to five minutes late as “on time”…), the (lack of) cleanliness, and much, much more. And while there is no excuse for the often mediocre job the Deutsche Bahn does, one has to admit that they are still doing well in comparison. Overall the track network is rather tight and you can all big cities, most mid-sized cities and even a ton of small cities for reasonable prices – considering that there are no barriers to the tracks, which means a lot of people fare-dodge, which raises the prices for everyone who’s paying. From what I’ve experienced and heard (after working in international teams and various countries for about 15 years) the German system is much more reliable than let’s say in France, Spain or Italy and it is right up there with Great Britain and a bit below Japan. In many ways on par with Japan for international travelers – because as fun as it is to mock the rather poor English of the average Deutsche Bahn employee, at least they are trying to keep their international guests informed when something happens. In Japan? Nothing. If you are lucky a prerecorded message on the Shinkansen, but on the levels below or at train stations? Silence… between Japanese messages. Anyway – surely not a perfect system in many ways, but much better than its reputation among locals. (Which also applies for the country’s economy, politicians, bureaucracy, food prices, health care system, and much, much more…)

I explored the German Railroad Graveyard two years ago with my sister Sabine on an exceptionally bright and hot summer day. The access point was about a kilometer down the road from where we parked without a single patch of shadow, which wasn’t exactly a good start. Luckily the exploration itself was smooth sailing, despite the fact that the tracks next to the abandoned carriages and maintenance cars were still active – and you probably remember the *other time I explored along an active train line*… Kids playing on / near tracks is a rather common nuisance in Germany and often the official explanation when a line shuts down due to a suicide. Luckily we didn’t cause any problems and had a fun hour or two in and on the back of the trains. Despite rumors saying something different there is progress even within the Deutsche Bahn – and the trains changed drastically over time. The ones fading away were from the 80s / early 90s, the ones I grew up with – signs printed on paper within the cars implied that those carriages were used for training after being removed from active day to day duty. Then they ended up in the countryside, where some vandals had a go with them. Nothing too serious, but pristine would have looked differently. Overall a rather unusual exploration and a fun trip down memory lane.

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Big industrial locations are rather rare in Japan, so when I had the chance to explore the Ausbesserungswerk Trier, an abandoned train repair shop in one of the oldest cities in Germany, I was quite excited…

The Ausbesserungswerk in Trier dates back to 1911, when it opened as the main repair shop of the Preußische Staatseisenbahnen (Prussian State Railways) with 400 employees. In the following years the shop grew and grew – in 1943 almost 1500 employees took care of 885 locomotives. After being damaged in WW2, that number went down to 622 in 1954 and continually lower in the following years. In 1974 the last steam locomotive was repaired, and in 1986 the Ausbesserungswerk was shut down. After falling into disrepair the area was privatized, but only three buildings were converted into apartment buildings, most of the rest were demolished. Today pretty much only the main hall, the Lokrichthalle, still stands, partly cleaned out and surrounded by all kinds of businesses.

Back in 2013 my high school buddy Gil and I were able to sneak inside the Ausbesserungswerk Trier to take a couple of photos. Most of the building was in really bad condition already, hardly any window still intact. Despite being partly cleaned out it was an interesting exploration as the aesthetics were quite different from the ones I am used to in Japan – and there were a handful of large graffiti / murals that were absolutely gorgeous. Usually I can’t stand them at abandoned places, but those here were pieces of art, not like anything I’ve ever seen here in Japan. Overall I liked the similar locations in *Schwetzingen* and *Berlin* a little bit better, but exploring the Ausbesserungswerk Trier was definitely a good experience…

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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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