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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

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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France and Belgium are famous for their sheer unlimited amount of abandoned mansions and villas, some the size of small castles – a kind of look you just can’t find in Japan. So when my good old buddy *Gil* suggested to explore the Chateau Lumiere during one of my summer trips to Germany (primarily to catch up with family and friends) I was quite intrigued…

Urban exploration in Europe, more often than not, is or borderlines infiltration as a lot of buildings are not really abandoned, but rather not inhabited or used anymore – regularly patrolled by security or caretakers, some with more or less tender nicknames. With the exception of *Nara Dreamland* I try to avoid locations with security and rather focus on the really deserted places; it’s just more relaxed when you don’t have to Solid Snake your way in and be paranoid while taking photos for hours. After friends reassured us that the Chateau Lumiere is one of the easy in and out locations I felt a bit better, but upon arrival after three hours on the road I wasn’t that sure anymore – the villa featured rather new “Keep out!” signs in French, clearly visible from the main street, the front of the premises almost completely overgrown. Easy in and out is relative, I guess, but in the end we found a way into the mansion… after Gil scouted the situation and came to the conclusion that there was nothing to worry about, neither security nor security systems. (Big thanks again, my friend, this exploration was all you! I just took some photos there…)

Entering the Chateau Lumiere (“Castle of Light”) it was instantly obvious why this neo-baroque style mansion from the early 1900s got its interesting nickname – even though it was a cloudy day and most of the window shutters were closed, a huge skylight impressively illuminated a big portion of the building on all floors. Gil started taking pictures on the ground floor, but I had to see more of the building, so I headed up one flight of stairs, then another, the building basically draped around the source of light in its core. Once the family home to a Swiss tobacco tycoon, it is said that the building was sold several times and used for business purposes after the original owner died / left in the 1950s. Since then most of the interior was removed or stolen, but the mansion still looked absolutely amazing, with countless details everywhere – for example massive glass blocks in the floors of one section of the hallway, allowing light to reach otherwise pitch-black areas of the villa. The wallpapers and the general setup of some hallways reminded me of something, I just couldn’t put my finger on it… but when I saw one very specific bathroom on the second floor (by Japanese count…), it hit me like the grip of Chris Redfield’s Samurai Edge – this was straight out of Resident Evil! Chateau Lumiere’s layout obviously was completely different from the Spencer Mansion, but the black and white bathroom and the narrow hallways all of a sudden gave me serious flashbacks to almost 20 years ago… Luckily there were no dogs jumping through any windows, but I developed an increasing craving for a sandwich. 😉
The rest of the building wasn’t a tiny bit less interesting – even the attic offered some nice spots to take pictures of. Sadly I forgot my tripod in my sister’s car the day before, so I had to borrow an old one from my dad… one that was a pain to handle, so I went through the villa twice – one time to take all the vertical shots, and then another time to take the horizontal ones (hence the weird looking gallery at the end of this article…). By the time I got back to the ground floor, the sun was already setting and we were losing light quickly. Even after three hours there was so much to see, so much to explore, so much to take pictures of. Unfortunately we had to leave, given the long drive home ahead of us.
If you are curious about the minor signs of vandalism – despite being one of the most respected abandoned places in Europe and mostly unharmed for years, a group of vandals severely damaged the Chateau Lumiere in spring of 2015. When pictures of the damaged mansion showed up on the internet, some local urban explorers gathered at the villa in April and cleaned up, trying to undo as much of the damage as possible, even including a regional French newspaper and the current owner – who didn’t seem to be too happy about the publicity stunt as it attracted even more attention to his property. New signs were put up and apparently one explorer ran into the guy in May, claiming that the owner threatened him with brass knuckles and tried to extort 50 EUR from him. I guess my uneasy feeling at the beginning of the exploration didn’t come out of nowhere…

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Once a massive air base and home to 13000 people, now a partly abandoned civilian airport – the Flughafen Frankfurt-Hahn is kind of a zombie facility in the middle of nowhere, more dead than alive, surrounded by countless abandoned and partly abandoned buildings.
The tax wasting drama began 1951 in Paris, when the occupying French forces decided to build a military airport in the countryside of Rhineland-Palatinate; 100 kilometers west of Frankfurt, Germany. A year later the United States took over and expanded the airfield to the seventh biggest Air Force base in Europe and the second largest in Germany – thanks to the 7356th Air Base Group. In late summer of 1953 the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was transferred from Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, and consisted of the 10th Fighter-Bomber, the 81st Fighter-Bomber and the 417th Fighter-Bomber squadrons; the last one being commanded by legendary test pilot Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager. Three years later the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was transferred to France for safety reasons, the Americans being worried that Warsaw Pact forced could overrun West Germany and get hold of the wing’s nuclear weapons. Over the years many different units / squadrons were stationed at Hahn Air Base, including the 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 7425th Air Base Group, and the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. When the Cold War ended, Hahn AB was one of seven major US air bases within 100 kilometers – and the first one to be closed. In 1991 all flying units were inactivated or transferred, and on September 30th 1993 most of Hahn Air Base (consisting of 672 apartments in 43 buildings, 25 barracks, 22 office buildings, 52 repair shops, 51 storage buildings, 343 hangars and bunkers, 23 shops, 5 schools, a hospital consisting of four buildings as well as more than 30 leisure facilities, including a golf course, a football field and a shooting range!) was returned to the German authorities, who had already decided to turn it into a civilian airport.
While current the name of the Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is borderline deceit of potential customers (it is located about 100 kilometers away from Frankfurt in another German federal state without a train or direct highway connection), the intentions were good – the remains of Hahn Air Base basically provided everything you needed to run a civilian airport, due to its remote location it came with a night flight permission, and Frankfurt Airport (the real one, 10 kilometers south of Frankfurt) was at its limits anyway. At first named Rhein-Mosel Airport and mostly run by Fraport (the same company responsible for Frankfurt Airport), the former military airport grew quickly from 19k passengers in 1997 to almost 4 million passengers in 2007 – but neither growth nor size means financial success, so Fraport sold its 65% shares to the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate for 1 EUR – and 120 million EUR in debt. In the following years the state tried to consolidate the airport, but passenger numbers dropped significantly to less than 2.5 million in 2014; a rather insignificant number in comparison to Frankfurt Airport’s 59.5 million. Despite losing about 10 million EUR per year and the state’s futile efforts to sell at least parts of its shares to investors, Rhineland-Palatinate keeps Frankfurt-Hahn running and is even investing it its future, reactivating / expanding a decommissioned railroad track by 2018 to make access to the airport more comfortable.

Meanwhile other parts of the former Hahn Air Base became abandoned and started to fall into disrepair. Despite most buildings being used by the Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, a police academy, and rented to private companies running a variety of businesses, a lot of them were of no / little commercial value in an area with low population density… especially the barracks / apartment buildings and their parking lots. Some have been demolished to accommodate the needs of the new civilian airport, but quite a few are still standing there, with open fences and barely visible “private property” signs.
Although other facilities in rather close proximity are still in use, most of the abandoned apartment buildings suffered severely from vandalism and consequential damages like mold; not so much externally, but inside – hardly any graffiti, but lots of smashed windows, shelves and fixtures. Some of the buildings have been boarded up after initial damages, but after 20 years of standing around without being used, you can see that whoever is in charge of the former housing area has basically given up on it. A handful of blocks were still in decent condition, but most of them looked like they were beyond repair. A few hundred meters away from the main area of abandonment we found a closed “Ringeltaube” (wood pigeon) shop, right next to and in the same building as the commissary of the Hahn AB. (I didn’t know about them either, but my sister was with the German Air Force for several years and did training at / with Lufthansa – and Ringeltaube is a chain of shops exclusively for Lufthansa employees; food and non-food.)

I guess it’s safe to say (and a bad pun) that the future of the airport Frankfurt-Hahn is up in the air – and so is the future of the remains of Hahn Air Base. Looking at the area on GoogleMaps, it is pretty obvious that the level of abandonment has increased since those satellite photos were taken – and so has the amount of destruction. While there were no signs of active demolition work, some of the apartment buildings still visible online are already missing… and the parking lot in front of the Ringeltaube / commissary is not nearly as busy anymore; it actually went down from several dozen cars to… zero. With that in mind it’s only a matter of time until all visible signs of Hahn Air Base are nothing but a memory, absorbed by Frankfurt-Hahn Airport… and nature. Let’s hope that the airport will survive the current struggle and be profitable soon – the livelihood of hundreds, probably thousands of people depends on it. And there are already enough abandoned airports all over the world… *even one in Frankfurt*!

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The Internationale Baumaschinenfabrik AG (IBAG, „International Construction Machinery Inc.“) in Neustadt, Germany, was a large manufacturer of building site equipment – from rock crushers over transit-truck mixers to revolving tower cranes, the IBAG built it all… until 1997, then they went bankrupt.

For about 1.5 decades the 6 hectare large area wasn’t used at all due to inherited waste, rundown structures and the lack of interest of potential investors – a fact that didn’t keep the state from declaring the old machine hall a cultural monument in 2001; which meant that the main structure had to be preserved and couldn’t be demolished. (It was built in 1910 by Wayss and Freytag, a famous German construction company.) From 2005 on the city started to develop a… development plan, deciding how much of the area could be used commercially and how much had to be residential. Since the former IBAG plant was located right next to a commuter train station (Neustadt-Böbig), an investor was found and rehabilitation work / cleaning up started in 2012 – soon after I explored the area with my sister Sabine in a last chance visit.
Due to the (de)construction activity the area was fortified with barbed wire and high fences, reports about security made the rounds, but nevertheless we found a way in. After just minutes on the premises, we just had left a room with a rusty waggon and went into one of a main halls, a young man ran past by us, completely ignoring us, leaving the site as if chased by the devil himself. Quite rattled by the surreal event we followed the guy outside, but weren’t able to catch him – nor was he followed by security, the police or guard dogs. After a few minutes we went back in, passed through another hall and heard noises again… voices… somebody singing… the radio of a security guard? No, somebody was singing live in the hall next to ours; the IBAG Hall, the one under monumental protection. We finished exploring the massive hall we were in (including a wall with a graffiti, collapsed / brought down after the artist was done with his work) and headed over to the IBAG Hall, the name still in large rusty letters above the half-opened roll-up door. The singing voice belonged to a gorgeous blonde of casting show age, but she and her filming companion were about to wrap up and left soon thereafter – once again leaving us alone on the risky premises on a workday afternoon. The IBAG Hall and its extensions to the side were absolutely beautiful, but thanks to large windows and big gates we were exposed almost all the time despite being inside a building. I addition to that we were running late for an appointment, so we wrapped up ourselves and left – if you are interested in the IBAG Hall, you’ll find more interesting shots in the video than in the gallery; sorry about that.
About a year after Sabine and I explored the Internationale Baumaschinenfabrik AG (in the summer of 2012) all the buildings on the premises were demolished, except for the IBAG Hall. Redevelopment of the area began soon after, including a supermarket, a drug store and 130 residential units; split across detached houses, duplex houses and row houses. The first project, the supermarket, was planned to open in summer 2015…
Sadly I didn’t find out much about the IBAG’s pre-bankruptcy history, probably because the company existed before the age of the internet – and while it was a big one with international ties all over the world, it wasn’t a brand of worldwide recognition; especially in its later years.
Exploring the IBAG was quite an unusual experience. Usually I avoid places with construction activities and security, but in this case I was just too curious – and of course the exploration turned out to be as nerve-wrecking and surreal as feared; from the runner just minutes after our arrival to the singing blonde towards the end. Since there are not many huge abandoned industrial sites in Japan, I was happy to finally explore one, though in the end there was not that much to see. Most rooms were already cleared and the two or three buildings we didn’t enter looked extremely dilapidated; potential death traps. But overall it was an interesting exploration – nothing mind-blowing, like the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine*, but still a good exploration…

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The Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf (Bahnbetriebswerk = railyard) is right next to the train station of the same name in Germany’s capital Berlin… and probably as famous as the *Spreepark* and the *Iraqi Embassy In The German Democratic Republic* – yeah, I was a lazy explorer last summer, going after the easy names instead of the unique locations like I do here in Japan. But I was kind of in a hurry and to the best of my knowledge, abandoned embassies and railyards are really rare in Japan, so it was a welcome change of aesthetics, though the insane amount of vandalism and other people there pretty much ruined the experience again.

The history of the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf dates back to the year 1893, which makes the area one of the oldest “modern” ruins I ever explored. Back in Prussian times the roundhouse (Rundlokschuppen) at the southern end of the premises was finished – then a high tech building to store and / or repair up to 24 trains at the same time, protected from the weather; thanks to its internal turntable, protected from frost. At that time, new and bigger train models were released much more often than nowadays. Soon the roundhouse became too small, so the Königlich Preußische und Großherzoglich Hessischen Staatseisenbahnen (“Royal Prussian and Grand-Ducal Hessian State Railways”) had to add a semi-oval train repair shop (Lokschuppen) in the northern part of the railyard. The advantage of that building was that it could be expanded according to the needs of new train models, the disadvantage was its outdoor turntable, exposed to the weather all year long and therefore failure-prone.
Both repair shops are still standing today. The roundhouse is actually one of only two left in all of Germany – and under monumental protection, which is probably one of the reasons why the whole area is one big ruin, despite the fact that it was sold by the Deutsche Bahn AG to real estate and furniture mogul Kurt Krieger in 2011, more than ten years after the railyard was closed. Yes, Kurt Krieger – long-time readers of *Abandoned Kansai* might remember that name from an article I wrote 20 months ago, about the abandoned furniture store *Möbel Erbe Hanau*; it’s the very same guy, what a surprise! (Gosh, I love it when separate stories come together like that!)

The Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf once covered an area of 250000 square meters (that’s almost 2.7 million square feet!) and gave work to hundreds of people, now that most of the train tracks have been removed, there are only about a dozen rotting buildings in various states of decay left – other buildings and more tracks further south have been demolished around 2006. Over the years, they all have been boarded up and torn apart several times, graffiti everywhere. I spent around two hours at the trainyard and ran into more than a dozen people; urbex for the masses. While I had the newer repair shop in the north for myself, the roundhouse in the south turned out to be a popular spot for photo shootings… and a large group of eight to ten people was just setting up. When they called for a meeting in one of the adjunct rooms, I quickly shot a short video and then got out of there to not further disturb them.
Exploring the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf was interesting, but a little bit underwhelming. I love those huge industrial sites from the Age of Industrialization, especially since they are so hard to find in Japan, but at the same time it was sad to see a rare building under monumental protection just rot away for monetary reasons, vandalized by bored morons – the railyard’s roundhouse is one of only two left in all of Germany, from an era so important for the whole country… for the whole world. It might not have been the most glamorous or the most just era, but it surely was one of the most interesting ones!

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

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

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

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

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

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Abandoned embassies are not exactly common finds in the urbex world, yet the deserted embassy of Iraq in Berlin has become kind of a tourist attraction, mentioned in several guides to Germany’s capital. For seasoned urban explorers like myself quite a weird experience…
The area around the Tschaikowskistraße (German for Tchaikovsky Street) in Niederschönhausen is dominated by mansions with large gardens, built about 100 years ago; the road itself leading up directly to Schönhausen Palace, a baroque palace dating back to a villa originally built more than 350 years ago. One exception is a small offspring of the Tschaikowskistraße, including the infamous number 51 – home to the former Iraqi Embassy in the German Democratic Republic a.k.a. East Germany. The area consists of half a dozen buildings constructed in 1974 by the Kombinat Ingenieurhochbau Berlin. The GDR was (in)famous for their huge plattenbau style architecture, simple designs built with prefabricated concrete slabs – and the new houses in the Tschaikowskistraße were no exception. Well, they were smaller and modified (inside walls were brick-built!) to suit the purposes of their new inhabitants: the ambassadors from France, Italy, Australia, Poland… and Iraq. After the collapse of East Germany those countries needed only one embassy in the now reunited Berlin, so they gave up the so called “Diplomatenviertel von Pankow” (Diplomats’ Neighborhood of Pankow), named after borough Niederschönhausen is located in. While the other nations packed their stuff, left and gave back the premises they were located on… the Iraqis just left. Background is a paralyzing mix of the complicated legal circumstance (there are different versions of who owns the land, the building and the usage rights) and a total lack of interest in resolving the situation; apparently neither Germany nor the Iraq are lifting a finger when it comes to Tschaikowskistraße 51. And so the building just stands there from early 1991 on – when the diplomats left due to the Gulf War and accusations that the embassy had been used as a weapons and explosives storage. As time went on more and more people had a look at the deserted embassy, then people started to take “souvenirs” – framed photos of Saddam Hussein, visas, documents, books, even parts of the interior furnishing. At the same time people started to vandalize the building; smashing windows, graffiti, arson. Then the press picked up the topic and in 2003 even the New York Times ran a piece about it. With no security, no police patrolling and nobody really caring about the building, dozens of regular Berlin tourist from all over the world show up there every day with a taken-for-grantedness bordering arrogance – something I wasn’t aware of when I finally reached the embassy; and a state of mind I am not used to as a seasoned urban explorer treating both the locations I visit as well as fellow explorers with all due respect.

The first thing I realized upon arrival at the former Iraqi Embassy In The German Democratic Republic was the fact that the surrounding buildings were occupied by a company called AiF Projekt GmbH, with no hint what this company was doing. The partly boarded-up embassy was located maybe 5 meters away from the street on the 5000 square meters big property – the only apparent way in and out a slightly opened lattice gate. Unaware of the complex ownership situation and the touristy reputation of this clearly rundown building, I tried to evaluate whether or not it was worth taking the risk of entering straight away in broad daylight, when a retiree walking his dog came up to me. We were having quite a nice conversation in which he was telling me all about the history of the embassy and the similar buildings right across the street, about his life in the GDR and how the powers that be couldn’t care less about the condition of the embassy, when all of a sudden a woman in her late 40s, early 50s interrupted. With an obnoxious voice and an even more obnoxious arrogant attitude she questioned basically everything the man said, because she read about the place in a tourist guide and did some research of her own – basically calling the poor old man a liar and storyteller. The poor fella really took it to heart, getting red in the face, starting to shake involuntarily… and then he left, but not after voicing that he wished the place was gone and that he would love to call the police 20 times a day. Which I totally understood, because I have to admit that I hardly ever met an argumentative person like that in my whole life, especially not since I moved to Japan where a dis(s)cussion like that is completely unheard-of.
Slightly worried whether or not that nice old man would call the police from pure spite and hatred for that strange woman, I entered the embassy through an open door – only to realize that the place was a mess, one of the most rundown and vandalized locations I have ever explored, a real piece of trash. The architecture and the style of the building was like nothing I would ever be able to see while exploring in Japan, so I got my camera ready and started to take some photos, when I ran into that middle-aged woman from before again, outside on a balcony. I cut the conversation short as she was desperate to get my confirmation about how she was right, not just with the arguments she had, but with the way she presented them. So I basically fled to the upper floor… where I ran into three guys of questionable looks – halfway between squatters and drug addicts. What the heck was going on here? They approached me in English and we had two minutes of meaningless small talk. Luckily they weren’t squatting druggies, just British tourists; though one of them way clearly drunk and most likely high! Down at the ground floor again, I stepped into main hallway, when I saw a teenage girl coming down the staircase while another middle aged woman (wearing a too tight skirt and flip-flops!) was blaring “See, now they are creeping from their holes!” at us in German as if we were a bunch of cockroaches, before leaving with her Cartman looking son. Seriously, WTF? There was an endless coming and going of random people, something I’ve never seen before – I easily met more people at the former Iraqi Embassy In The German Democratic Republic in the hour I spent there than in five years of serious urban exploration in Japan! I wasn’t even able to shoot a decent video without anybody yelling or walking through background; Christian Bale most likely would have gone nuts! After an attempt or two I approached the latest group of urbex tourists, a handful of French twens, and told them that I intended to shoot a video that could end up on Youtube… and they were like “Yeah, we don’t mind being seen or heard in it, just go ahead!” – I still tried to avoid people, but you will see / hear some of them in the clip at the end of this article.

“Interesting” is the kindest word I was able come up with to describe my experiences in Berlin… in general. Back in the early / mid-90s the Iraqi Embassy must have been one of the most exciting abandoned places in the whole world – untouched, full of items left behind, 20 years of intense history. Now it’s an involuntary tourist attraction, vandalized and overrun, from urban exploration as far away as infiltration. What a shame…

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