Archive for the ‘Federal Armed Forces’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Radio Relay Site Langerkopf is a relic of the Cold War and one of the urbex highlights of my summer trip to Germany in 2013. Sometimes referred to as CRC Langerkopf (CRC = Control and Reporting Center), this former US communications installation looks like a mix of summer camp and high security prison. It is named after the highest point of the Mosisberg (Mount Mosis?), called Langer Kopf (long head).
The history of the Langerkopf site dates back to the 1950s and 60s. Back then the base was indeed a Control and Reporting Center, manned by the 603rd AC&W Sq (603rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squardron) and featuring a radar unit called “Surveillance Radar” just outside of the current premises. In the late 60s the station was remodeled and taken over by the Det 4, 2134th Comm Sqnd (Detachment 4, 2134th Communications Squadron) of the USAFE contingent in the area, to function as a microwave radio relay hub for the European Telefone System called AUTOVON as well as for the radio data transmission system AUTOSYN. From the 1980s on the station was operated remotely before it was shut down and partly demolished in 2007.
In late 2011 a couple of scenes for the German mystery thriller “Lost Place” (the rather ridiculous “German” term for an abandoned location… amongst both geocachers and urban explorers) was shot at the Langerkopf site. I would sum up the story for you, but the flick ended up with a 5.2 rating on imdb.com, so I guess it’s safe to say that nobody gives a damn anyway.
Also on the premises and still in use till this very day is a tiny unmanned, but definitely secured station of the AFCENT CIP 67 system (Allied Forces Central Europe Communication Improvement Program 1967).
Sadly I couldn’t find a more detailed history of the Radio Relay Site Langerkopf – and even the little I found I had to compile from half a dozen sources, both English and German. It also looks like that the whole area was locked up after my visit, with official tours now organized by BUND / AK Denkmalschutz, IG Area One and VEWA.

Despite being (in)famous for its foggy weather, my friend Catherine and I arrived in Palatine and at the Langer Kopf during the most beautiful sunshine possible. While recent photos show the heavy gate shut tight, it was wide open when we carefully approached the former military base. The massive concrete walls behind the barbed wire NATO fence were impressive to a degree that we both felt a bit intimidated. We expected a run-down collection of shacks somewhere in the woods – not a high security prison that could hold the Joker! We passed another gate to get closer, only to find all the doors of the installation busted wide open, the interior smashed to pieces; graffiti everywhere. Outside, below the radio relay tower, some kind of generator. Heading further east we passed what once must have been some kind of security checkpoint with what looked like embrasures. The building there, yellow and in good condition from the outside, turned out to be a gym on the upper and an administrative building on the lower floor – severely damaged on the inside by arson, but at least not completely burned out like the next building.

Back outside and the smell of burning still in my nose, I headed over to the AFCENT CIP 67 station – barbed wire fence, use of firearms warning, really nothing to see.
Well, nothing except for the back part of the Langerkopf Radio Relay Site. Which looked pretty much exactly what I had expected in the first place: severely vandalized, decaying buildings from the 1960s, 70s and maybe 80s. The first one to the right must have been the barracks for the personnel (basically gutted now), followed by some light shacks beyond repair, mainly consisting of brittle wood and thin metal. To the left another building that looked decent from the outside, but was severely damaged inside – while about every second abandoned place in Japan shows signs of airsoft players, Europeans prefer paintball; you can imagine the results… and if you can’t, just have a look at the photo gallery below!
At the farthest end of the base, close to the barbed wire fence, we explored a one room building with turquoise pipes and storage tanks, probably the (backup) power supply of the station. Not only did we not expect to see that lovely color at a highly secured military base – we also didn’t expect to find a July 1991 copy of Model Railroader! If you left yours there, you might be happy to hear that it’s still waiting to be picked up…

The Langerkopf Communication Station was close to what I would call a perfect exploration. In the middle of nowhere, open, unique, in decent condition overall (or at least in interesting condition), just the right size, beyond my expectations, fantastic weather, lovely company. In a perfect world the place would have been barely touched, but considering reality, this was pretty much as good as it gets. Good times – especially after exploring the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage* earlier that day! 🙂

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

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

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

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Japan is one of only 25 countries in the world without military – at least by some people’s definition. Others see it a little bit different thanks to Japan’s Self-Defense Force (自衛隊, Jieitai) with active personnel of about 240,000 people – plus about 60,000 in reserve. Abandoned military institutions are nevertheless rare in Japan, usually places (partly) given up by the Americans, like the Tachikawa Air Base, the Fuchu Air Base or Camp Drake – all located in the Tokyo / Yokohama area.
So when I was back in my home country of Germany for vacation I was eager to explore a military basis of the Federal Armed Forces / Federal Defense Force / German armed forces – or just Bundeswehr (that’s what they are called in German). While the Jieitai are still going strong the Bundeswehr had to deal with several structural reforms over the past two decades, main reasons for that being the fall of the Iron Curtain and the German reunification in 1990. Back in the 1980s the Bundeswehr had about half a million employees (career soldiers and conscripts), in 2010 the number was down to 250,000 – with plans to reduce further to a little as 175,000 soldiers; about a quarter of what both German armies (Bundeswehr and NVA (Nationale Volksarmee – National People’s Army)) had combined in the late 1980s… Reducing personnel that seriously you can’t (and won’t…) maintain all the military bases. A lot of them were demolished, some got reconverted to housing projects and business parks – but a few slipped through the cracks and became abandoned; because nobody took proper care or because there were problems reusing the property.
The Federal Armed Forces Depot Pfeddersheim (Bundeswehr-Depot Pfeddersheim – officially “Wehrbereichsgerätelager IV”) is one of these cases where the infamous German bureaucracy took its toll; on a personal note: German bureaucracy actually isn’t that bad, especially when compared to other countries. Built to house Car Pool Company 621 (Fahrzeugpark-Kompanie 621 – and by company I mean the military unit, not the business…) in the early 1950s on the site of the the cannery Braun AG (Konservenfabrik Braun AG), a factory of international fame in business from 1871 till 1951, the depot was one of the main Bundeswehr storages in Germany for many decades. It was closed with effect from 2004-12-31 with the last employees leaving by 2005-03-31 – at that point only 14 people were working at the depot.
Of course early on local politicians were aware what was going to happen and they tried to make use of the location as smoothly as possible, even visiting the still active depot in late 2004. Since Pfeddersheim lost its indepence in 1969 and now is part of the venerable city of Worms a lot of people have a say in what’s going to happen – the Institute for Federal Real Estate (Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben / BIMA), a city planning officer from Worms, a municipal administrator from Pfeddersheim and of course the citizens of Pfeddersheim; just to name a few. And while everybody was debating whether the depot should be turned into a housing project with a supermarket or being used by established and new businesses the usual hordes of bored youth vandals trashed the place – seven years later the property is still for sale, one of the latest suggestions was to build a showcase project for climate protection housing.
Well at least the buildings were still standing when I paid them a visit in July of 2011 with my high school friend Ira. The main gate was wide open when we arrived and as we were about to enter a building we saw a guy on a bike coming towards us. Judging by his shirt he must have worked for the local public utility company and brought back one of the municipal vehicles. So I told him what I was doing (urbex, Japan, photos…) and if we could take some pictures – he didn’t seem to like the idea, but after some more explanation he said that the main gate actually isn’t locked sometimes; so I told him that we didn’t see him if he didn’t see us – and off he went, with a word of warning that his colleague will lock the gate in the near future. So while I was exploring the first building Ira got familiar with the area and had a look for the colleague to come. When we were about to enter the second building the other guy actually showed up in a car – he stopped next to us, so I told him what I was doing (urbex, Japan, photos…) and if it was okay to take some pictures. He said it was and drove away only to be back a couple of seconds later. “Why?” Well, to keep the memories about those places alive – it’s always nice to hear from people who have been to / worked at places that I visited in their abandoned state. He put up a “those young, crazy people – I’m going to have a beer now and do better things with my time” smile and drove away, this time for good. So Ira and I explored the second building, the open repair shop and strolled along the sealed warehouses and garages. When we were about to leave we found the main gate closed – and locked. The second guy forgot to mention that he would actually do that! Luckily we found an alternative way in and out of the depot while exploring the location – and now was the time to make use of that knowledge…
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