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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

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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The Glücks-Königreich (or Glückskönigreich – or Glucks Kingdom, when butchered by English speakers… sometimes Kingdom of Luck / Fortune) was a Germany themed park in Hokkaido, Japan; history, culture, fairy tales, and fun – all in one. Sadly the owners didn’t have much luck and didn’t make a fortune, though I am sure the park brought happiness to a lot of people while it lasted…

Opened on July 1st 1989 and closed in 2003 after just 14 years of being in business, the Glückskönigreich has been a popular urbex location half of its existence for both locals and foreigners, who time and again acted like douche nozzles by their own admission. Several years ago I read a story about how several English teachers (…), all foreigners from the Obihiro area, went to the Glückskönigreich and got caught by the owner, who still had an eye on the property (much like the owner of *Nara Dreamland* did). Why did they get caught and handed over to the police? Because some of those morons started to play a grand piano they found! Without the shadow of a doubt a new level of stupidity, ignorance and disrespect. Much like a more recent report of a (non-Japanese) girl who went to Glückskönigreich with her friends – and who couldn’t resist to post pictures of her “crew” heading back home with goodie bags after she wrote about how that bunch of c#nts (pardon my French!) looted the gift shops; I guess it’s not a surprise for you to hear that no more copies of the items she showed or described were still in the gift shop(s) when I went there…
“So why do you write about the Glückskönigreich under its real name and draw more attention to it?” That’s a valid question, one I am struggling with even since before I explored the place myself. To give you a plain and simple answer: The Glückskönigreich is a fascinating, well-known location past its prime, with its own Wikipedia page and an interesting history. Writing about it under a fake name would be pointless as people would figure out the real name anyway, so I have two choices: Putting it on hold indefinitely until I either run out of places to write about or the park got demolished (which I have done for the far less known *Shodoshima Peacock Park*… and which I am currently doing with quite a few other locations that are still virtually unknown) – or write about it now, piecing together the complex history of the Glückskönigreich for the first time in any language, as pretty much everybody else who has been inside the abandoned park was too busy bragging about their own bravery and / or mischief. I decided to choose the second option… like I did with Nara Dreamland, which brought joy to many, many people, most likely including you. And the Glückskönigreich is in lots ways the new Nara Dreamland… including the amount of visitors (I met about half a dozen people during my few hours there.. which is way above average for a Japanese location).

What is the Glückskönigreich?

The Glückskönigreich was a Germany themed amusement park that opened in 1989 near the Tokachi-Obihiro airport on a plot of land measuring about 800 by 250 meters (that’s more than 2.15 square feet, dear readers from the United States!). Right at the cutesy entrance it featured a full-sized wind mill and a West German pay phone booth TelH78 – a gorgeous large hotel based on the famous Schloss Bückeburg (Bueckeburg Palace), home of the princely family of Schaumburg-Lippe, including its spectacular ceremonial hall, opened in 1992. From the Schlosshotel Bückeburg (10800 Yen per person even 15 years ago in November – not a horrible deal, but not exactly a bargain…) visitors entered the main area of the kingdom through a replica of the town walls in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a super popular destination for Japanese tourists in Germany, part of the famous Romantic Road. The town square consisted of several half-timber houses, a few buildings reminiscent of German palaces in general, and a replica of the Rathaus in Hanau (made of sandstone!), including the sculpture of the Brothers Grimm in front of it! On the back of the city hall were almost a dozen more buildings in different styles from the early modern age – half-timbered, a castle, a church, a traditional straw-thatched house, and many more. Inside those houses were all kinds of shops and workshops – a traditional shoemaker, a butcher, a baker, a potter, several restaurants, a fairy tale house, several museums, … There was easily enough to see and do to spent a whole day, especially when interacting with all the German students and other expats posing as fairy tale characters or running the shops (when the park opened for a mere 70k per month, just 820 DM). But there was even more: Grimm’s Forest, a pay as you go amusement park with all the usual theme park rides that places like the *Tenkaen* or the *Shikoku New Zealand Village* were missing. Oh, and of course you could have your German dream wedding at the Glückskönigreich, thanks to the chapel in the park and the spectacular ceremonial hall at the Schlosshotel. The entrance fee was rather reasonable and probably changed over time, but the amounts I found were 1800 / 1400 Yen (adults / children) for the park entrance (rides not included) or 3800 / 3200 Yen for the Free Passport (rides included)… which actually looked like a one page copy of a German passport. At one point the park apparently even had its own money, at least I saw some specimen at the office in the Hanauer Rathaus.

The History of the Glückskönigreich

Why did the Glückkönigreich close? And why did it open in the first place? Neither of those question is easy or definitely to answer, so let me try to piece together information from more than a dozen sources in three languages – for the first time ever. Oh, I wish it would have been as easy as translating or rephrasing an article, which I am sure will sooner or later happen with this one… Either in one of the gift shops or in the main office I saw several dozen photos of what appeared to be research trips to Germany by a Japanese guy, including what appeared to be meetings with German officials; all of them either not dated or from the second half of the 1980s. This guy seemed to be a real estate tycoon called Atsuo Nishi, who had this great vision of a Germany themed park to improve tourism in Hokkaido; Obihiro, to be more specific, about 3 hours away by car from Sapporo. Now, this was the time of the Japanese real estate bubble and only the sky seemed to be the limit – according to an article of the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit from 1989 the (there nameless) founder of the park expected that visitors would come for day trips from as far as Tokyo thanks to nearby Obihiro Airport (though Tokachi-Obihiro Airport would have been technically correct as the old Obihiro Airport was replaced and renamed (to Tokachi Airfield) in 1981). And at first things seemed to go well – an article in Der Spiegel from February 1990 says that the Glückskönigreich had more than half a million visitors within the first six months, but sadly I never found out how much Zenrin Leisureland actually spent on this incredibly ambitious project. One thing is for sure: It wasn’t cheap and the spending was far from being over in early 1990! While most of the buildings were replicas, Nishi and Zenrin didn’t shy away from spending big bucks on things that made little difference. For example when they imported cobble stones from Dresden (sources that claim they were from Leipzig or Berlin are wrong according to Guntram Rother, who spent almost 1.5 years in Obihiro as the lead architect of the project, after he was hired by Nishi from his former position as the conservationist of the city of Kassel, where he was one of Germany’s leading experts in the preservation of physical structures) or hired German craftsmen for jobs Japanese experts could have done as well; 250k Deutschmark (DM) were spent on the plumbing at the Schlosshotel alone (on a company called Truss Haustechnik), still under construction by the time those two articles were written. Not to mention that the Glückskönigreich was able to buy two half-timber houses for 1.2 million DM each, one of them from the year 1702. They were dismantled near Wiesbaden and reassembled at the Glückskönigreich, despite being under monumental protection. “… We got them after we promised to give them back when we don’t need them anymore”, The Spiegel quoted Toshihiko Kimishima, the park’s PR guy – they were considered the oldest buildings in all of Hokkaido, now they are fading away! But it seems like the Glückskönigreich was ill-fated right from the beginning, despite its initial success: According to various sources, the place was named after the nearby Koufuku Station, koufuku meaning luck. The problem is: There never was an active train station near the Glückskönigreich ever! It probably was still there when the planning of the park began, but the station was shut down in 1987, but before the privatization of JNR! And that must have been a terrible blow to the Glückskönigreich, because now the closest station wasn’t just 3 kilometers straight down the road (cheap shuttle busses!) – it was 23 kilometers away in central Obihiro! But Nishi and Zenrin followed through with their plans and opened the park on July 1st 1989 with a gigantic party and hundreds of people, including a prince of the Imperial family, a member of the German embassy and several mayors of cities along the German Fairy Tale Route. Back then the reddish replica of the town hall in Hanau apparently was a hotel, but after the incredibly detailed yet super fake Schlosshotel Bückeburg was finished the Rathaus was converted into a museum, a restaurant called Hanau, and the main office of the park – at least that’s what it was during the time of my exploration. Another building became the John Lennon Art Gallery. Yes, the John Lennon Art Gallery. Apparently after 13 years Germany alone wasn’t a good enough reason to visit the Glückskönigreich, so the main attraction of the year 2002 was an exhibition of 16 John Lennon lithographs (from June on) – and I hope whoever owned them was able to get them back before the park closed “temporarily” in 2003 and officially in 2007. What happened in-between? Well, the usual – after some successful years in the early 90s with up to 740k visitors per year (which is almost 5 times the population of Obihiro!), the number of guests dropped quickly to about 300k in 1997 (causing a loss of about 430 million Yen, something like 3.7 million USD back then), and 200k in 2000, almost quadrupling the loss from three years before – devastating for a park of that size…

Exploring the Glückskönigreich

Despite the fact that the Glückskönigreich is slowly swallowed by its once surrounding forest, you can see single structures literally from miles away. Entering certain elements of the park can be tricky at times, especially since there have been reports of unpleasant sightings, like owners and bears. The Schlosshotel Bückeburg at the entrance is without a doubt still one of the main highlights. Still, because it looks awesome from the outside, but it’s a moldy hellhole inside. To this very day all doors I checked were either locked or locked by chains, but the ones pried open or with broken glass elements gave access to a smell as bad as anything I ever had to deal with during my explorations. The only reason I got inside was to look for the spectacular ceremonial hall, a pretty exact replica of the one at the original Palace Bückeburg. I found it after a while, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I hoped I would. Luckily some of the photos turned out well, so I guess you’ll enjoy it probably more than I did… 🙂 The surrounding of the Schlosshotel and therefore the way into the park is pretty much overgrown now, too. This place it not nearly as wheelchair or car accessible as *Nara Dreamland* was during its last few months… In addition to certain people looting, metal thieves have been busy too, stealing both piping inside the hotel and other buildings as well as statues and other metal objects outside. The John Lennon Art Gallery and its beerhall was almost as moldy as the Schlosshotel at the time of my visit, the same applies to most parts of the gorgeous Hanau city hall. The half-timbered buildings along the square started to collapse, probably thanks to regular floods. Apparently the cobble stone guys did such great work that the water doesn’t have a way to drain, so it sets the ground floors of the houses under water – even if it’s just a centimeter, the damage is done. The buildings behind the square and the city hall are still in much better condition – my favorites being a fairy tale house and the butchery. Man, I miss German cold meats, sausages, and bread – and it looks like this was probably the most authentic place to get them. Past the shoemaker in the straw-thatched house was the park’s part with the ride – but that’s a story for another time, this article is already long enough…
BTW: The last video I linked to at the end of the article is a music video, Fukai Mori by Do As Infinity – it was shot in early 2001 at the Glückskönigreich and gives you a nice idea what certain now completely rundown areas looked like…

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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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