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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Nature loves Germany – no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tornados, hardly any venomous animals or floods! So bricks as a building material have been popular and in high demand for centuries… just not high enough to save the Brick Factory Rhine.

The Brick Factory Rhine was built in 1965 and therefore was a rather modern and large scale brickworks. Business was good for about 30 years, but in 2001 the financials finally collapsed and a company collecting and disposing materials like dioxin and asbestos moved onto the premises, actually using the ovens to burn off some of the stuff – when it also went bust after five years, tons of special waste were stored all over the place. It took local authorities three years and almost 2 million EUR to get rid of the inherited waste and they took over in 2012 when the compound was finally foreclosed – and of course soon later a case of arson destroyed the offices (causing damages of about 50k EUR). Not much happened since then. The local authorities are trying to sell the property, but developing a legally binding land-use plan apparently takes forever, especially since the factory is on land that gets flooded regularly once every decade or so.
In Japan I try to stay away from “abandoned” properties that are owned by the state, because… of bad experiences, but in Germany state employees are much more relaxed than in post-Imperial Japan. When I grew up in Germany, the police was promoted as “Your friend and helper”, with the informal version of “your” – and I don’t recall a single bad experience with the guys. In addition to that, the brick factory is in the middle of nowhere, but along a somewhat busy road, so we parked out of sight and walked the remaining couple of hundred meters. Nowadays there seems to be a construction fence around the property, but back in 2014 you could just walk in and have a look around. Unfortunately I explored the factory after the place was cleaned out… and after the arson, so there weren’t a lot of items left behind. Nevertheless the Brick Factory Rhine offered quite a few photo opportunities just based on the fact that it was a big abandoned industrial site with all kinds of tanks, pipes and ovens – which is hard to find in Japan, for whatever reason; I guess here factories are used till they are held together by little more than chewing gum and duct tape – and then they turn into dust during the next typhoon. The lack of items also made the factory look much better than it actually did, because there wasn’t a lot of broken stuff lying around, despite the fact that pretty much everything left behind was actually broken. An unusual, handheld, quick (40 minutes + plus video) exploration. I’ve experienced worse… 🙂

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Military explorations are always some of the most uncomfortable ones as you never know how abandoned or risky they really are – and what the consequences will be if getting caught…
Luckily exploring this abandoned shooting range near Dudenhofen in Germany was a rather relaxed operation. After spending a couple of hours at the pretty impressive *German Countryside Retirement Home*, my sister Sabine and I went to a small town outside of Speyer to have a look at a rather little known location similar to the *Military Shooting Range Neustadt*, which we explored three years prior. The front entrance featured a massive locked gate with large warning signs (Military Area! No trespassing! Contraventions will be prosecuted!), but it didn’t take us too long to find a rather easy way in. Interestingly enough the first things we found weren’t signs of a military installation, but dozens of boxes for beekeeping, probably put there by an amateur apiarist… and countless bees flying around. A blast from the past, because while I was studying Japanese history, I had to get credits outside my main subject, too – so I participated in a hands-on class about bees and beekeeping taught by the biology department; four hours every two weeks, one of the most amazing experiences of my university days! Unfortunately the abandoned shooting range itself wasn’t that impressive – a couple of concrete arches, partly wooden clad. No big bunker or a large bullet trap. Nevertheless a nice little outdoor exploration on a sunny summer day. Perfect as a filler in a busy week like this…

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The Patton Barracks in Heidelberg, once the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg, were closed in 2013, along with the nearby Patrick Henry Village – earlier this summer I had a quick look…

While the PHV was quickly used as an emergency shelter for refugees of the European Migrant Crisis after being transferred to the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben (“Institute for Federal Real Estate”) in mid-2014, the Patton Barracks went a different way and got bought by the city of Heidelberg, who has big plans with the property that included 29 buildings (everything from storages and repair shops to a theater and even a church!) on 14.8 ha and has access to two street car and bus stops. Currently there are two main projects going on – the planning and construction of an indoor sports arena for up to 5000 paying visitors (planned grand open: October 2019), and a brand-new high tech center (Heidelberg Innovation Park, HIP) for IT, digital media and industry 4.0 businesses to keep up with the city’s latest twin towns – Palo Alto and Hangzhou!
Sadly I wasn’t able to find out much about the history of the Patton Barracks. Apparently it was founded before World War 2, but the first mentioning I found was in connection with the 110th Infantry Regiment, which was activated in 1936 and lead to the construction of a new base (from 1938 on Großdeutschlandkaserne, after WW2 Campbell Barracks) as the existing Grenadier-Kaserne (now Patton Barracks) wasn’t big enough. In 1952 the Patton Barracks became the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg… and 61 years later they were closed, leading to the current activities.
Sorry, just a small article about a quick Exploration, but Abandoned Kansai has a long history of covering closed US military bases in Germany, going all the way back to the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* in 2011. Next week’s piece will be much more… mysterious… and Japanese! 🙂

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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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