Archive for the ‘Hesse’ Category

The world famous Rhein-Main Airport in Frankfurt is more active than ever, but like most other big cities, the Hessian banking metropolis had more than one airfield available when aviation was in its early days – the now abandoned Military Airport Frankfurt-Eschborn was one of them.

Built by Nazi Germany as part of the preparations for war, the Military Airbase Frankfurt-Sossenheim (later renamed after Frankfurt’s district Eschborn, or in German: Militärflugplatz Eschborn) was constructed at some time between 1935 and 1939; information varies due to the utmost secrecy of the project. The airport originally consisted of five hangars made of bricks while the rest of the buildings, including the commandant’s office, were made of wood. The runway was a simple patch of grass, kept short by a herd of sheep (hence the code name Schafsweide, sheep pasture) –concrete areas were in front and inside of the hangars to store and maintain the aircrafts. The main purpose of the airport: training pilots and getting military gliders behind enemy lines. The first flying units were stationed at the Military Airbase Frankfurt-Eschborn in 1941, the same year further construction was stopped in favor of the Rhein-Main Airport just some 10 kilometers away. The Nazis used the airfield till August 15th 1944, when it was severely damaged by an American airstrike.
Even before the official end of World War II the Americans took over and the Military Airbase Frankfurt-Eschborn became Camp Eschborn (Y-74). They had some of the damages repaired by German prisoners of war and used the facilities as an alternate airport until the destroyed Rhein-Main Airport was rebuilt. After that the area was used by sapper units with heavy equipment. Overall the Americans were rather secretive about Camp Eschborn, and rumors have it that atomic mines were stored there in case the Cold War would turn hot and the Russian would try to break through the Fulda Gap.
Camp Eschborn was used till October 15th 1991 (when the 317th Engineer Battalion left) and finally returned to the German State in 1992. At first some of the barracks were used to house asylum seekers, then most of the buildings were demolished, so the area could be turned into a nature reserve and a commercial zone. What finally will happen to the rest of the former flying field is still up in the air, and until then the one remaining hangar and a couple of partly demolished buildings are used by several groups for regular training sessions, including the Federal Agency for Technical Relief and the German Federal Police – both training with dogs, which is one of the reasons why you should be extra careful at this only partly abandoned place. Oh, and a bunch of minors (not miners!) use the area as a hangout!

It were those minors and my friend Torsten that made exploring the rather unspectacular remains of Camp Eschborn so memorable. As you can imagine, the remains of the hangar area were fenced off and we had to find a way in. As chance would have it, we saw a bunch of those kids, teenagers… age 14 to 17, probably… and while I would have avoided them completely, my old buddy was up for a little chat and waved them over. Torsten is the fatherly friend kind of guy, always mellow, always friendly; must be the social worker in him. So he talked to those kids for a while, gained their trust, and of course they told him how they got in and described to us how we could, too, maybe a 20 minute walk from where we were on the other side of the area. We thanked them and were about to leave or even already turned to go, when Torsten addressed them again with something like: “Uhm, guys, that stuff in your hands… that isn’t beer, is it? You look way too young to be of legal drinking age! That stuff really isn’t good for you at your age…” I know I probably should have been more loyal to my friend, but he totally cracked me up with that, so I bursted into laughter: “Dude, you just interrogated those kids for five minutes on how to commit trespass – and now you give them a lecture on legal drinking age?!” while at the same time the guy on the other side was like: “I am 16 already. I know I look younger, but I swear, I am already 16!” (And 16 is the legal drinking age for beer in Germany…) It was just hilarious! Everything calmed down immediately after that, of course. But for a second or two this was one of the funniest things ever to me. After the guy left with his bottle and I convinced Torsten that it really didn’t matter if he was 15 or 16 (though I barely ever drink alcohol myself and I wouldn’t mind if they’d change the legal drinking age to 20 or 21, like in many other countries), we continued on the road we would have continued on anyway… and found a hole in the fence just around the next corner.
The rest of the exploration was less entertaining and not exactly spectacular, though of course we met our teenage friends again, who were hanging out with more of their friends – and the second group clearly wasn’t happy at all that the leader of the first group turned into some kind of self-proclaimed guide for us. Neither were Torsten and I, because first of all it destroyed the atmosphere just a tiny little bit – and then there was the risk factor. The buildings, including the hangar, were in pretty bad condition and I have no problem taking responsibility for myself. But at the same time I was a bit worried that one of those slightly drunk youngsters would hurt themselves… and then what? I don’t need stuff like that, so after a while we managed to say goodbye when the second group left us with a little speech about how they planned on climbing the roof now. At that point we had seen most of the few leftovers anyway, despite the fact that most of the hangar windows were bricked up, so we went to the maintenance concrete area, where I shot the usual walkthrough video before we finally left the former Military Airport Frankfurt-Eschborn.

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My summer vacation to Germany in 2013 felt a little bit like the weirdest USO tour ever as I was basically heading from one abandoned military base to the next – in the end I went to about a dozen of them, ranging from “demolished” to “dangerously decaying” to “in almost perfect condition”. And of course some of them turned out to be just closed and heavily guarded… but since urbex is one big grey area I’ll write about all of them sooner or later.
The Babenhausen Kaserne I remember vividly from back in the late 1990s, when I saw it every couple of weeks on my way from my hometown to my place of study – I was always impressed by the massive red stone wall and the surprisingly beautiful buildings, but I had no idea that its history dated back to the turn of the century (between the 19th and 20th century that is…).

After the necessary negotiations with the Reichstag and the war ministry in 1899 (pre-Orwell and therefore pre euphemisms like Ministry of Defense!), the construction of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in the following year, with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 3rd. 15 months later the construction of 21 buildings and a water tower were finished and the 2nd battalion of the 61st field artillery regiment of the Grand Duke of Hesse was the first unit to move in. Almost 13 years down the road, on August 7th 1914, the regiment was transferred to fight in World War I. Now empty, the Kaserne soon was used as a hospital during the war. Upon Imperial Germany’s defeat in November 1918 the regiment briefly returned and then was deactivated in December; three months later the hospital was closed. In the following 15 years the Kaserne had many tenants: a French infantry battalion, a Reichswehr regiment, the Hessian security police, the Hessian police school, a section of the University of Darmstadt, the SA, the 36th Field Artillery Regiment, a horse riding and driving school for the German cavalry, a flying school and development detachment, a maintenance company, a Flak unit and several other smaller groups – and for some time it was even completely empty.
On March 25th 1945 the 3rd infantry division of the US Army liberated Babenhausen, confiscated private houses and used the Kaserne as a camp for displaced persons and as a POW camp for up to 30.000 German soldiers – PWTE-A-20 was disbanded in October 1946…
In May 1947 the US Army officially took over the Kaserne for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), organizing refugee camps for Russians and Poles as well as shelter for displaced people from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
From February 1951 on the Kaserne became a military purpose again. The US Army expanded the base and in August the 36th field artillery group moved in – followed by the 36th FA GP; 18th, 519th and 593rd field artillery battalions, the 41st field artillery group (later becoming the 41st field artillery brigade). In the early 1990s the HHB 41 Brigade, 1/27 FA, 4/77 FA, 77 Maintenance Co and the 72nd Ordnance Battalion supported Operation Desert Storm from Babenhausen.
The deactivation of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in 2005 and on July 9th 2007 more of 100 years of military history ended with a closing ceremony.

Phew – researching and writing about the history of the Kaserne in Babenhausen actually took a lot longer than exploring it as the whole area was fenced off and guarded very well. Heck, when I got close to the main gate a watchdog started to bark and didn’t stop until I was very, very far away. Heading for the back of the area, now home to a small airfield, didn’t do much either – barbed wire metal fences, concrete blockades and massive gate made it impossible to infiltrate the base without getting hurt or caught by security.

Sadly the future of the Babenhausen Kaserne is still uncertain. Right after the barracks were closed several interest groups developed the Brundtland-Park concept, but a dedicated homepage in German hasn’t been updated since 2009. More recent news articles show that there has been lots of talking in the past years, but no decision making – and so the area is slowly decaying, heavily guarded…

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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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Abandoned furniture stores are quite rare, I’ve actually never heard of one before. Most of the times they are located near shopping malls and either the direct competition takes over and slams their name on it – or some other giant store is happy about aquiring cheap real estate with lots of selling space. Möbel Erbe was different though – and it ended in a fascinating but sad story about greed and incompetence…

First of all, just in case your German is rusty: Möbel means furniture. So Möbel Walther is a furniture store named after the Walther family, Möbel Kraft was named after the Kraft family and Möbel Erbe… right, after the Erbe family.

Until the mid-2000s the Erbe family owned two huge furniture stores, one in Hanau near Frankfurt (more than 50000 square meters, which equals about 538200 square feet) and one in Schkeuditz near Leipzig (about 25k sqm). There might have been a third store, but more likely is that some authors were confused by stores of the same name or by not knowing much about geography.  (E.g. Dölzig is near Schkeuditz, but it’s highly unlikely that Möbel Erbe would have run two stores of that size within five Kilometers of each other.) It was generally tough to find information about the company’s history, specifics about furniture stores are not exactly popular a topic on the internet…
What I was able to find out was that in 2000 Möbel Erbe expanded their original company home with a 5-storey, 30000 sqm building right across the street and connected it with a glass bridge. The so-called “Eurostore” aimed at a younger audience, kind of an IKEA clone. Successfully, according to news reports from 2002, when owner Thomas Erbe was awarded the “OSKAR für den Mittelstand” (OSKAR for Small and Medium Sized-Businesses”) by the Oskar Patzelt Foundation; kind of the Academy Award of enterprises in Germany – which is why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued… and settled out of court after seven years in 2005, with the prize being renamed to “Großer Preis des Mittelstandes” (Grand Prize of Small and Medium Sized-Businesses). Erbe reportedly was chosen from almost 1000 companies after being nominated four times in previous years. Basically a rock-solid company from all I know, with more than 100 Million Euros revenue per year…

In 2005 strange things happened… In February media reported that the furniture store chain “Sconto” was trying to get permission to build another store in Großaurach near Hanau, but residents and politicians there voiced opposition. Sconto belongs to Kurt Krieger, who also owns Möbel Kraft, Möbel Walther as well as Höffner – plus probably some more, but the company structure is complicated and at least one of his daughters, Sonja Krieger, is in the business, too; acting indepedently, of course. Anyway, Sconto in Großaurach near Hanau wasn’t going to happen and so on July 1st Höffner announced the acquisition of Möbel Erbe out of nowhere; Kurt Krieger in control of Hanau, Sonja Krieger in control of Schkeuditz; and Thomas Erbe told a newspaper that he considered himself responsible personally that nobody gets fired.
Three weeks later Sonja Krieger announced that Möbel Erbe in Schkeuditz would be closed due to the store’s catastrophic economical situation she said she wasn’t aware of before… Yeah, right. Daddy’s in the furniture business since 1967 and is #2 right behind IKEA in Germany and they had no clue what they were buying… so they had to close… by the end of August! Right. But it gets worse!
Four weeks after the aquisition of Möbel Erbe in Hanau and just one week after his daughter fired 120 people in Schkeuditz (the Krieger family conglomerate owned two gigantic stores nearby and didn’t offer any of the former Erbe employees jobs there…) Kurt Krieger announced that Möbel Erbe in Hanau would be closed. But he wasn’t in a rush. While his daughter gave her employees only five weeks notice, “Karate Kurti” was nicer and gave them seven weeks… The reasons given? Same as is in Schkeuditz, the catastrophic economical situation of the store. This time 230 employees were fired, despite (or because of…) the fact that the Krieger family owned two other mega stores less than a dozen kilometers away from Möbel Erbe in Hanau, which was closed in mid-September. But it gets worse!
On December 27th a Sconto furniture store opened in Hanau… in the building formerly occupied by the Eurostore. Yes, in the exact same Möbel Erbe extension Kurt Krieger bought along with the main building… and whose employees he fired just four months prior! Oh, BTW, according to media reports Kurt Krieger’s personal fortune is about 600 million Euros…
(This is the story how I pieced it together from about two dozen news reports I found online. If any former employee or other insiders know more about the story please feel free to correct me or add bits and pieces!)

Eight years after the main store was closed, it is still empty and in worse shape than ever. The latest media reports about the completely vandalized building are from 2011, stating that Kurt Krieger suggested several business plans about food retail and electronic stores, all of which were declined by the Hanau city council, which decided in 2005 that they won’t allow any other retail stores on the premises in an attempt to proctect retailers in downtown Hanau from mega stores in the outskirts. So the inevitable happened and airsoft players, graffiti sprayers and vandals took over.

Interestingly enough I had never heard of the abandoned Möbel Erbe Furniture Store before, despite its quite exposed location – it was actually my sister who spotted it from the car when we were on our way to some closed / abandoned military bases in Hanau, including the *Pioneer Kaserne* I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. For some reason the place doesn’t seem to be very popular with German urban explorers… but I actually enjoyed it. Sure, there was not much to see and the huge storage in the back was partly demolished already, but if you had a closer look you could find some interesting things, like the almost completely broken window front or a couple of items like old order forms and left-behind 5.25” floppy disks. Möbel Erbe probably would have been a disappointment if it was supposed to be the exploration highlight of the day, but as an original find it was a perfect snack on the way to other locations…

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The Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau is one of those countless former American military bases that currently are in kind of a limbo – the US Army gave it back to Germany (under the management of the BImA), but the local government hasn’t decided what to do with it. During the Cold War Hanau was one of the biggest US garrisons in the area, in case the Red Army would try to break through the Fulda Gap and attack Frankfurt. Back then up to 30.000 soldiers and civilians were working at the Pioneer Kaserne and other locations like the Francois Kaserne (returned to Germany in 1992), Coleman Barracks (1992) Hessen-Homburg Kaserne (1992), Grossauheim Kaserne (1993), Hutier Kaserne (1994/2007), Fliegerhorst Langendiebach (2007) Hanau AAF, Wolfgang Kaserne (2008), York Hof (2008) and the Argonner Kaserne (2008) – one third of Hanau’s total population. While most of the other locations already found new purposes and are currently converted (or have been in the past), the destiny of the Pioneer Kaserne and its two housing areas is still up in the air. With a total size of more than 600.000 square meters the Pioneer area is gigantic, nevertheless it’s only about a quarter of all the military estate Hanau has / had to integrate into its city planning concept…

Like pretty much all closed military bases rather close to city centers (like the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* in Darmstadt), the Pioneer Kaserne is kind of fortified – of course it is, it’s a huge former military base! But unlike most others, this one didn’t have any “Trespassing is strictly forbidden!” signs. No, the local security company is more subtle. They only put up signs stating “Das Betreten des Geländes erfolgt auf eigene Gefahr” (“Entering the premises happens at your own risk”) – right next to a sign warning about watchdogs… including a drawing of a German shepherd. I guess the message is clear!
Despite those threa–… announcements… I did my best to avoid the usual “fence from the outside” photos you can usually find on the internet, resulting in quite a few scratches and bruises… Oh, and if you ever worked at the Kaserne or nearby: the KFC is gone now, but the Café del Sol still is really popular. Thanks to the watchdogs and the security guards pretty much all the buildings are in fantastic condition, so let’s hope that the city of Hanau will find a new purpose for the Pioneer Kaserne soon!

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What do you do when you get thrown off your horse? You get right back on! And that’s what Sebastian and I did after we ran into some trouble at the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne*. Since Sebastian came up with the (almost) deserted US Army base it was my turn to select a place to explore – and I chose the Clubhotel Messel a.k.a. Clubhotel Sehr / Clubhotel Seher.

At the time of my visit the place was virtually unknown to the internet. It was obvious that plenty of vandals, arsonists and paintball players were there before me, but it was almost impossible to find any hard information about the place on the net – luckily that change earlier this year when the German urbex community, usually more interested in photos than the historical background of abandoned places, took care of that situation.

It seems like the Clubhotel Messel (named after the municipality of Messel near Darmstadt, usually known for the UNESCO World Heritage site Messel Pit where all kinds of fossils were found) was not only a single hotel, but a conglomerate of businesses, all part of the frivolous nightlife industry. The nightclub “Broadway-Bar” and the hotel “Je t’aime” were right next to the “Swimming Pool / Sauna Club d’Amour” and the “Nightclub d’Amour” – basically one big brothel complex, one of the biggest in the Rhine-Main area. Since all establishments were owned by a guy named Wolfgang Sehr the place was also called Clubhotel Sehr or, misspelled, Clubhotel Seher. The special attraction of the Clubhotel was a mini zoo including a pair of cheetahs – the cages are still in the forest! I’m not exactly sure when the place opened, but I guess it grew kind of organically and was in full bloom in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. In January of 1988 it was mentioned by leading news magazine Der Spiegel in an article about a scandal regarding nuclear waste. A company called Transnuklear Hanau (a subsidiary of Nukem – I’m not joking!) illegally imported 1942 barrels of nuclear waste from Belgium and of course there were bribery and other manipulations / irregularities involved – one of them was a bill to the amount of 14010 Mark (roughly 7000 Euros) after some managers of the nuclear industry had a fun night at the Clubhotel. (The article mentioned a nightclub called “Mon Bijou” and a fine dining restaurant named “La Chandelle“ – probably both part of the Clubhotel complex.

The Spiegel report was the beginning of the end of the Clubhotel, although the details are vague since everything happened before the age of the internet. It seems like the German State wasn’t very fond of the local sex businesses and started to shut them down one after another – either in the late 80s or early 90s. Some of the brothel owners went to jail for procurement and promotion of prostitution; and according to an article by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) in late 1994 Sehr was convicted of those crimes…

When the brothel complex was abandoned but still in good condition the Zeitung für Darmstadt (Newspaper for Darmstadt) reported in 1993 that the State of Hesse had plans to reconvert the place into a *deportation prison* for 250 illegal aliens. These considerations were terminated abruptly when parts of the club hotel complex burned down to the ground on January 25th of 1994 as the Zeitung für Darmstadt reported in early 1994. It seems like the then owner, most likely still Sehr, tried to commit insurance fraud to make up for the millions he lost when the place was shut down. (The guy definitely went to jail – I’m just not sure if it was for one or both of the alleged crimes.)

Later in the 90s the Clubhotel made the news when paintball players occupied the premises and actually started to do minor construction work. The rural district Darmstadt-Dieburg intervened and a court of law decided that the “Magic Boys Rhein Main” needed to find another location for their colorful war games… (The small building next to the big outdoor pool was their safe house and Gotcha related graffiti are still all over the place.)

For more than a decade all kinds of people came to the Clubhotel for all kinds of reasons. Some people played paintball, others airsoft. Some homeless people looked for shelter in one of the smaller buildings that weren’t affected by arson and of course photographers came to… well, do what photographers do. It seems like for a while artists lived on the premises and in summer of 2011 Sebastian and I had a quick look. Only to find a rather uninteresting burned out hotel and some vandalized smaller buildings. In the early 80s the Clubhotel must have been quite a sight – nowadays it’s just another unspectacular rotting place in the woods. Luckily it has a story worth telling. But maybe this patch of land in the middle of nowhere will find new beauty and glory soon. On March 26th of 2012 a public auction of the property by court order took place and on May 13th Echo-Online reported that the (new?) owner of the site is looking at plans to build a new hotel – probably for the whole family this time, not only for dads…

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A couple of weeks before I went to Germany to visit family and friends last year I received an e-mail from Sebastian, a reader of this blog. He told me about exploring a rather recently closed US Army base in Darmstadt – half an hour away from where I was staying for my vacation. I really love abandoned military installations, so we continued talking via e-mail and agreed to meet up to have a look at the Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne (CFK) together.

The Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne (Cambrai-Fritsch Barracks) in Bessungen, now part of Darmstadt-Eberstadt, was built from 1936 to 1938 as two barracks next to each other – the southern part was known as Cambrai-Kaserne (named after the French city of Cambrai where Paul von Hindenburg had his headquarters during World War I and where the first tank battle in history took place in 1917), the northern part was called Freiherr-von-Fritsch-Kaserne (named after Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch, Nazi Germany’s Commander of the Army at the time). Most of the buildings on the premises were named after locations where famous WWI battles took place, like Verdun or Flandern.
The Fritsch-Kaserne opened on October 12th of 1938 and was home to the 1st Battalion of the 33rd Artillery Regiment, part of the 33rd Infantry Division. Later that month the 3rd Battalion moved into the Cambrai-Kaserne.
During the final days of World War II the US Army took over the Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne in March of 1945, making it the home of the 22nd Signal Brigade, the 233rd Base Support Battalion and the 440th Signal Battalion. Lots of service and recreational institutions were located at the CFK in the decades to come – AAFES Food Court, American Red Cross, Andrews Federal Credit Union, Darmstädter Catering Center, PX (post exchange), SATO Travel, Shopette, U.S. Post office, USO and standard facilities like a motor pool, a gym, a movie theater, a sports field and a bowling center.

When I met Sebastian on a warm, sunny summer day he told me right away that the CFK was closed, but not really abandoned. The high barbed wire fences were in exceptionally good condition 3 years after the Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne was shut down in 2008 – and Sebastian also mentioned that security guards were still patrolling the outskirts of the premises a couple of evenings per week. Well, we met in the morning, so what could happen, right? Let’s get this infiltration started! Like the *Federal Armed Forces Depot Pfeddersheim* the CFK is now the responsibility of the Institute for Federal Real Estate (Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben / BIMA) – they have to decide what to do with the 25 hectare (250.000 square meters or 2,7 million square feet) big area. Most likely it will be reconverted into housing for 2500 people, but German bureaucracy is slow and of course nothing has been decided yet. Not in summer of 2011 and AFAIK not in late spring of 2012. But while the BIMA obviously doesn’t care anymore about the depot in Pfeddersheim they seem to smell money when it comes to the CFK – housing for 2500 people, that’s serious real estate! And that’s why the keep the area in good shape by hiring gardeners and plumbers to take care of the premises. All the buildings we tried to enter were locked, hardly any of them were damaged by vandalism or graffiti.
It’s an absolutely mind-blowing experience to explore closed US army barracks, especially with a rather tight security system like this one. The weather was amazing that day and the video material I shot turned out to be nice, too. It was a perfect exploration until… well, we were less than 30 meters away from our top secret entrance / exit when it became clear that infiltration is for pros and neither of us was Solid Snake. I will spare you the details, but like running into security at *Nara Dreamland* this wasn’t exactly a fun experience. No legal consequences since we could convince the people involved that we were just harmless photographers, but this was pretty much the day I realized that urban exploration and urban infiltration are two different things – and I decided that I will limit myself to UE and abandon UI.
Sebastian and I were lucky that day, but entering the Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne without permission can have serious, serious consequences, so I highly recommend to stay away or to take photos through the fence.

To all the American (ex-)soldiers reading this article, most of them probably stationed at the Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne: When I was a pupil in the 80s my elementary school was way ahead of its time and had a friendship program with the Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim. I have nothing but pleasant associations with that exchange program and I consider this exploration a “Thank you!” for the kindness I experienced during that time (I think we went bowling as a big group and then had lunch at our exchange partner’s home, which is a pretty big thing when you are 8 or 9 years old and barely understand each other’s languages!) – I hope I was able to bring back some fond memories of your time in Germany!

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