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Archive for the ‘Military’ 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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What kind of places should be considered when doing urban exploration? I think everybody has their own definition – I try to focus on abandoned modern ruins, but every once in a while I make exceptions (security on site, historic ruins), especially when the situation is ambiguous. *Gunkanjima* for example could be considered both a modern and a historic ruin, probably as it is currently transitioning from a classic urbex location to a tourist attraction. Similar arguments could be made for *Okunoshima* and the *Nakagawa Brick Factory*; while the first has proper barriers and information signs, the latter is a historic ruin without historians taking adequate care of it.
Tomogashima and its old fort I always considered a historic ruin that shouldn’t make it to websites about abandoned places as it reminds me of the countless historic ruins back home: More than 100 years old, accessible by public transportation, proper barriers and information signs, mentioned in tourist guides, partly or fully maintained. If you include places like that, you could keep yourself busy writing about hundreds or even thousands of castles in Germany alone. BUT: Tomogashima appears on most Japanese urbex blogs and I receive messages about legal “urbex” spots in Japan on a regular basis, so I guess it’s about time to dig up six year old photos and long repressed memories…

Tomogashima is a small island off the coast of Wakayama, right between Awaji Island and the mainland, in the Kitan Strait (紀淡海峡, Kitan kaikyō) – the fort and its cannons were prtecting the Bay of Osaka with cities like Kobe, Osaka and Sakai as well as quick access to Kyoto and Nara. Well, technically Tomogashima is a cluster of four islands (Jinoshima (地ノ島), Kamishima (神島), Okinoshima (沖ノ島) and Torajima (虎島)) – and when people talk about Tomogashima, they usually refer to Okinoshima (shima / jima = island, hence Tomogashima, not Tomogashima Island); the only one that is accessible by public transportation and the one of most interest to tourists. Take the train to Kada Station (near Wakayama City), walk to the harbor and take a boat to the island – four connections per day from March till November (except Tuesday and Wednesday), two the rest of the year; with a handful of exceptions (for example Golden Week and summer holidays), of course – your can *find the detailed schedule in Japanese here*. 2000 Yen for the roundtrip isn’t exactly cheap, but you are going off the beaten tracks… and those places usually cost a buck or two extra.
The islands were originally used by Buddhist monks for a practice called shugendō (修験道) back in the seventh and eighth century (to develop spiritual experience and power…), but are now famous for their ruins of Meiji era (1868-1912) military fortifications and a beautiful lighthouse.
And while Jinoshima, Kamishima and Torajima are indeed uninhabited, Okinoshima has in fact a low population running both a camping ground and a guest house (including a café / bar!) called Uminoya, making Tomogashima by definition neither abandoned nor uninhabited, no matter how many people on the internet claim differently! I know, the truth hurts sometimes, but Tomogashima is / are NOT ABANDONED! (There are even four (!) public toilets on the island…)
As for the brick fort, I guess you can consider it abandoned, despite the fact that some people still take care of it – putting up information and do not cross this rope signs… But like I said, for my taste those ruins are too old, they are too empty, they have too much historical significance. They are mentioned in all kinds of guides, are too well-signposted and attract thousands of tourists per year. That has little to nothing to do with urban exploration… but I hope you’ll like the photos anyway! 🙂

When I made my way to Tomogashima back in 2010, it was much less popular than it is now, and I expected it to be really abandoned and full of spectacular military ruins – instead I found myself amongst tourists in what looked a little bit like an open air museum to me. In addition to that, the mid-July summer heat and humidity, the rocky paths and the fact that Okinoshima is a constant up and down quickly took a toll on me, so my expectations differed completely from reality.
Visiting Tomogashima makes a lovely day trip or even weekend trip though, when you know what you are in for – especially in summer! Okinoshima and Torashima are combined about three kilometers long, there are two signposted hiking trails and countless minor routes you can take, Okinoshima features several more or less rocky beaches, and you can actually learn something about Japanese military history. And if you are an anime fan, you might be excited to hear that Tomogashima reportedly inspired the Studio Ghibli movie “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” – though there are similar island all over Japan, so I wouldn’t bet on it without 100% verifying it…

Also, if you are interested in touristy urbex spots, you might want to have a look / keep an eye on the irregularly updated *Urbex for Tourists* special here on *Abandoned Kansai*!

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Abandoned military installations are rather rare in Japan, so whenever I go back to Germany, they are pretty high on my priority list – usually former American bases, sometimes British ones. The Depot De Munitions (or ammunitions depot or Munitionsdepot) in Iffezheim though was French… at least for a while.

The great thing about abandoned American bases is the fact that American soldiers are proud of their jobs and love to keep the memories alive. Even about small outposts you can find tons of information and photos from the glory days. Germans on the other hand haven’t been proud of their military since the 1940s (guess why…) – and not to disrespect the French, but I have no idea what the French are thinking… or saying: I chose Latin in 7th grade – the universal language of nearly useless; at least it made The Life of Brian a lot funnier. And so I guess it is not much of a surprise that it was close to impossible to get some hard facts on a former French base in southern Germany, just a stone’s throw away from the famous horse racetrack Iffezheim. There’s not even agreement on the size – while one source said 42 ha, another said “more than 60 ha”. While an official State website claims that the area was used till 1999, some local hobby historian claims that the French left around 1992. All I know for sure is that exploring the area was a bit underwhelming…

Upon arrival it looked like the main gate as well as the fence of this once heavily guarded area was still military grade tight, but luckily our first impression was wrong and it took me and my friend Nina about 30 seconds to get past this perceived obstacle. Easy victory, small reward. The first building to the left was rather big, but completely rundown and vandalized. Less than 15 years since abandonment? You gotta be kidding me! We continued to walk down the kilometer long, partly overgrown forest road, passing collapsed smaller buildings both to the left and the right. In the northern part of the former ammunitions depot we found some bigger buildings again, probably vehicle halls and various kinds of repair shops. Some in good condition, most in worse – and at least one of them showed signs of temporary visitors. Completing the full counter-clockwise circle we saw more dilapidated buildings beyond repair along the partly overgrown road through the forest. I don’t know who owns the property currently, but good luck with it – cleaning up both the ruins and the most likely contaminated ground will probably cost millions.

As far as woodland strolls go, this was actually one of the better ones – as an exploration though it was pretty disappointing. Especially in comparison to similar locations like the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*!

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And now for something completely different – an outdoor shooting range of the French occupying army in Neustadt, Germany!
After six years and more than 350 articles it’s not easy to present abandoned places you haven’t seen yet at all. Better ones or interesting variations… no problem. They keep me exploring and you reading. But basically new ones? Something else other than deserted hotels, theme park, hospitals, schools, … How about an outdoor shooting range then? I explored it back in 2012 and two more since then, but I don’t think I ever presented one here on Abandoned Kansai.

The first abandoned outdoor shooting range I ever explored was built and used by the French occupying army near the beautiful town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Germany. My sister and I were on our way to the now demolished *IBAG*, so we made a quick stop at a forest in Neustadt’s outskirts. The former military area was easy to find and even easier to access – a surrounding fence was still there, but the open gaps were as big as Alsace…
There is little known about the history of this outdoor shooting range, but people on the German-speaking part of the internet agree that it was used by the French occupying army… and sometimes by the German Bundeswehr, for joint exercises. The range consisted of two lanes, 600 meters each, with a bunker 15 meters high at the end; functioning as a backstop. The earth walls to each side were six meters high and about every 20 meters down the lane was a wooden clad concrete bullet trap to catch ricochets. Near the front end of the shooting range were a couple of abandoned and completely empty buildings without roofs, obviously beyond repair. Pretty much the whole area was at least partly overgrown and progress wasn’t that easy, especially since the exploration took place mid-summer.
Despite the fact that there wasn’t that much to see, the Military Shooting Range Neustadt was quite an interesting exploration – mainly because it was my first abandoned firing range… I didn’t even try to namecode this location as it is really well-known and easy to find, but if you want to have a look yourself, be careful in summer: that area is tick infested!

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

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

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

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Life is friggin weird sometimes: Not only is there a rather small city on Kyushu called Usa – it’s also home to several Japanese military ruins from World War 2!

At first sight there was nothing special about this old airplane bunker in the middle of rice fields somewhere in the Japanese countryside on Kyushu. It’s pretty much as rural as it can get and train stations were rather rare in this beautiful area, just a few hundred meters away from the coast.
I got off the train at a station called Buzenzenkoji on a gorgeous spring afternoon and got on again several hours later after dark at another one called Yanagigaura. Stories that the area was bustling with military 70 years prior intrigued me, but reports on the internet said that barely anything was left to see. The stories were about bases and bunkers, often kilometers apart, not visible on GoogleMaps, most of them even destroyed. Information about locations was vague, but what did I have to lose? Walking through the Japanese countryside on a sunny, warm spring afternoon was a treat by itself; always has been, always will be.
When I reached what I hoped would be the quarters of a naval aviation unit… I saw nothing. Nothing but some concrete foundations as well as gardens and fields at the edge of a small town. The Moriyama Emplacement and its moat probably had been levelled decades ago to help growing food for the hungry Japanese post-WW2 population.
So I continued along the road in hope to find the Shiroi Combat Group of the Usa Naval Aviation. I am actually not sure if I really found it, but I definitely found said airplane bunker. It was located right next to a house and it seemed like the owners were still using it – not to protect an airplane, but as a storage. I took a couple of quick photos and a short video before continuing my way as the sun started to set.
This time I was looking for Usa Naval Aviation’s motor workshop a few kilometers northeast on the way to the train station… and I found it after looking for a while in a rather new residential area, surrounded and broken up by fields. The workshop was in miserable condition, nevertheless it looked like it was still used by locals as storage space. I quickly took a handful of photos (most of them against the light…) and barely reached the Yanagigaura train station before it got dark – but not before stopping at a fourth location, a small wooden and completely boarded-up house that looked like it was from the late 19th, early 20th century.

To me this little stroll was barely more than enjoying a relaxing Friday afternoon on my way to some serious explorations (including *Shidaka Utopia*, but if you are into World War 2 history and do some research in advance, I am sure you can find some pretty interesting stuff in the area. To me even the airplane bunker was just an airplane bunker and the main reason this afternoon walk turned into a full article was… because after I returned home I realized that those World War 2 ruins were located in a town called Usa – exactly my kind of humor, I find that extremely funny… 🙂

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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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