Abandoned schools are a dime a dozen in Japan, but in Germany they are rather rare – welcome to the Alte Martinsschule!
The (Alte) Martinsschule ((Old) Martin’s School – named after St. Martin of Tours, one of the most well-known Christian saints) was founded in 1978 after the German federal states Hesse and Baden-Württemberg officially funded this institution for about 180 to 200 physically disabled pupils in Ladenburg, a rather rich suburb exactly halfway between Mannheim and Heidelberg. The Martinsschule was a huge success, so the number of students grew and grew until the location in the Wallstadter Straße became too small – and so in 2010 the Martinsschule moved from the city center into a shiny new complex (matter of expense: 28 million EUR!) in the outskirts of Ladenburg, where currently about 240 students are educated.
To make some of the money back, the inner city building now known as the Alte Martinsschule was supposed to be sold – 10000 square meters of prime real estate: 400 meters away from the train station, 3 kilometers to the next freeway entrance ramp and right across the street from a small shopping mall, the local fire station… and the cemetery. To have control over the new use of the area, the city of Ladenburg started restricted tender a.k.a. architectural competition on October 19th 2012 and set the price at 550 EUR per square meter; not cheap, especially since getting rid of the old school was the new owner’s responsibility. In July of 2013 Bouwfond (a.k.a. BPD Immobilienentwicklung GmbH, part of the Rabo Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of the Dutch Rabobank) won the bid against six competitors with a medical center; including a café, a pharmacy, 40 condos and 65 units for assisted living. But the city still had some reservations about the shape of the building as they wanted to avoid getting another large concrete block, so in August of 2013 asylum seekers were moved temporarily into the Alte Martinsschule. From January 15th till February 5th 2014 they were split up across neighboring communities, and on February 10th the school was returned to the city, which spent 415000 EUR on renovating and converting the Alte Martinsschule as temporary quarters for the Carl-Benz-Gymnasium (Carl Benz Grammar School). In July the investment plans almost failed, when Bouwfonds handed in their final plans and some councilmen weren’t 100% satisfied as they thought the building was too big and that there were not enough public parking spots. After some back and forth the plan was finally accepted… more than a year later in October of 2015. In early 2016 the renovation of the Carl-Benz-Gymnasium was finally done, so the Alte Martinsschule was finally ready to be taken over by the new investor – but not before making the news again in early February, when a couple of vandals broke into the school on a weekend and emptied some fire extinguishers, causing the police to show up the next Monday, publicly appealing for witnesses. In late February refugees helped cleaning out the school as the investor expected it to be broom-clean when taking over… for demolition.
A couple of months later my sister Sabine and I showed up at the Alte Martinsschule, knowing little to nothing about the long recent background story. I thought we were exploring an abandoned school for the physically disabled, so you can imagine my surprise when we found the whole school surrounded by construction site fences… and a huge gate wide open on the back. Since there were no “Do not enter!” signs anywhere and the gate was open, we had a closer look. The school looked like it had been abandoned for years, yet posters inside advertised a school Faschingsball (kind of a Mardi Gras party) earlier this year – very mixed messages that only made sense after I did some research; the Faschingsball was basically the farewell party of the grammar school.
Most breakage of glass had been fixed and the only apparent way in was an open window at the main street, where cars and pedestrians were passing by constantly. Sabine and I kept looking and found steps leading down to an indoor swimming pool with an open area in front of it, allowing daylight in through the large, massive glass windows. One of those windows, out of sight of the traffic three meters above us, was broken – and before I could say anything, Sabine slipped through and headed for the control room. Not expecting to find a way in and not sure how long we would stay I left the tripod in the car and followed my little sister. The pool was in nearly pristine condition, even covered to prevent accidents and further damage. Through the dark underbelly of the school we found our way to the main area of the Alte Martinsschule – which in many ways was so exemplary for every school in Germany I’ve ever been to. It had a couple of more ramps for obvious reasons, but other than that it looked like a German school, it smelled like a German school, it felt like a German school. A mostly empty school, as the investor was supposed to take over any day now, as we were not aware of. Nevertheless an exciting exploration – very familiar, yet a first time experience. Some walls still featured the results of group tasks, for example about the American Constitution, musicians, and what to expect from the new school (again, confusing at the time as we had no clue about the temporary stay of the grammar school). Via the ground floor we also found a way to the gymnasium / sports hall above the pool area – lots of large windows again, and with it the risk of being seen. Exploring back home should have been easier than in a foreign country, yet I was quite a bit more nervous than when exploring in Japan. Still don’t know why. Probably because I know the laws better and can’t play the “I don’t speak your language” card… Anyway, when we left a staircase to get back to a hallway I opened the heavy fire door, passed, handed it to Sabine and instead of closing it quietly, she slipped through and past me – the door closing with a loud BAMM that must have been audible in both Mannheim and Heidelberg! Damn! I’ve been on at least a dozen exploration with my beloved sister, never ever did she something that stupid and I was pissed. Really pissed. Luckily it was towards the end of our tour, so soon afterwards she returned to the car while I videotaped the walkthrough – almost 20 minutes long, so to all you out there who think that my videos are too short, I hope you’ll enjoy that one!
Soooo… This exploration happened in mid-July, why do I write about it now? Because back then I was on vacation and had time to do some research on the Alte Martinsschule, especially since I was curious about all those alleged contradictions. And a few weeks later, in August, an article in a local newspaper laid out the plans for the school’s future. It seems like Sabine and I just got in and out before a company took over and removed the remaining materials in the school – with separate containers for wood, metal, insulating materials, and other stuff. The facadism was planned to take till late September, then gigantic hoisting cranes were supposed to dismantle the concrete elements of the Alte Martinsschule like a house built of Lego. The plan was to get everything done by late October. I did my best to find some updates on the progress, but no online source reported about delays or success of the plans, so I added six weeks buffer and finally wrote about this rather unusual German location in exceptionally good condition. If the Martinsschule still stands I guess I accidentally revealed a pretty amazing location, but I didn’t want to wait any longer and it would have been a waste to write about this unique school without telling its story!
Despite the BAMM towards the end, I absolutely loved exploring not only a German school (after I’ve been to dozens of Japanese school, which are amazing in their own regards!), but a German school with a connected sports hall and an indoor swimming pool; that’s pretty much as good as it gets in this category. Sure, a couple of more items left behind would have been nice, but I am pretty sure you are getting a general idea of what schools in Germany look like. Thanks for making it all to the end of one of the biggest articles this year: almost 1500 words, more than 40 photos and a 20 minute long video… 🙂
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