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  1. #1
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    Oct 2008
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    Arrow A week in Germany and Belgium, December 2009

    I love to make lists, categorise, prioritise and rate.

    2000 Miles, 3 Englishmen, 1 American, 2 D90s, 1 30D, 1 40D, Loads of glass, 4 sleepings bags, 3 fleece liners, One Hammock, Loads of Coffee, 7 days, 16 sites, 5 Countries, 1 Green Troll, 3 Hospitals, 1 Power Station, 1 Sinter, 1 Cokery, 1 Military Base, 1 Cinema, 1 Hotel, 1 Holiday Home, 1 Monastary/Nazi extermination centre, 1 Factory, 1 Football station, 1 Exhibition Centre, 1 Railway Turntable, 1 Train Station...

    Its sometimes the things that we don't take photos of that we remember best. My first European adventure in August 2008 ended with us being requested to leave Berlin. One abiding memory of it was the farewells at the end when we went our separate ways, and the feeling is isolation sitting in my car on my own, after a week in the almost complete presence of my fellow explorers.

    Memories of this trip that haven't been captured on film or digital include being chased away from the Buchallee Weißensee Sauglings und Kinder Krankenhaus by a man who told us that you mustn't run from dogs because they will chase you, and the dog will chase you because it lives there and it's her land. The calls of 'Einslife!' after hearing it announced on the radio soon after arriving in Germany, the bitter cold of Beelitz and the hype of the early rise with the morning light.

    Following a return from a weekend trip to Dublin with my Girlfriend, I changed into my clothes for the week, packed my bags and met the three intrepid explorers who would accompany me. We somehow managed to fit all our gear into Statler's autocar and made our nests for the week. This was to be a complete contrast to a comfortable hotel with pints at €5.50 a pop. In the various Aldis across the continent, we found a crate of 6, in plastic bottles, for just €1.99. Blue Chimay was a staple for the week, it truly is the best beer in existence.

    We had some time to kill when we got to Dover on Monday afternoon, so we did as every good explorer did, and went to a greasy spoon for some lunch and coffee. A warehouse in the centre of town teased us with it's metal gates on each door, but we didn't enter, partially due to the lack of reward on the other side, and partially due to the fact we had a list as long as your arm of sites to visit.

    The Ferry arrived, we boarded, we drank beer, charged batteries and caught up, before we were let loose on the continent. As ever, the first stop on a eurotrip is the nearest Carrefour. We bought wood, lighter fluid, a grill tray to cook on, lots of Haribo and various other food and drink items. When we got to our first destination, Kosmos in Belgium, we barely used any of it.

    I have to say we were all pretty excited when we got out of das auto, despite struggling to find an easy entry to this art deco hotel in the dark. The European bug bites hard, and as we entered the hotel to look for somewhere to sleep, the wind was biting pretty hard too. We found a room with two sofas in, and set to work securing ourselves from the wind. Which largely failed. We drank whiskey and beer, before eventually falling asleep to the bangs of a boarded up skylight, and some industrial music that Brad had on his Ipod. This building was angry, it didn't want us to sleep.

    Upon awakening, we had a brief look around before packing up and deciding to leave. Two gentlemen were out the front, doing something with the Heras. When they left, we did, deciding not to visit the trashed pool at the bottom of the hill, whose failure to gain a license in 2002 eventually led to the bancrupcy of the hotel. Kosmos truly was a miserable shithole. I wouldn't reccomend it to a tramp.

    Back in the car, we headed for our next destination, Home RTT. This holiday home for railway workers children was built in 1949 and sold in 1997 to a developer, who promtly knocked the internal walls out before realising the building was protected. So he left it, to be filled up with sand from the nearby dunes.

    We spent a while here, getting our teeth into our first 'proper' explore. Inside was largely stripped, but the architecture was beautiful and the light was good. In the loft we found cots and toys, amongst other items. The floor was soggy here, the ceiling partially burnt out. Since I started exploring, the aim has been to get to the highest point on a building, and this theme recurred throughout the trip.

    We left for Ter Zee, which wasn't where we thought it was. After walking on a beach where some brave souls were surfing, we drove past a partially derelict building which had loads of kids outside. We had cameras. Cameras and kids don't go down well, especially in Belgium.

    We chose to drive to Transfo, which is a better known site and very highly regarded. We got there eventually, and scoped the place out. Stripping was going on there (Wahey!), so we ended up waiting until they left. Sadly it was dark then, so we didn't get much good light for pics... We spent a while deciding to hop a fence, when we didn't realise you could just drive round the front entrance and roll up outside... We toyed with the idea of walking in while they were working, but decided against it, judging it foolish.

    When we got in, it was very dark. We did some urban ninjaing before walking into the main turbine hall, with all it's glorious 1920s nom nom machines. I can imagine this place spewing smoke high into the sky as Messerschmitts made their way towards France.

    We drove to Varia, it was pretty cold. First we met some surly youths who decided the best way to enter was to try every number combination on the lock. This didn't work. One was called in for tea, the other hung around and then left. So we went to Quick Burger, which was pretty vile. We sorted out our kit and went inside, and found a nice sealed room to sleep in. What's the point in exploring a place like this in the dark, when you've got a nice double glazed room with a door to sleep in?

    Varia was a truly delicious place, early concrete building techniques and the art nouveau movement combined to create a unique place to explore. The plasterwork was ornate, the stonework outside weathered but interesting, and the stairways and passageways elegant.

    After we hopped down and towards the car, a delightful lady who lives opposite babbled at us in Flemish, which happens to be a language nobody speaks except those who seem to want to tell us off. We waved at her as we drove away, cackling at our mischievousness in sleeping in their little piece of backyard dereliction.

    Fort De La Chartreuse was our next stop. We drove up a hill that appeared to be a 45 degree gradient, before wandering through a park to get to it. It was pretty cool, rather fucked, loads of grafitti ancienne. We exited through the well maintained graveyard, and bumped into a elderly dogwalker, that wanted to know if we were taking geometric measurements. We showed him our photos and he was very congratulatory. La Chartreuse is a fort that was built by the Dutch before the formation of the country of Belgium. The US used it, as did the Germans. Judging from the graves, there was some sort of attack in November 1917 which cost the fort several lives. The grafitti there was most likely prepared by soldiers positioned here, familiar scenes relayed from WWI, a soldier holding his ears as a field gun fires.

    St Josefsheim was our next stop on the list, but guess who had something up his sleeve. Yes, me.

    Montzen Gare was a freight station rebuilt after bombing in WWII. It closed in 1998 and still has trains in there. It's a fun explore, I walked on the rails, jumped down from the platforms and took photos of cool things. This is what I like doing. It's called Urbex. Somewhat derided by European explorers as the West Park of Belgium, it's still fun. It's got good photo opportunities and it's a chilled, fun explore.

  2. #2
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    Oct 2008
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    Default Re: A week in Germany and Belgium, December 2009

    Enter ins Deutschland. Home of leather shorts, big sausages and Radio Einslife. We arrived in the dark, having drank copious amounts of Blue Chimay and eaten dried apricots. Chris put up with us in the car on the way to St Josefsheim, where we walked in through the front door. Wilkommen ins Deutschland indeed. In the mostly enclosed courtyard, we could finally use our firewood. We found a little wheelbarrow and cooked sausages, onions, peppers and mushrooms. They were delicious.

    Here was the home of the uber-prohobo room. We found beds and sofas to sleep on. We lit candles and closed the place up by propping two doors against the frame. It was wunderbar, warm and delightful, so much so that Danny boy refused to get up. The light was so dim in the morning, most of my shots are a bit garbage. Blame the tools, blame the craftsman, I don't care, the night before was far greater an experience than anything any photos could cunjure up.

    The site itself was largely boring. The chapel was great, the clocktower interesting, the ladder to the roof precarious. The buildings opposite were stripped, there's only so many pics you can take of doors before it seems futile. How many lonely chair shots are going to catch your imagination?

    Next stop was Sinteranlage. All we really knew of the place was that it was big and industrial. I thought it was something to do with the coking industry but I was wrong. Hidden behind a giant embankment in Duisberg, is the Sinter. We climbed a hill, went down a hill, climbed a hill, went down a hill, and then finally climbed another hill. And we were there.

    Sinter is a bad bad fucker. Think Millennium mills but made of metal. Enough death trap floors, a croaky, groany noise eminating from it's walls and floors to remind you who's boss.

    Sinter is industrial Pr0n. I thoroughly reccomend you go there. Urbex Tours Ltd run monthly trips for £800 inc pro hobo accomodation, Blue Chimay and Quick Burgers. Book now. Click Here. Book now to avoid the rush.

    We left Sinter for Kokerie Zollverein. This place is bigger than the rest of the world put together. It's got a mine, a coking plant, a gift shop and a cafe. We opted out of parts, 1,3 and 4, choosing the staple of our urbex diet. Dereliction.

    I was adamant we were being watched throughout the visit. Its a vast place, we saw guys working on all levels, and I think we were yards away from workers at various times on this trip. Quite why the fuck they have a ferris wheel here, I don't know?

    Zollverein was another 'scratch the surface' visit on this trip. Europe is too vast to cover on one trip, let alone the three that I'd now made this time around. You can't do it. Zollverein would take a good few days to see the whole of, guided tour or otherwise.

    We decided to stop at Zeche Hugo, home of the bird cages and headstocks. It was dark when we got there, we managed to navigate the way round a good hour of German Autoroadwerkz. But we got there. Didn't take the cameras, walked up to the headstocks, where two cars were parked, a light pinged on in the secca office, we thought we'd better hit the road, so we did. Driving to Beelitz is not fun, as I'm sure Statler will tell you. Least not when the rest of the group fall asleep or get pissed on litre cans of 10% beer. (by God it was good). We arrived a few hours later, firewood/charcoal again evading us. Coffeestops were made and slept through, take the exit in 368km sung the tomtom, and by about 11, we were there.

    Beelitz is so cold, your balls retreat back inside your body, your nutsack shrivels up and you stand there in thermals and a coat shivering, wishing that sleeping in the car was an honourable option.

    We entered through a basement, found a room with windows and a door that would shut, and bedded down for the night. Although there were no physical disturbances, our sleep was disrupted on several occasions by the freezing cold. On several occasions I questioned my sanity. When we awoke we were glad to be moving on through the massive site, which is spliced into four sections by the Leipzig-Berlin railway and the main road through the town.

    You all know what Beelitz looks like, your mum is going there in the summer on a Saga tour. "You know the history, here's the pics". This is Urbex Tourism capital of the world. We bumped into no less than 4 other groups, our knowledge of parts of the site they hadn't accessed being fed to them in English, translated into German and then thanks returned. Auf Wiedersehn, we're off to building 44 (of 60)

    We left Beelitz having had a brief break to eat at Schitzenplatz, the now famous 'big plates of meat' restaurant. For those that have been there before, those plates are meant for sharing.

    We drove through Potsdam, back through Potsdam, stopped at a giant Mall to look for Charcoal (basic needs failing somewhat to be met), and unsurprisingly didn't find any. Ever been to Westfields? Sure they don't stock it either. What we did find was some sort of electronics supermarket. The aisles stretched far, we looked for car chargers for our rapidly emptying batteries, and wandered all around the place. I will remember this day as the day we hit the Wall.

    After Potsdam, we stopped at Burger king, washing down mechanically recovered chicken meat with beer we'd taken from the car. The poor girl there didn't understand us, even when we tried to speak German. I charged my batteries, we paid 50c to piss, and departed

    2 hours or so later, we arrived at Grabowsee, which is situated in the middle of nowhere. The last 20 minutes of the journey was driving down a cobbled road that ended by a lake. We entered the site and searched for a suitable place to sleep. We lit a fire and cooked sausages and pork steaks, before retiring into a room we furnished with mattresses and sofas found in a store. The owls did their best to keep us awake but when you’re that tired, you
    just sleep.

    Being 'fucking cold' became a theme of East Germany, when we awoke we quickly got moving to get the blood flowing.. Being Saturday, I was pondering the thought of the airsoft boys who lease the site poking their heads round the door in bemusement.

    First stop was the giant water tower. This towers out of the sky in it's beautiful concrete glory. Seen Whitt's? Looks a bit like this one.

    After an hour or so, I got lost from our small group, and spent 20 minutes wandering around alone in this ruin, perforating the silence with the crackling of broken glass under my feet. I stood in a courtyard looking up at a statue of Mother Russia and a child, both decapitated since dereliction. The group returned from the lake and burnt out chapel, and we could leave.

    Translations please.

  3. #3
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    Oct 2008
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    Default Re: A week in Germany and Belgium, December 2009

    After an hour or so on the road, we arrived at the delightfully named Buchallee Weißensee Sauglings und Kinder Krankenhaus. This was so bad a place, that while standing in the loft, me and Statler both said simultaneously, "This is worse than Kosmos".

    As we were leaving, a man with a dog appeared. We were right by the exit, so we hopped the wall while the dog snapped at Statler's ankles. This green haired gentleman then approached us to inform us of the rules of dogs. 1. Don't run. 2, the dog lives her so it's her land, so she'll chase you. We found out he was a tramp (didn't have to guess hard) and that he lived in the buildings. NICE.

    On the way to this troll infested shithole, we all went 'oooooh, what's that' looking out from the Berliner Ring, as we saw what we've dubbed the Pankow Roundhouse. You can call it Großen runden raum zug plattenspieler.

    This was a fun place, but we had shizz to hit up.

    Rewind back to Friday night at Grabowsee. As we were barbecueing meat and veg and drinking beer in the grounds of the Lungenheilstätte am Grabowsee, I was sent some GPS co-ordinates and a brief bit of info on a Military site that may be of interest to us. We keyed in the co-ordinates and headed for this site after we were done with Pankow. 2 hours and many shitty roads later, the Timtom directed us to a locked gate that was apparently 3km from our destination. We chose to drive around the site to look for another entrance. We couldn't find one. East Germany was grim. There is more dereliction than you can shake a sickle at, the place was clearly abandoned when the wall came down and the Germans were re-united.

    We parked in the middle of the forest and trekked down some long disused roads towards where we thought the base was.

    Passing dug out trenches and watch towers, structures began to be visible through the trees, until eventually a wall appeared. We just knew we had to get past it...

    Vogelsang rocked my socks off. It was full of Soviet propaganda, loads of buildings, a depressing sense of decay, but a pleasant feel of community and harmony to it too.

    The site was built entirely by Soviet companies - the East Germans in the area had no idea what was behind the walls. The secrecy around the site was so great that the locals became suspicious, and a secret agent reported the transportation of 'very large bombs' being delivered in the night to the base, using the back roads around the base.

    The decorations in the gymnasium include the logo for the Moscow 1980 olympics, as well as the mascot. I'm pretty sure APMEПCKOГO means America, and I'm pretty sure the writing wasn't congratulatory of their old cold war foes....

    I looked up the info on the way back, and apparently it housed 15,000 soldiers and their families, from the elite 72nd RVGK engineer brigade.

    Declassified documents released in the 1990s revealed that this base had nuclear missiles stored there in 1958, aimed at London, Paris, Bonn, the Ruhr Valley and Brussells. The R-5M missiles stored there had a range of 1200km and the troops practiced launch preparations at night, in order to avoid the American reconnaissance.

    Having seen a site we were all really excited about, we had to go somewhere a little less exciting. Hannover. A 3 and a half hour drive here was better than Beelitz, I'm sure. We stayed awake, talked, drank and sung songs. We also contemplated sleeping in the car, but instead chose to sleep in here. For some unfathomable reason, this was a round room that was enclosed yet cold. We wanted to sleep in the Big Yellow Lithuanian Party Box, but it was not accessible. As the last night of the trip, I felt a bit sad. The fun we'd had, the cameraderie and the feeling of going through a great experience would soon be replaced with the mundanities of normal life, work et al. Most of the time we didn't know if our basic needs of shelter and fuel to cook on would be met. This was pretty raw.

    This was the Dutch Pavillion at Expo 2000. The plan was to dismantle it and move it back to Holland, but this didn't happen as it was cheaper to just build a new one.

    I found it a bit boring personally, but I can imagine it being good when it was an exhibit.

    Today was a bit of a 'get some miles under the belt' trip, so we headed for Lukas Krankenhaus, which was sadly still open. My research technique of keying 'verlassenen Krankenhaus' into Google had come undone. Not to worry, there was a mill next door. An old man drove up next to us as we got out the car, shouting "Nein!" at us until we agreed to drive around the block until he went away. Well, that's what we did.

    Don't get excited, Textilfabrik NTS was proper bread and butter. Empty buildings, peeling paint, swastikas and broken windows. Never seen this before? You've not left the house.

    Wageningse Berg was the next stop. This was the stadium of a football club by the same name that went under in the late 1980s. The ground was one very overgrown, but now it's tended to by some loyal fans. It's still derelict though. I enjoyed visiting here. As a football fan, places like this remind you of the thin line between solvency (being able to pay smug 20 somethings £30,000+ per week) and bankrupcy (Failure to find an investor from the far east)

    Fuck football, this week wasn't about that.

    The rest of the trip is a bit of a blur. We found a Chinese in Gent that served up massive plates of food with beer for 1.50. We finished off the whiskey on the ferry, drank lots of Juliper, Chimay and bought a crate of Bishops Finger for the ride home. We planned trips back to the DDR, Paris, the Californian ghost towns and eventually crashed out at mine back in the 'Ding.

    Hobotripping? Fuck yeah.

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