Prohobohemia seems to be the adopted name of this alcohol fueled, 3,400 mile trip and it initially seemed to ring true. At the point of writing, we’d slept in 4 different locations and they were all widely different. A train depot in Belgium, a steelworks in Luxembourg, a sports centre in Germany and a Soviet base deeper east.
Palais de Justice
The trip started well; although I initially worried we’d tired ourselves out too soon. Palais de Justice was a great experience which we’d wanted to climb on a previous trip, but bad weather and nervous company dissuaded us. This time however we arrived and quickly ascended, despite several groups of drunken locals and lovers loitering on the surrounding roads. My mouth dried up as we climbed higher. Stories of arrests and nights in prison cells for those that were seen from below encouraged us to climb higher and quicker.
My New Mate.
Giant statues adorned the base of the dome, and we climbed to the lower crown. There were doors leading into the dome but none would budge. We had to settle for our already lofty position, but I would have appreciated the opportunity to see the very top. We left a gift of Vegemite at the top. As we descended, the group inadvertently split and we only met again at the very bottom. This was a really good start to the trip. I’m glad we put this on the agenda.
The view from the top
The Palais de Justice was awe-inspiring as expected, and as we hopped off the scaffold at the bottom, the sun was starting to peek through the buildings of Brussels. We hit the road; looking to sleep in a building we were familiar with, however our exhausted minds led us to the wrong railway station. Instead of killing our time hunting for the right one, we got straight back on the motorways down to our next stop, a train depot further south. Although it was light when we arrived, we found a room buried in darkness and set up our beds in there. The time? 8am…
When we awoke no more than two hours later, we started to wander around the depot. Trains were parked inside and out, various locomotives, passenger trains and goods wagons. Two figures in hi-viz appeared. When Gary and I saw them, we thought our game was up and prepared to make a swift departure; however Brad had spoken to them and discovered they were in fact just other explorers, taking the same precautions we often do when we visit the centre of London. They advised us to see the murals at our next site, and told us that they were visiting a train station in Antwerp later that day.
We walked out of the front gates as nobody was around, and headed to Cokerie Anderleus. ‘What the fuck’s a cokerie?’ was asked of Brad at some point in the planning, and when we arrived we found out that other than being a tourist attraction for SLR owners from the continent, it’s something to do with coal. Security appeared to loiter around the headstocks but our Dutch friends seemed nonplussed. They seemed bemused when we told them of our plans to drive to Poland, and we went our separate ways.
The Cokerie had seen better days since appearing in Henk van Rensbergen’s 2007 book, although I believe it was already something of a destination site anyway. It was in the process of demolition which left it looking somewhat threadbare, dissapointing really, given how interesting it looks from the outside.
Charleroi beckoned us, an unopened metro system built to serve the east of the town led out to a quiet residential area. There were three stations on this line that we visited, and it varied from running in a cutting, to being an elevated line through houses. We walked past people’s gardens and over warehouses. When we reached the section where the line dips underground and the tracks connect to the live services, we saw a CCTV camera and contemplated heading in anyway. A few bystanders in the parklands above saw us and shouted at us, and we ignominiously sloped back from where we’d come. It strikes me as odd that the expenses would go towards providing a service like this never to be opened.
Metro systems seem to have an aura about them, as if they’re something to aspire to. This one was a trashed dump. We were tired, we walked it to get it out of the way. I feel like we missed the opportunity to walk into it because we’d had no sleep the night before and our response to being shouted at wasn’t the usual. We should have tried harder here, it could have been fun swinging past trains, but the CCTV put us off too. It probably wasn’t even connected.
Luxembourg saw our first ‘proper’ ‘hobo’ experience. Terres Rouge was some sort of heavy industry, possibly related to steel. Most of it was dusty and dirty, rusty and murky. We found a long room with small windows and a entrance porch. We boarded it with a bench and several large crates. Tea lights were lit and we congregated at the far end of the room. We ate cured meats and drank whiskey bought on the ferry. Eventually we slept, and we slept well.
Terres Rouge was unimpressive really. A string of conjoined silos inside a building held the red substance and conveyors apparently transported it elsewhere on site. Dereliction was evident and we could just walk in. We spent more time drinking cans of Jupiler while talking about how tired we were. We checked most of the buildings on site, concerned we may miss something good, but we didn’t.
The night prior, we had ventured to the top of a hill to Centrale Thermique, a power station that closed in 1997 when the nearby industries closed. This was something of a monster, with an impressive but smashed control room and a large turbine hall. Similar to EVCB in Belgium, but without the protection of a live utility on the site, I could see parallels between both power stations.
We saw other parties on site. One man took a dog into the buildings, which seemed odd to us given the amount of broken glass. Another group of explorers had just moved into the area from Germany and said they wanted to assimilate with their surroundings. Although trashed I enjoyed Centrale Thermique. It’s a shame that it’s not in better condition, but if the taggers, scrappers and kids that smash up the buildings can’t find entry, then why should we?
All we need
Belval was a blast furnace in Luxembourg that was apparently being dismantled. Workers loitered at one side and we snuck past another up a ladder. With his back to us we scampered up several flights of stairs to match the height of the furnace. On the way down we again snuck towards the base of the furnace for more photos. The site itself was reminiscent of Forges de Clabecq in Belgium; however the constant activity betrayed the dereliction. We went as far as we felt possible, without climbing past workers dismantling the furnace itself. This felt like infiltration. This WAS infiltration.
On our second or third day, we visited an active steel mill in Liege. We hopped a fence and dodged workers, making our way past heaps of coke and up ladders and stairways. One of these led us to a conveyor belt rattling amidst the dim hues of fluorescent light.
The Mill was active, we could see smoke coming from the chimneys and workers in other areas. When we saw workers at the bottom of the conveyor, we decided to leave. Something in me wanted to delve further, and despite this feeling of inquisitiveness in a site we had appeared to get away with so much in, we left after no more than half an hour.
Liege’s other offering was a university campus apparently erected in the 1930s. We had failed in an attempt to visit this in March; an alarm sounded as we walked outside. Another group had entered immediately prior to us, and I suspected they had triggered something. Nevertheless, we didn’t feel overly comfortable entering the buildings with a loud siren blaring, and saved the site for this trip. We accessed the buildings we greater ease this time and soon were inside the hallways, lecture theatres and seminar rooms that would have been used until 1999.
Although I enjoyed this building, it made me sad that it was disused. The red-brick universities in the UK hold tradition within their walls, and I imagine this university to have produced several scholars of note too. Now it’s becoming a ruin. Water penetrates the ceiling, pigeons have claimed the impressive lecture theatre on the top floor, and the projector room housing old apparatus is open to the elements.