The Winchester

"Not all those who wander are lost" – Tolkien

Prohobohemia 3.2

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Our third sleeping spot was set up in Stadtbad Duisberg, a sports centre on the outskirts of the city. We found a perfect room, adjacent to it was a flushing toilet with paper, that at least three of the group utilised. A flat floor gave us a reasonable night’s sleep, and we explored the buildings in the morning. Both a sports hall and a swimming pool were bathed with light from the high windows, but the rest of the site was vandalised.We found a footpump which served us well for the rest of the trip.



I felt that the centre was probably once a source of local pride in the 1960s. These would have been good facilities and were built with good intentions. The odd medal hung in the manager’s office and I suspect that trophies won in local competitions would have adorned the smashed cabinets. We’d seen the site and so left the way we’d come in.
When we got back to the car we were reprimanded by a local, the only words coming from her strict Germanic tones that we could recognise were ‘nicht normal!’ We got the message and packed up and left for Zeche Walsum, a mine in the middle of an active power station site. This was a no-goer sadly.

[I feel at times that my research wasn’t sufficient on this trip. I’d taken the group to trashed sites and sites that weren’t accessible. There’s only so much you can do before approaching others for information, but I guess the remainder of the trip will allow us to give a reasonable verdict. ]

Those on the trip have spoken of meeting their expectations for Europe at the end of these two weeks, and I feel much the same in terms of traversing the continent for industrial and architectural decay. I want to get underground here and I’m sure I’ll be able to at some point. Berlin has exquisite sewers built in brick by British engineers, and true to form, a former pumping station holds a history and museum of the waterworks. We had the Berlin sewers on the list for the trip at one point, but eventually decided to concentrate on surface structures. The Paris Metro remains a target and while I may not be able to see much of over a weekend, it would surely quieten my insatiability.


We visited Landschaftepark Duisberg Nord, a former blast furnace turned into an industrial leisure park. Industrial heritage is a more important theme in West Germany than in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive seeks to alienate us from reality at the first opportunity; however Duisberg allowed us to climb to the top of the furnace, with 4 foot barriers protecting us from a 200ft fall.  It most certainly wasn’t exploring and it devalued the visit somewhat, given our ‘prohobo’ aspirations. Signs in German described the functions of each section and you could hire either bicycles or a smart car to traverse the site, or travel by foot as most chose to. The café was situated close to the car park, so we ended the visit with some hot chips and a few Weiss biers.


In our winter 2009 trip to Germany, we attempted to visit Zeche Hugo, but as it was dark, we missed both the opportunity and the light we desired. We walked to the headstocks and a guard fired up his engines. We departed on the 4 hour drive to Beelitz-Heilstatten and didn’t really think about the site again until we were in Duisberg. With a short drive to Essen, we decided to visit again. A digger sat outside but the famous ‘bird-cage’ hall remained intact. Without an understanding of what these are, it might be easy to create an eerie or morbid story about them. In actuality, they were for the mine workers to hoist their clean clothes up in, the chain holding them corresponding to a number the identified them. At the end of the shift, if any cage remained in the air, that worker had failed to leave the mine. A search party would then ensue.


Gotha was a base in the middle of Germany, occupied by Soviets after the fall of the Nazis in 1945. There was little evidence inside the buildings, aside from newspaper lining the walls and squat-toilets in the corners of the building. Locals had used the area as a dump, with fridges, old clothing and paper littering the ground floor rooms, present and correct with smashed windows. We went upstairs and found a room safe to sleep in, propping an old door against the frame for protection,  choosing to walk around the site when the sun rose.

A map of Europe covered most of one wall, with the place names written in Cyrillic. I could imagine a general pointing at the western European cities with aspirations to conquer. Instead I had Gary pointing and sniggering at the funny letters. They spell ‘London’ like WHAT?

Close to the base was a hospital. Krankenhaus Gotha reminded me of the burnt out Wolverhampton Royal hospital, demolished since mid-2008. The buildings were attentively built in red brick, with other white and red brick structures also built at the back. Part of researching these trips is finding out what’s worth taking a risk on, and Gotha appeared to be sufficiently large to find something of inspirational value. Sadly we found nothing other than burnt out rooms and corridors, inhabited some something that screamed loudly.

Lenin stood proud as we marched around a former Soviet Base. Nohra’s sole remains consisted of the entrance gates, and a life sized statue of Lenin on an 8 foot plinth, which was all kept well maintained. Was this retained for a reason? Did superstitious workers refuse to tear it down or does it have a preservation order? Either way, the rejection of demolition of local history impressed yet perplexed me.

At Gera-Milbitz in Germany’s Saxony province there was a Soviet hospital. Gera-Milbitz was on top of a hill, as was the vogue in hospital location choice in the early 20th century. One building had been converted for use as a school, but several others remained in a sorry state. Concrete walls housed rooms of graffiti and decay, and some locals played an elaborate version of golf around the buildings, whooping as the balls came through the doors. We stood and conversed for what must have been half an hour. One dapper fellow told me this was the first derelict building he’d been in, and the first time he’d played golf. His tweed cap and two toned golf shoes suggested otherwise.

We sat outside the front doors for a while. Being used to security patrols, fences and the odd camera, it felt surreal to be able to just enjoy a ruin. Gera-Milbitz was definitely a ruin.

Jena was a base we just happened upon, between Nohra and Gera-Milbitz, we saw the familiar pre-cast concrete walls and decided to stop, parking on the verge outside and hopping the walls into the now somewhat familiar, primitive structures. We walked around maybe 5 buildings. Auditoria, barracks, canteens. Derelict as it gets, paintballs loitering like the weeds we scrambled through to get in. Police tape we ignored. This was becoming almost anarchistic. Fuck the establishment, we’re in your country and we’re here to enjoy it.

Chance was a fine thing. We spent a while here, wondering around the high and soggy grass while looking at buildings, cleared of their Soviet majesty and left just as a concrete shell. We looked for more. We left, eventually.

We visited another base at Grossenhaim earlier in the day. A MIG monument sat by the roadside, it’s tailfin somewhat crumpled and it’s stone base still bearing the Cyrillic writing from when it adorned the nearby base.  The base itself was unremarkable.

The locals had utilised the surrounding hangers and bunkers as storage and industrial space, leaving little to the imagination. A hammer and sickle decorated a stone memorial to the period of 1945 to 1993, when the base was assumedly decommissioned. A plaque was stood before the barbed wire, with a history of the site recorded in German and Cyrillic. The runways were surrounded with concrete bunkers, within which aircraft or missiles could be stored. Locals were setting up food stalls for what we assumed was a forthcoming display. A trabant sat outside the hanger, and within, a jet powered military aircraft. Various signs dissuaded us from entering but we did anyway – nobody was around.

We arrived at a powerplant in Germany expecting security guards and fences. A woman was stood by a hut and she had a board outside. A clock indicated the next tour. As we’d got this far we opted in, our €5 buying us into a two hour tour and an option to take photographs of the oldest Lignite power plant in Europe. The tour was comprehensive; however we didn’t understand a great deal of it. The guide pointed out the turbines, transformers, control panels, boilers, silos and cooling towers. We all agreed that despite the fact it wasn’t what we had expected, it was worth seeing. In the UK this site would have been torn down, or left to be stripped by those who wished to sell the scrap metal they could find onside. This powerplant was granted listed status before it even stopped generating. A far cry from the fate that’s met Battersea.

Written by Winch

August 12th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Dereliction,Roadtrips,The Creme

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  1. […] not a specific location but we spent almost an entire month of this year sleeping in weird, random and derelict places. While the most harrowing was an active crack den in Luxemburg which we […]

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