Column Steven: Urban Exploring

Exploring a city without a guide, tickets or masses of tourists.
Steven Snijders Foto Guy Ackermans

Aside from walking under an umbrella in a summer shower, I have another strange hobby: Urban exploring. Urban exploring takes you to abandoned, dilapidated buildings, such as old factory halls from a less globalised era and historical castles that have not been maintained. This brings the past to life, and me, also.

Last weekend, I went to Cologne with some of my friends. Hidden in a forest on a desolated strip of land between a highway and a railroad track was a bunker from the year 1879, de Prussian era. Interesting history without masses of tourists, entry tickets and a route set out by others. Mostly, you will have such forgotten spots to yourself, but here, local youths were throwing fireworks at each other. We were a little afraid that we would end up in the crossfire, but they were probably also a little afraid of us. A precarious balance that kept the peace.

The still visible trenches surrounding the bunker told a gruesome tale. Without a guide to tell you what the story is exactly, you can ponder on likely scenarios. The smoke from the fireworks gave the bunker an atmosphere that no well-ventilated tourist bunker could ever match (see photos 1 and 2).

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1. For safety reasons, the building has been covered in concrete. Those who came before us have opened it up
2. Inside the Prussian bunker

Normally, you are expected to stay on the well-treaded path. Neatly constructed bicycle lanes and do as the traffic light orders. Many things have been decided for you, and everything is made easy. Boring and mind-numbing. Urban exploring is different. You must keep your wits about you to keep from falling or tripping over stakes, and you never know precisely what to expect.

I climbed into an abandoned processing plant last month from a rocky river bank via two tree trunks and a slab of fallen concrete (photo 3). Sometimes I find only rubbish, but this time I hit the jackpot. Here, I found French lecture notes from 1947 (see photo 4). Someone was following mister Vaurent’s classes at Voucason Technical College in Grenoble. A school that still exists. The factory building also contained instructions on CPR after electrocution. In those days, CPR was performed on a patient lying face down (see photo 5). Fascinating!

3. into an abandoned processing plant last month from a rocky river bank via two tree trunks and a slab of fallen concrete (the person on the picture is not me, permission was obtained)
4. Lecture notes from 1947
5. Instructions for CPR after electrocution
6. A monumental 13th-century castle that has not been maintained. You can still climb the tower.

Steven is doing a Master’s degree in Economics and Policy and enjoys hitting the squash court. He is always up for a game of squash and a good conversation. You can email him here.

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