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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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!
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.