Urbex

Exploring the Urban Environment

Achtung Baby! (Part two) – August 2008

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Following Noisy we headed for Hasard Cheratte, a mine on the edge of Liege. We sat in the car and laughed at both Duck-girl and the hugely dangerous game of football tennis played across the road. Access was easy, the sun was shining, and there was industrial goodness all around. Where would I rather be? Nowhere.

Cheratte was industrial goodness. A mine built in the 1860s and abandoned in 1977, the site is a protected Belgian landmark, which equates to little more than an old boy with a dog allegedly wandering round every now and again. Aside from that, it’s supposed to be tourist central. We didn’t see anybody else on site while we were there, and chose to spend a fair amount of time sitting in the sun on the upper levels.

The mines were accessible through these portals, but we chose not to enter due to not having either a map or torches. Lame eh? In all honesty, I was happy just to amble around the place and take a few photos. The best way to really see what Cheratte is like is to visit it. None of my pics do it justice.

Following Cheratte, we decided to move on to Berlin. After a horrendous drive, we parked up in a field in the middle of Germany and pitched two tents. Without much ado, we conked out asleep.

In the morning we upped sticks and departed swiftly, on to Beelitz-Heilstatten. Another three hours in the car took us to the site on a beautifully sunny day, and we spent all of it ambling around happily in the ruins of Beelitz, the sanitorium taken over by the Soviets on occupation.

Beelitz was built with love. The Berlin Workers Health insurance firm had money to spend in 1890 and built this monster of a hospital. When the Soviets came in in 1945 they took control until closure in 1995. During our day-long visit we decided to break for lunch and went to a great restaurant called Schitzenplatz, where they serve the biggest plates of food you’ve ever seen.

We didn’t see all the site,  as we left we were all somewhat underwhelmed, partly due to our expectations and partly due to the site being quite stripped.It is a big hospital, it is on a large site, the buildings are interesting. I don’t know what I was expecting really?

We drove to Berlin and tried getting a room with Wifi, at various hotels around the edges. Nowhere seemed to understand, instead preffering to shout at us “We have room!”. Eventually we checked into an Ibis and all bundled into one room for a big love in. Nothing like saving money….

Dinner was a chinese in a restaurant where the English menus read ‘Beef with onion’, ‘Beef with black beans’, ‘Beef with Beef’ and so forth, until my favourite, ‘Beef with’. We ate, slept, and departed for the NSA listening station, on top of a hill on the south side of Berlin. The climb was exhausting, the 3 fences deceptive, the weather hot, and the site pretty trashed. I had a feeling that this site was more heavily guarded than it needed to be. We thought we’d been busted following an incident with a man in a pick up truck, but he turned out to be cool. (“You’re English? That’s ok, just make sure the gate is shut on the way out”), but it was just that, and after and a lot of ladders and steps, we were in.

I don’t know why, but I was a bit more nervous on this explore than others on the trip. Maybe it was the German thing? I didn’t think much of the site to be honest – without the golf balls on loo-rolls, it would be overlooked.

When we were up at the top of one of the lower domes, I heard a car entering the site. It parked up, and I thought nothing of it. I walked around the front to see what it was, and it was a Polizei Van. We decided to sit it out, see if they were just doing their rounds. One of the party had gone off solo, therefore we didn’t want to leave the site until we were all together.

We could see the guards walking the other way around the site, and as we’d left our tripods at the bottom, knew they’d give us away… We legged it down the ladders, grabbed the tripods and went looking for our soloist. As we climbed the stairs into the safety of the building, I saw 2 guards walking around the corner. I’m pretty sure they saw us.

We decided to get as deep into the building as we could, look for our missing member, and somehow ended up at the highest point, inside the tallest dome. We could see Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in the near distance.

We sat it out, hoping the 4th member of the party would find us. We tried calling, but couldn’t get through. As we sat, there were footsteps coming up the stairs, accompanied by a torchlight… POLIZEI! We walked with the two policemen down the stairs, as they intimated to us that it was verboten to enter the station.

As we got to the bottom, we were re-united, with another few police there as well… They wanted to see out passports, as well as taking down the “name of the address where you get the mail”, informing us that they’d be writing to us. We tried not to laugh as one of the policemen flapped at a wasp with all the decorum of a toddler… We were also questioned as to when we were leaving Berlin. They didn’t like our answer and told us to leave immediately. They also didn’t like the car, claiming that “This car. In Germany? It’s no good!”

And thus our Berlin adventure had ended.

We drove out to where we were hoping the Soviet Military HQ was, but it was just a concrete shell. Not worth taking photos of, it was utter crap. We had a look at Kliniken Buch as well, but it was in the process of being converted and we could see workers all over the site. We took a leisurely drive back towards Belgium, taking in many sex shops on the way. When in Berlin…

Another camping spot was found and the trip continued at it’s leisurely pace.

We rose with the sun and packed the tents away, heading to the HH Hospital. This was intact throughout and was probably the finest example of a general hospital I’ve ever seen.We stumbled on the Morgue early on, and then the rest of the hospital was a pleasant, low key explore.

Being in the right area we wanted to try out Beringen, but the Heusden-Zolder Headstocks were on our route. The majority of Zolder’s Mine has been renovated or demolished since closure in 1992, with the headstocks remaining, as well as some ancilary buildings. This was the last coal mine to close in Belgium, Netherlands or Switzerland, and the local authorities chose the buy it in it’s entirety, with a view to converting it to industrial units.  We entered the building through a hole about the size of a letterbox. It was cosy…

In all honesty, I don’t know much about mines. I know you can climb them, go in the pits, but the history of them. Really don’t know!

Beringen-Mijn was an entire village opened in 1901. The area is known as Beringen-Mijn, most likely because the housing built in the area was for the mine workers. There were some impressive residential buildings around the mine itself, assumedly built for managers. In one bar, the whole place is decorated with archive photographs of Beringen-Mijn in it’s heyday. It closed in 1989, but the area retains it mining heritage, with the slag heaps remaining to the west.


Part of the mine is being turned into a museum, and some of the administration buildings have been restored. When we turned up there, they knew what we were up to…. Our interest in the mine was far greater than that of the museum which we were promised was opening later in the afternoon.


Great stuff here. Until it rains and the barking noises get closer. Oh, and did I say? It’s humungous. And a bit dark inside.

We drove to Antwerp, found a hotel, and bedded down for the night. The trip was beginning to come to a close, we’d struck a lot of sites off the list, but Transfo was beckoning us after our failure at the start of the trip. We had another Powerplant to try in the morning, Schelle, in Shelle, funnily enough. As we arrived it was being stripped out, and there were workers all over it. Shame, it looked so good in the guide-book.

On to Transfo, our frustrations growing at not being able to knock out another site. We’d planned to hit 3 a day, but the last few days had proved to be slow going. We had co-ordinates and went straight to Transfo. We’d just been at the wrong bridge before.

Transfo was split into two parts, a newer part which was undergoing demolition in 2009, and an old ‘museum’ part, full of original turbines.

This was a great explore to end the trip on. Proper industry, Hospitals, Chateaux, Powerplants and the early stuff made this a really fulfilling trip. We did a lot of miles and it was a great intro to European exploring. I don’t know why I waited so long to go out again!

After Transfo we got the ferry back to Calais, drove our separate ways and went back to real life. Wish we could have stayed for more.

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Written by Ali

March 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm

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