Lost Places – a random collection
[Note that I use "lost places" in its literal sense it has in English, but NOT in the sense of the pseudo-anglicism it is in German, where it is used to refer to what in English are called 'abandoned places'!]
Some dark & weird sites that are no longer in existence today:
Needless to say this list is of course no more than a grossly incomplete personal selection – and it is likely to get expanded in the future …
- Most of the former Berlin Wall
and the Cold War
border between the FRG
and the GDR
. (But: see Berlin
and the various Iron-Curtain-themed
museums). The border strip that was such a visible scar right across Europe has gone, which is of course a good thing as such. Today it's largely been reclaimed by nature – in fact, it's become a real haven for rare plant species (and some animals) along many sections. While that is of course a good thing too, it still leaves the dark tourist with a certain kind of regret that something like this can no longer be seen for real … unless you count other fortified borders that do still exist in the world (most notably at the DMZ
between North Korea
and South Korea
). But it's not quite the same … (cf. Berlin Wall
- The abandoned A24-Autobahn
-Trasse (the stretch of motorway) that connected Berlin
before the Iron Curtain
severed the line for over 40 years, so that it was just left to rot away and become overgrown (oozing a marvellous 'forgotten-place' atmosphere) – that is: until Germany
's reunification, after which the motorway connection was quickly restored. Now it's just a normal motorway with not a trace left of what it had used to look like for over four decades. (See also: why this interest
memorial site before the western refurbishments and changes – the old memorial and exhibition
set up during the GDR
years was quite different, and after the demise of the GDR in a way a double exhibition, insofar as it not only covered (in its own way) the obvious history of the camp in the Nazi
era, but also provided insights into the GDR socialist mindset and perspective on the site. For instance, a big point was made of the fact that the camp was used to imprison political, in particular communist
enemies of the Nazi regime, while the group of homosexual inmates who were also held here were hardly given a mention; neither was it pointed out that the Soviets
continued to use the camp for several years after the war. Instead the heroic role of the Red Army in the liberation of the camp – and Germany
at large – was emphasized. Today, the site has been brought more into line with other such sites and memorials and serious money has been spent on refurbishing and expanding the Sachsenhausen
memorial site. While this is of course laudable in itself, it also entailed an element of loss – that of the consistent overall "GDR
-ness" of the older memorial. It's a fate shared by many aspects of typical "GDR-ness" and GDR sights (cf. the demolition of the Palast der Republik
). It leaves today's dark tourist with an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, you obviously can't complain that the GDR is gone and with it all that was unjust and wrong about it – and that has to include its own twisted representation of the previous periods of history. On the other hand, you often have to wonder why the clear-up had to be so absolute. Why so little historical preservation. In the case of Sachsenhausen it was probably inevitable that it would be updated in order to make the place work for today's visitors – and at least you have to concede that parts of the new memorial site's museums do make an effort to cover the GDR period too. But again, it's just not the same … you see, even the most just and inevitable modernizations can still leave a little irrational wistfulness …
- Palast der Republik
. The "Palace of the Republic" was the main showpiece of GDR
governmental architecture. It had multiple functions, one of which was housing the state's parliament, the "Volkskammer". It has been alleged that the recent demolition of this highly symbolically charged edifice was part of a revisionist endeavour to destroy the memory of the GDR. Although a widespread, generally "agreed" explanation as to why the Palace had to go hinged on the argument that the building was apparently riddled with asbestos
– true, there was asbestos, only, it had already been removed at great expense years before the total demolition of the entire structure even began. Why it still had to be a complete annihilation of the building is something that cannot be so easily justified that way. It also has to be noted that the Palast der Republik filled a gap where another, older historic building, namely the Stadtschloss or 'city castle' used to stand. This had suffered some damage during WWII
and the GDR leadership had it blown up in 1950. So if there was a revisionist element in the demolition of the Palast, then it had an arguably similarly revisionist precursor … in any case, whether the destruction of the GDR's centrepiece building was really necessary remains a contested issue. I personally find the loss sad, not so much because it used to be pretty sight (in fact most people would say it was decidedly ugly), but for the 1970s socialist
"charm" the place oozed. I deeply regret that I never saw the building's interior, where that cheesy "charm" was particularly palpable (the sarcastic Berliners used to refer to it as "Erich's Lampenladen" – 'Erich
's lamp shop' – alluding to the ostentatious light fixtures in the lobby).
The outer facade, on the other hand, was almost restrainedly elegant with its copper-brown glass panels all round. The last time I visited the demolition site of the Palast (in March 2008) it was already about 80% gone – but a single pane of that copper-brown glass panelling was still hanging on one side of the building's skeleton, reflecting the Berlin cathedral opposite.
Now the building has completely vanished. In its place a replica of the former Stadtschloss is to be built (or at least its imperial facade around a modern edifice). This is also – and rightly so! – highly controversial, for various reasons … but it would go to far here to dwell on this further.
Suffice it to say that this potentially intriguing destination for the (dark) tourist was not allowed to be. Now it is no more, and I for one find that a great pity.
- The old London Docklands
– of course an area known as Docklands does still exist in London
, only now it isn't real docks anymore but "reclaimed" real estate mainly used for offices and sometimes eerily artificial new towns. Parts of this, in particular the area around Canary Wharf, have a certain weird attraction in themselves, what with their strange chaotic cluster of modern architecture. But the point is: it is no longer dockyards. When I started exploring the area in the early 1980s, most of the docks were derelict, but still in existence, abandoned, rotting away – with a particularly gloomy and "dark" atmosphere; only the Royal Docks were still used for their original purpose, but that was discontinued soon after too. A few docks were already lost then, i.e. filled in to make space for new buildings, esp. in the Surrey Docks complex. Today virtually all of the old Docklands have been "refurbished". Outside the Canary Wharf Enterprise Zone that mostly means newly built housing of a relatively drab style. Of note is also the London City Airport that uses as its runway the long "peninsula" that used to be the quaysides of Royal Albert Dock and King George V Dock, now minus the warehouses, of course. The oldest of the London docks complexes that hasn't been filled in is that of St Katharine Docks, right next to the Tower of London. It was one of the first conversions, including the ruthless demolition of some grade II listed Victorian warehouses, and has long been a luxury marina with posh fake-maritime pubs and all. And where there once stood aesthetically pleasing Victorian warehouses, one of the ugliest sins of the city's architecture disfigures the whole area: the London Tower Hotel, which indeed towers over the site, not only tarnishing the old docks, but also two of London's major sights: the Tower of London itself as well as Tower Bridge – so it has to rank as possibly the worst example of city planning in London ever. How architectural crimes such as this were ever allowed to happen will forever be beyond my comprehension – why did architects of the era get away with their horrific aesthetic illness they were somehow allowed to live out?
- Elbe II U-boat bunker
in the harbour of Hamburg
. Until a few years back you could still see two submarine wrecks under the concrete roof that had collapsed V-shaped after it was blown up at the end of WWII
. I never went inside myself, I only looked in from the outside, but you can find photos online taken inside the bunker clearly showing the submarines. This odd leftover from the post-war years that had lasted so astonishingly long was eventually lost when the whole dock area was filled in to make space for a lorry car park.
- Most former gulags
and the former Soviet Union
. Russia isn't exactly at the forefront when it comes to dealing with darker chapters of a country's past, least so regarding its own. Thus most of the disbanded gulags (i.e. those that didn't continue operating as prisons) were simply abandoned and gradually reclaimed by nature, or even demolished – e.g. the infamous Vorkuta
site had to go. Today, there's only one proper gulag memorial site in Russia
. Traces of other camps can still be found in the wilderness (esp. in Siberia
) – but that requires the logistics of an expedition. Tourists are not catered for at those sites. There are, however, a couple of gulag sites in Kazakhstan
, in particular the infamous Karlag
- The bow of the Amoco Cadiz
, the oil tanker that broke apart off the Brittany coast in 1978, causing a massive environmental disaster, in fact one of the worst oil spills ever, certainly in France
. For a short while the broken-off bow of the giant tanker still poked out of the water off the coast, which could have served as a kind of sinister reminder of what had happened here … but the French navy blew it up. Now the site is only something for hardened divers who may go down into the cold and dangerous waters to see what remains of it – still one of the largest wrecks ever, and one that lies in shallow enough waters so that it can theoretically be reached. For tourists, there's nothing to see above the surface …
- The former Sielmuseum
(sewer museum) in Hamburg
was a very special, highly unusual little speciality. But unfortunately it was closed for good in 2009. I had the chance to see it shortly before and you can read the report of my visit here
. I enquired with the Hamburg waterworks company and was told that there were no plans to reopen the museum or restart the associated guided tours of the nearby pumping station and sewers. Instead I was told I should consider the new "WasserForum" (water forum) museum in Rothenburgsort – but that lacks the weirdness and character of the old museum and does not really contain anything dark. My additional enquiry about what's become of the exhibits in the old museum went unanswered.
- the former Afghanistan Museum in Hamburg was one of the most endearing little speciality museums I ever encountered anywhere. It was thus a shock when I discovered on a more recent return trip to Hamburg that this museum had disappeared. I still found its former neighbour, the Spice Museum, and enquired about the whereabouts of the Afghanistan Museum. I was told that in 2012 both museums apparently had to move out of their old premises just down the road (which allegedly required refurbishment) but that unlike the Spice Museum, the owner/curator of the Afghanistan Museum could not afford to relocate and set up his museum anew so instead had to give it up altogether. What a great shame! This is now the third lost place in Hamburg in this list – if this trend continues I will have to reconsider the city's star rating and darkometer ranking … For now, you can still read my old account of the former museum here.
- the wreck of the Queen of the Sea train
was for a while a stark reminder of the tsunami of 2004 that so affected Sri Lanka. The tsunami swept over and derailed the train killing some 2000 people, which makes it the largest death toll in any train disaster ever. But this wrecked train has meanwhile mostly been removed. Just a single carriage has been retained and put back, upright, on a rail track at a nearby station.
The fantastically shoddy Monument 1300 Years of Bulgaria
. It was such a failure that it wasn't such a big surprise when I learned that it was finally demolished in 2017. I for one find this very sad, though. I found it so phenominally bad that I loved it. Shame nobody was willing to pay for its prservation. Now it too has fallen victim to the current revisionist approach in Bulgaria
towards its communist
past. Other monuments are also under threat (not least the magical Buzludzha
). The spot where the old shoddy monument stood is now occupied by some lion statue that apparently had been there before the monument was constructed. Revisionism it is, then. Pathetic.