Getting Sweaty In Europe – August 2012

Author Happyshopper - Last updated: 29.10.2012

It’s about time I wrote something up from our trip to Europe in August… It was a long time in the planning so it was great to finally make it onto the ferry at Dover and get under way with Subversive, SarahSaw and MeTwo. Having said that, the first day was a day of fail.

A huge thanks to anyone and everyone who helped with location details for us, there are far too many to mention. You know who you are.

Day 01. We rolled up at Villa Grammaire, went for a little walk and upon turning the corner on the driveway we immediately spotted a man standing in one of the front windows painting. Being a Sunday coupled with the lack of white vans, this can only be the owner. So back into the car and off to Chateau Zufall we go. It’s ok, we tell ourselves, this one’s epic. Because when it comes to UE, everything is either Epic or A Derp.

After parking far too far down the road, we eventually find the place and make the fence look super easy. The place is pretty well sealed though and it took us a good half hour to get inside. As it turned out, the call of epic was a little premature. It was stripped out for renovation and there was nothing to see save for some empty rooms with stripped floorboards. Crap.

Roll on Antwerp and some food! After drowning our early sorrows in coke and milkshake, we headed to Crachoir Piscine where we finally got to see something as we expected it! I really wasn’t fussed about the place if I’m honest, not at all. It’s just a swimming pool. So I didn’t photograph it.

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Crachoir Baths Changing Rooms by jamescharlick, on Flickr

The corridors are one of the nicer features of this old swimming baths, built in 1915 and active until 1999. It was built in the first world war to prevent all of the local workforce from being transported from Belgium to Germany to work on the war effort in their factories.

So things were on the up. Did I mention the heat? It was hot. At times I thought I was melting. With that in mind we decided sleeping on the roof of something was much more desirable than sleeping in an old swimming pool changing room where the only clean areas were almost certainly still in use. We headed to The Comet Factory and spent a lovely evening listening to a water pump evacuate water from a trench somewhere below us, but it didn’t matter, we were all far too tired to care.

Day 02. Come the morning, come the time to get out before the workforce arrive and make enquiries about why we moved in to the top floor of a derelict factory for the evening. We probably knew enough French to ask about breakfast, but I don’t think we’d have explained the rest away too well.

We headed first to the abandoned monastery of St Fakobus for some comedy entry. Because only three of us had suitable equipment to get in we had to relay items back and forth while trying not to lurk outside in a suspicious fashion.

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Early Morning Warmth by jamescharlick, on Flickr

St. Fakobus is one of several abandoned monastery’s in Belgium. Unfortunately we couldn’t get into the main chapel but there was a smaller chapel and a small selection of other rooms to see. On the site of a XIII century castle a monastery was built in the 1930s. The religious order has left and the site awaits reconversion.

When the time came to leave again I made the walk to the exit in the second relay, climbing up and out and wondering where the others had pissed off to I dumped my gear on the ground and as I’m half way out a cyclist passes by 2 feet from where I’m frozen in place. How they didn’t see me I’ll never know, I could have reached out and grabbed them. Next!

Another monastery was up, the more famous St. Hilarius. It’s a bit of a struggle to find any details on this site, perhaps speaking french would help but the locals seem to struggle too.

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Immaculate by jamescharlick, on Flickr

It’s a part of a live site, and they’re obviously very used to finding rapscallions such as us snooping around inside. We bumped into a woman who, after asking us to leave, mentioned that "work" was starting the following week so we wouldn’t be able to get in after that. I don’t know the nature of the work, but I hope it’s to convert the monastery into a usable space again without destroying a lot of what makes it charming and unique.

Site the third was the equally infamous Horror Labs. Subversive had tried this a couple of weeks earlier with Keitie and 2wid, and was evicted unceremoniously at gun point, so we were a little apprehensive. This time though, we got lucky.

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Specimen Shelves by jamescharlick, on Flickr

The basement of "The Horror Labs" is the last real feature of this old veterinary school, where the bulk of the samples have been removed – presumably in slow preparation for the development of this, the final building on the site.

This macabre scene features various Frankenstein’s Monster styled formaldehyde specimen jars, containing anything from lungs and livers to whole dogs heads.

Not a site for the squeamish.

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Dogs Ovaries and Other Samples by jamescharlick, on Flickr

It occurs to me now that our days were often themed, and the theme of day 2 save for the labs was obviously religion. Our final destination of the day was one of the highlights of our trip – Chapel Rose. When we were planning our little adventure, this was first on my list.

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Eventide Communion by jamescharlick, on Flickr

Chapel Rose was built between 1290 and 1308 as a convent and hospital, occupied by the Augustinian Sisters. Around 1600 the entire complex was destroyed by fire, after which it was rebuilt. The oldest parts that have been preserved date from that period. In the 19th century the south and west wings were partially demolished and rebuilt.

We got lucky with this one, knowing nothing about access we turned up at the perfect time of day. The chapel shares its location with a live building site, so an evening entry is pretty essential but it did mean we couldn’t sleep there as planned.

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Sunset Sanctuary by jamescharlick, on Flickr

So we got back in the car one final time and headed off to Home Sweet Home hospital for another night under the stars in peace and quiet. Or so we thought.

Abandoned since 2008, this care home for the elderly used to house 221 residents before they were relocated to a new facility opposite. Unfortunately metal thieves have now systematically moved through the place and ripped it apart. They appear to be doing this at night, by taking anything of value and hurling it from the windows to the ground below, seemingly regardless of what floor they’re on, whether the window has glass remaining in the frame, or how much noise they’ll create by doing so. In the UK the police would have been there within minutes, but although the locals were all standing outside their houses listening, nothing was done to stop it.

We heard them when we parked up, but we didn’t have a choice. It was too late to go somewhere else so we walked in and up to the roof. They heard us entered and went quiet, so we settled down, barricaded the roof access, and unpacked – hoping we’d spooked them and they’d leave. I went to sleep quickly and didn’t wake until morning, but I was told they promptly started up again a half hour later and went on into the very early hours keeping everyone else awake.

But I had a great nights sleep, thanks very much!

Day 03. Rising in the morning, we went to assess the damage. They’ve stripped everything, and what was a more or less pristine care home is now royally buggered where two weeks previously it had been in pretty good condition. Such a shame.

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Home Sweet Home by jamescharlick, on Flickr

Thus started our second day of fail. We headed to the old Stella factory, eager to see its’ crown jewel – the brewing hall. But in the maze of the site, we couldn’t find the bloody thing! We saw a whole lot of the place, but not what we’d come for. It was unbelievably hot for the third day in a row and the place was like a greenhouse. Combine that with the fact that we got split up and it really wasn’t going our way.

Eventually we gave up and went to find HF6. The blast furnace is easy to find, but we couldn’t seem to get onto the right side of an otherwise live site! Crap. But sod it, there’s an old university just around the corner, we’ll go take a look at that instead.

The old Liege University buildings are large, extensive and pretty trashed to be honest. It made for an entertaining hour but I wouldn’t go out of your way. We made our way around the buildings, strategically avoiding the bank of parked G4S vans parked out front and made our way in and out and through. Coming to the end of this little explore, we arrived at the main staircase and could see the vans lined up below us. Only now there were two G4S security guards pulling up, chatting and joking. Since they were in no rush, we assumed it was just a routine patrol, and waited for them to move off before heading down the stairs and out the front.

Then one of them put on a harness and pulled a dog out of the van. Shit.

We legged it. Back to the back of the site, around the buildings and avoiding the way we first came around where ever possible in the hope they’d follow the path we had used and not the one we were using. It’s still extremely hot and we really, really didn’t need that little run. But we’re out again and not being chased.

Time to go see Germany…

We had been put in contact with one of the nicest people in Germany, or at least it seems that way. We rolled up late in the evening and were instantly made welcome, got a fine nights sleep and a shower in the morning. Then we got the grand tour.

Day 04. After pastries and coffee, and feeling clean for the first time in days, we got started. We visited two pumping stations, two cage rooms, and a head stock. As far as I can remember.

This was a day of climbing as much as photographing, and I had great fun. Climbing high stuff with no fear of a security presence is quite liberating, I could get used to that…!

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The Cages by jamescharlick, on Flickr

The government have stopped subsidizing the coal mining industry and as a result most can no longer afford to run at a profit. Some of the locations are being preserved and restored, others kept in working condition in case they need to re-open, but most are being left to rot.

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The Cages II by jamescharlick, on Flickr

The cages were used in place of lockers for the work force. They would enter one room, strip off and put clothing and valuables in their cage, then raise them to the ceiling and padlock them in place. Then they walk through a shower room, washing on the way back if not on the way down, before unlocking their other cage which contains their overalls and mining paraphernalia.

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Not on Flickr so pffffft!

When they close, mines in Germany are almost immediately back-filled with concrete. This is both as a safety precaution against people wandering in as well as to stabilize the land above and prevent cave-ins and sink holes. That is why you so rarely see underground photos of the mines in Germany.

Tired, hungry, filthy and very happy, we returned to our hosts’ place to shower, enjoy home-made pizza, and have a bash at slack lining. Which is unfathomably hard. And hilarious after a couple of beers in the dark.

Day 05. We regretfully left north west Germany and headed south towards France, unfortunately later than we would have liked which meant fewer stops for the day. I had under-estimated quite how far we had to travel this day, so we ended up making just the one stop – a mine and coal washing facility on the Germany/France border. At least, it was once. Now it’s a giant industrial coal dust encrusted climbing frame, and was treated as such.

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Kohlenwasche by jamescharlick, on Flickr

After being the most important mine in the region for some 100 years, this mine was closed in 2000. At its peak, it could output 1050 tonnes of raw coal per hour or 2.5m tonnes per year.

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King of Spades by jamescharlick, on Flickr

My hands have never come out of a site so filthy.

We had to skip a similar facility in the same region, give or take, in order to get somewhere nice to sleep that evening. A bit of a shame, but I shall return. It’s all too good not to!

After many hours driving we had crossed into France and after some satnav mishaps we arrived at our destination for the night. We pulled up after dark at Manoir à la Verrière, known to the lazy accent-dodging English explorers as Chateau Lumiere.

We dragged an abhorrent amount of gear through the trees and in, losing some en route to be collected the following morning, and set up in one of the empty bedrooms for the night. Within minutes a thunder storm erupted outside and a torrential downpour ensued. There goes our hot weather. But we had a clean, dry place to sleep for the night and we were happy.

Day 06. Upon waking we had to wait for the sun to rise before starting to take photos. As the light appeared we ran around taking exactly the same shots as each other whilst trying not to get in each others photos. As you do.

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Le Manoir à la Verrière by jamescharlick, on Flickr

This Chateau once belonged to a wealthy industrialist of the region, but now sits quiet and empty on a hillside backing onto a forest. It’s relatively empty but in excellent condition, the bathrooms are all in tact and rather wonderful and I’m surprised it’s stood empty for so long considering the size and impeccable state of the manor.

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Escalier du Lumiere by jamescharlick, on Flickr

Moving into Luxembourg we headed for the next location – a quaint little manor known as Maison Kirsch. Outside it’s nothing special, but inside it’s a real time capsule. Furniture, paperwork and personal photos, even a wedding dress hangs in one of the closets, too fragile to move.

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The Long Lonely Sleep by jamescharlick, on Flickr

A bizarre place, it’s hard not to think the owners passed away without anyone to inherit and the place has been deserted since. But that’s all conjecture and with very little basis in fact.

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Recycle by jamescharlick, on Flickr

Our next was a similar property, an old farm house known as Maison Heinen. Unfortunately we were a little late, a lot of the furniture has been removed leaving only the master bedroom furnished.

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Dawn Staircase by jamescharlick, on Flickr

The owners must have been wealthy once, the decor if not tasteful is extremely elaborate and the oval-spiral of the staircase is one I have not seen featured anywhere before or since.

Slightly disappointed to have missed the boat on another location, we moved on back into Belgium and to The Grand Hotel Regnier. In 7 days exploring, who would have thought that the one place we’d be caught inside would be the most rotten of old derelicts?

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The Grand Hotel Regnier by jamescharlick, on Flickr

After no more than 5 minutes inside there was a colossal banging on the front window. Assuming it was the police, we turned around to see an angry, red-faced local slamming his hand against the glass.

Yeah, yeah, ok, we’ll be out shortly… Still, having seen the best the place probably had to offer we weren’t too upset.

But we were weary, and my tripod had started to fall apart during the day. It was our final night of the trip, so we promptly went for beer and steak. Luxuries, but who cares? We were all set up 10 minutes from tomorrows final target: IM.

Day 07. This was it, we were heading home today. But apparently there’s some small power station that everyone must see whilst in Belgium, so we headed there first to take a little look.

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Generator by jamescharlick, on Flickr

It’s huge, there’s no doubt about it, but either through fatigue or because of the ridiculous amount of sites we had already visited IM felt a little ‘meh’. An impressive place of course, but it didn’t live up to my expectations after all I’d heard. Perhaps with all the community hype, it never could.

I think next time this will be first on the list, and I’ll give it a fair chance. With a tripod which still supports my camera.

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Sulzer X by jamescharlick, on Flickr

We still had some time to kill before the ferry called, so we headed to the nearby SNCB train depot for a quick mooch around the abandoned engines.

I think we were in and out in 15 minutes. No one could really be bothered, we just wanted some familiar food and a real bed to sleep in.

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Final Resting Place by jamescharlick, on Flickr

Then followed a seemingly endless amount of travel – driving, ferry, and more driving. Huge props to Sarah for doing the bulk of it too. I don’t know how you did it.

So anyway, that’s the tale of my first explore in Europe. Lots of sweat, successes, fails, climbing, washing in McDonalds toilets, making friends, spending a large portion of the week blacker than Michael Jackson, and general good times.

You never know where you could end up on these trips. I can’t wait for my next one. 7 days might have been pushing it though.

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