From the S-Bahn platform at Priesterweg we drop down to ground level and follow the signs for the Naturpark. Even before we have left the station building we come across a gate and a friendly chap leaning against a golf cart and wearing a bright red hat. He charges me the one euro admittance fee to the park and hands Lotte a map of the grounds. An hour or so later he will still be there, to wave us on our way with a pleasant “safe journey home…” That’s a nice job, I think, as we walk into the park towards the rusting water tower that stands at its heart as a reminder of what once occupied this strip of land between the S-Bahn tracks and the intercity railway lines.
The sound of an alpaca’s hooves on tarmac, a muted cricket appeal and a group warming up on a band stand set against a backdrop of giant Victorian industrial architecture. By Tom Salmon:
A walk around Roberts Park in Saltaire, a world heritage site near Bradford in the north of England, earlier this year gave us an opportunity to reflect on the impact that the industrial revolution still has on the way that we organise our lives. It’s August, the Sunday after the bank holiday – a Victorian invention created in 1871 – and families are walking around the park enjoying weekend time together – the weekend-off-work concept started for most people in the 1890s.
Alongside the railway tracks at Warschauer Straße, in the Friedrichshain neighbourhood of Berlin, is a former railway repair yard that has been turned into a post-industrial cultural oasis, with bars and clubs, a skatepark and a climbing centre, amongst many other small and medium sized projects. This is the “RAW-Gelände”, from the wonderfully German word “Reichsbahnausbesserungswerkstatt” – the repair yard of the national railways.
This was the oldest company Friedrichshain, founded in 1867 for the Prussian railways and in particular, the “Ostbahn” which ran from Berlin to Königsberg and East Prussia (present day Kaliningrad). By the end of the nineteenth century the repair yard was employing over 1000 workers, and it continued operations through the GDR years when it was named for the Bavarian communist Franz Stenzer, who was murdered by the Nazis. In 1991, following reunification, the yard was closed, and since the end of the twentieth century it has begun its new life as a cultural hub, although walking through the complex you still get a sense of what it used to be – which is part of the attraction.
Whenever we get the chance we head south from Berlin to Leipzig, only an hour and a half away by train (unless you like to take the more leisurely route), where we have good friends to visit and the added bonus of one of my favourite cities in Germany. Normally we spend most of our time in the slightly-beaten-up but increasingly trendy neighbourhood around the Karl-Liebknecht-Straße south of the city centre, which is where our friends lived and which, with its combination of cafes and bars, semi-squatted cultural centres, and mixed population, reminds both Katrin and I of the Prenzlauer Berg of ten or more years ago.
This time we were taken west, not to the old industrial neighbourhood of Schleußig – which is also well worth a visit – but to Plagwitz, which was hosting one of their quarterly “Westpaket” events, which combines handicrafts and fleamarket stalls in an old iron and steel works and along the Karl-Heine-Straße, but also readings, performances, concerts and other cultural offerings. We entered the market through a anarchist travellers site parked up alongside the canal on a patch of wasteland, which was certainly a singular way to arrive, before we stepped into the vast industrial hall to explore what goodies the creative folk of Leipzig had come up with.
It is a November Sunday in Görlitzer Park, Kreuzberg. One of those days when it never gets properly light, not really, and without much wind it feels as if weather itself has taken a day off. We drop off Lotte at a friend’s birthday party, and then walk back towards the U-Bahn through the park. It is not summer, so there are less people around, but nevertheless there is still some action. This is Kreuzberg, so there is the usual mix of punks, students, hipsters and Turkish kids. The drug dealers as well, still open for business whatever the weather.
We booked a house in Sweden more or less at random. We knew we wanted to be somewhere north of Vimmerby, and within a couple of hours of Stockholm. The house we found by the Järleån river was about halfway between the towns of Nora and Lindesberg, less than an hour’s drive north of the university city of Örebro. We made that drive for the first time through driving rain, the windscreen wipers working overtime to keep the street ahead somewhat visible. What we could see, through the blurred windows and the spray of passing trucks was a landscape of thick forests, the occasionally rocky outcrop, and the knowledge that somewhere, amongst the trees, were hundreds of lakes, great and small.
What was not immediately clear was the influence on the landscape of centuries of mining, of forestry and iron production, that made this region – known as the Bergslagen – the resource-rich heart of Swedish industry. The Bergslagen is a place where Alfred Nöbel had a dynamite factory, with three-metre thick walls to survive an accidental explosion of the product, and which was used to excavate the earth. In the eighteenth century a quarter of all of Europe’s iron production came from hundreds of small foundries in the region. We met an English guy who is working in the region, and he told us that mines and mining remain an important industry, although the number of employees needed is down from its peak and many of the mines have been long abandoned and the scarred landscape returned to some form of nature.
And we went down to the river…
We climb down from the S-Bahn inside the new hall at Ostkreuz station, all shiny and bright before dropping down the staircase to street level and into edgeland. Somewhere beyond the junkyard is a football pitch. Abandoned buildings peel in the shadow of the new train station. A lonely pair of houses still show some sign of life, and the memory of when they must have been part of a much longer row before… what? Bombs? Socialist planning? A change of mind?
One patch of wasteland by the river Spree has been snapped up, no doubt cheaply, by a company specialising in team-building exercise, and they have turned it into a giant playground for adults, complete with tree-houses and rope-slides, beach volleyball courts and a launch to get corporate middle-managers and their kayaks out onto the open water. As we pass it seems as if the day’s activities have come to a close, as the group sits on benches, with bottles of beer to toast a good day’s work.
At its peak the Völklinger Hütte ironworks employed 17,000 workers, mostly men, who rotated through three shifts a day to keep the plant operating around the clock. It is said that when the works closed in 1986 after over a century of operation the people of Völklingen found it difficult to sleep, so unused were they to the silence. In 1994 UNESCO placed the ironworks on their list as a World Heritage Site, the first such structure from the heyday of the industrial revolution to be granted this status. Now there are exhibition halls and over six kilometres of walkways made safe and signposted for visitors. There is a café and a “paradise garden”, where plants and wildlife make a new home in this most industrial of settings. But the Völklinger Hütte is simply too large to be completely sanitised as a pure museum-piece. Continue reading
Chris Hughes has often passed by the Dinorwig quarries across the lake from Llanberis and has photographed them from afar. For this photographic essay he got inside, to reflect on the miners, the climbers and the wildlife that have staked a claim to this corner of North Wales:
In the late 1960s we visited the slate quarries of Tilberthwaite in the Lake District, usually on wet days when we had been rained off climbing on the ‘better’ crags. Later we set up long abseils in the Cathedral quarry to impress the PE students we took there as part of their outdoor activities course. But it wasn’t the activity that was remembered, it was the incredible grandeur of the rock architecture, the wonderful effects of light and shade created within these deep pits and the quiet and stillness where once there had been the noise, constant movement, and the general mayhem of the hard and dangerous job of quarrying slate.
Driving through Llanberis you could not fail to notice the monstrous heaps of slate waste and vast rock faces of the Dinorwig quarries across the lake. The whole side of the mountain, and a good part of the inside, had been chopped, sliced, split and generally smashed into pieces. Much of it was thrown away, creating the huge heaps and screes of spoil, whilst the good bits were carted off for roofs, walls and garden rockeries, until it all came to a grinding halt as the price of slate made it all financially unviable. Continue reading
Tom Salmon checks out the exhibition “The Unquiet Head” from Clare Woods, which is at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield until the 29th January 2012. The film above is an introduction to the artist and her work, and concentrates on the current exhibition:
On a typical wintery day in Yorkshire – grey, bleak, misty and great – we headed out to the Hepworth Wakefield, a new gallery that celebrates the area’s unique artistic legacy and exhibits the work of major contemporary artists. We were looking for a bit of culture, but the trip also gave me pause to reflect on how much I love living here and why Yorkshire is known (at least by us locals) as ‘God’s own county.’ Continue reading