While Where Shall We Play Today? by Gilly Meredith isn't a book I remember from my childhood (unlike Bryony), but I'm fairly certain that both Hedgehog and Mouse would have known that an abandoned iron works wasn't a safe place to play. Unfortunately I'm neither a mouse or a hedgehog, so I thought it was a splendid idea, especially at night!
Last week I was in Duisburg (it's a ten minute train journey from Düsseldorf airport) to attend a Khresmoi project meeting. We had the usual project dinner on the Tuesday evening (excellent food and wine), but on the Monday night one of the local organizers (thanks Sascha) had organized a sightseeing trip to Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord.
I hadn't looked at the park's website so I didn't really know what we were going to see. The only hint I'd had was someone mentioning that it was built on an old industrial complex. We arrived at the park around 8pm as the sun was beginning to set and it was clear that this wasn't a flat and green park land, but rather the remains of a substantial factory complex -- in fact an iron works.
By the time we had found our guide for the evening it was getting very dark. Fortunately the buildings are lit up at night in a multi-coloured light-show so in most places (but definitely not all) you can at least see where you are putting your feet. We started with a general introduction to the park, where we found out that the iron works closed 27 years ago and that the park officially opened in 1994 and now contains one of the biggest indoor scuba diving centres in the old gas storage tank. Of course diving wouldn't be fun without things to explore so there is a ship wreck and a crashed airplane, a few cars and an artificial reef! Leaving the tank behind we headed further into the works.
The first thing to notice once you head into the works is that a park such as this would never be allowed in the UK. Given that we seem to need Health and Safety signs for almost everything (including exposed tree roots in a forest) I'm sure an abandoned iron works being made open to the public would be completely out of the question. There are plenty of places to trip, fall and bang your head, especially at night and yet the park is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Even access to almost the top of one of the blast furnaces isn't restricted (it's a good couple of hundred feet up in the air). The stairs are steep and exposed, and when you do eventually make it to the top there is just a simple rail around the platform (which seems to be a favorite place for teenagers to gather for a quiet beer). Don't get me wrong I thought it was wonderful, I'm just surprised there aren't more accidents.
As I've already mentioned the buildings themselves are lit up at night to form a large artwork that can be seen for miles around, but some of the buildings are also used for temporary art displays, including what our guide referred to as the floating shower caps!
We spent around over two hours exploring the park and it was a really good evening. I didn't think I'd ever better my night time wonder around Berlin for project meeting entertainment, but this was better. I think this was partly because you never quite knew what to expect around the next corner, while in Berlin you have a good idea of the sites you will visit. I'll finish with one last photo showing the majority of the factory (including the crocodile crane). If you look at the large version then you can see the steps up the side of the blast furnace which gives you some idea of how exposed it was and how high we ended up.