Most major cities have an area or region that they consider to be an eyesore, a place that they would prefer to be hidden from residents as well as visitors, especially tourists. Often, that eyesore comes in the form of an industrial area – factories, pulp mills, power plants, scrap metal yards, steel mills, chemical plants, and so on. Yet industrial areas are a necessary evil in order to support and nurture the local economy.
But then, what happens when a factory or industrial area closes down?
In the case of Germany, they’ve turned many of their former, and even current, industrial areas into another economic draw, in the form of industrial tourism.
The German approach was something that I found particularly intriguing. Edmonton itself has a few large industrial buildings, such as the Rossdale Power Plant, that have been sitting virtually abandoned, waiting for restoration and a new lease on life.
We visited a few of these industrial sites on our travels through Germany, but Landschaftspark was the one that I wanted to see the most. While brainstorming some ideas for what could be done with the Rossdale for my role as a board member with the Edmonton Historical Board, Landschaftspark came up again and again in my Internet searches as a similar example. Something about the concept of it fascinated me – a once-abandoned industrial site on a huge scale, that, instead of being demolished and turned into condos or a parking lot, was re-purposed into what can only be described as a post-apocalyptic amusement park.
A bit of history:
The area now known as Landschaftspark (Landscape Park in English), was originally a coal and ironworks production plant in the early 1900s. Eventually the steel market in Europe hit a point of overcapacity, and the works closed in 1985. The more than 200-hectare brownfield site was left abandoned and polluted, but a group of concerned citizens took action and protested the proposed demolition of the site.
Professor Peter Latz and Partner eventually came up with the current design of the park. It allowed for preservation of as much of the original site as possible. This even included leaving contaminated soil in place. Instead they opted for a natural solution using plants to break down pollutants, known as phytoremediation.
But enough about history, let’s explore the park! We were staying in Duisburg, so we hopped the 903 tram (direction Dinslaken) and got off at the ‘Landschaftspark-Nord’ stop. From there is was about a ten minute walk to the park. Unfortunately we chose a miserable day to be touring an outdoor site. It was cool, cloudy and rainy.
As soon as we got to the park we popped into the tourist information center. It was under the guise of wanting to pick up a site map, but really we just wanted a few minutes to dry off and warm up! There were about 30 other people who had the same idea. Beyond that, there didn’t seem to be much going on in the park, it was surprisingly quiet.
We started our self-guided tour at Blast Furnace #5. This was one of the largest buildings to explore. You could even climb to the very top of the tower if you wanted. This is where ores were melted together to produce pig iron. The facility could be used continuously for ten years at temperatures of 2000 degrees Celsius before the internal brickwork would have to be replaced.
It all looks quite dangerous though, doesn’t it? Well, the park is designed in such a way that there are barriers, both natural and manmade (in the form of metal gates or locked doors), to keep you within the areas that are safe to tread. It’s very smartly done and doesn’t feel restrictive at all.
The park is also purposely allowing nature to take over some areas. Such as the trees breaking through some of the metal catwalks here and there.
As most of us don’t know much about the ironworks process, there were helpful signs placed in some of the buildings. They helped to get a better grasp of what each building had been used for back in the day.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from Landschaftspark. Aesthetically, I’m not a fan of industrial sites, especially when Europe has so many architecturally spectacular buildings. But this place is different.
We went in the early evening, so it wasn’t crowded at all, and visually it was so striking and fascinating. And if you’re a photographer….well, let’s just say, Mark and I aren’t the greatest photographers by any means, but we enjoyed running around trying out different camera angles and modes so much, that we both used up our camera batteries. That’s never happened before at any other site we’ve visited.
And the storm that we had been complaining about earlier, actually contributed to some pretty spectacular shots:
Admittedly, my favourite camera mode on Mark’s camera is called “dramatic”, which works wonders on storm clouds:
The amazing thing about this site is how many different views and angles you can get. You can choose to take photos from the ground, from a staircase, a platform, or a tower….the options are infinite. You don’t even need a photographer’s eye to get cool photos here; everything is interesting in colour, shape and texture.
But it’s not just about walking through abandoned shells of buildings and catwalks. They’ve added several activity areas, including gardens:
Even climbing walls:
There’s also a restaurant on site, a concert hall, and more walking/biking trails than you can shake a stick at. They even found another use for the old gasometer, built in 1920:
If those shapes on the doors look like scuba divers, you’d be right. The gasometer is now a 13-meter deep diving tank!
At night, the park is lit up thanks to some really cool light installations from British artist Jonathan Park. Unfortunately we didn’t stick around to wait for it to get dark, since our camera batteries were all used up. But we easily spent three hours here, maybe more. It was a very eye-opening and unique experience, and one that I would recommend. (Even for people who aren’t into industrial tourism.) Landschaftspark is a great example of re-purposing a site that most people wouldn’t think twice about demolishing.