The Unknown Fate of the Düsseldorf Artists' Bunker

Now for the less-appealing side of Wersten. While innocently bicycling down the Kölner Landstrasse, I was confronted with perhaps the ugliest goddamn building I have ever seen. Not intentionally ugly, as in Brutalism, but unintentionally ugly, as in whoever designed it despised humans and wanted to actively make them suffer.

Which is true, since the building was originally a bunker (g) built by the National Socialists.

What we're dealing with is a two-story L-shaped building, probably about 3 stories tall, with a sheer stone facade with almost no windows. There is a copper roof with dormer windows set in irregular intervals, and strange barred windows, surrounded by bays of dark stone, placed seemingly at random. The entrance is, for some reason, painted a lively orange and white:

Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse

I suspected at first this might be a bunker. Like most German cities, Düsseldorf has many bunkers left over from World War II. They're 3 stories tall and made out of solid concrete. In many cases, it's extremely expensive or impossible to get rid of them, because the explosive force needed to blow through meters of solid concrete would irreparably damage other buildings nearby. Some can be dismantled, but it's painstaking work and usually creates major disruptions in the neighborhood and many complaints by nearby homeowners. The city or state sometimes tries to get rid of the bunkers but local neighborhood opposition gets in the way. So the bunker in my neighborhood, Bilk, still stands, with its annoying mural. One Düsseldorf bunker has even been turned into a church.

This bunker, like so many others, has a fascinating history. According to this article (g), a pair of German artists moved into the bunker in the mid-1980s, which is pretty common. Bunkers make good studios. The city of Düsseldorf granted the artists a lease. This is what Germans call Kulturpolitik: official state support for independent creative artists. The two artists created their studio inside the bunker, and presumably had cultural events there as well. Robbe has invested 70,000 Euro in renovations.Apparently, the bunker at some time officially became the property of the Bima, the Federal Ministry for Real Estate. 

This video from August 2012 gives you an idea of what the place looked like. Six artists had studios there at that time:

 

Then, nearly 30 years later, the Bima announced it had enough. It ordered the city of Düsseldorf to cancel the lease to the two artists by 30 September 2012. The Bima wants to build 'high-quality condos' on the spot. (Wersten is a working-class neighborhood where 50% of the children are on welfare). The artists fought the eviction notice in court. While that was ongoing, a construction firm began ripping the roof off the place, allowing rain and bird-droppings to flood the studio (g). The spokesman for the Bima is annoyed. The artists were supposed to have moved out by September 2012, they didn't, now somebody wants to buy the property. The artists obtained an injunction to stop this work. Apparently the parties were trying to work out a settlement as of early 2013.

I can't find any more recent news about this contretempts since that time. But from the look of the photographs, nothing much is happening in the former artists' bunker...


Business in the Front, Party in the Rear

Yesterday I rode down the Rhein to Urdenbach. The bike route takes you through an industrial area in which there's basically one house left: No. 73, Reisholzer Werftstrasse. The 4-story building stands there completely alone next to a large, empty field. The building has become a favorite for artists and countercultural types (including the sculptor and painter Ute Wöhle, who has a studio there), profiled in this photo essay (g) in the local newspaper.

The facade is being renovated, but the owner lets graffiti artists decorating the back part of the building. Yesterday they were hard at work:

DSCF9240
DSCF9240

Here's what it looked like a few weeks ago. Is that supposed to be Freddie Mercury?

Wall Painting Himmelgeist

 

 


Hackberries and Willows in Bloom in Unterbach

Finally, Typepad lets you post multiple photos at once (more easily), so let's give it a whirl.

This being the Rheinland, there are a lot of former quarries and gravel pits around, many of which are turned into artificial lakes. Lake Unterbach (g) is in the western part of town, just a 20 minute bike ride from where I live. Perfect for a leisurely bike ride. The hazelnuts, willows, and hackberries (Traubenkirsche) are in bloom. At least I think that's what the brilliant white trees on the island are, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. 

Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark
Geese in Südpark


The Neander Valley and Ultra-Rectilinear Mettman

Over the weekend I set out for the Neander Valley, where the first Neanderthal skeleton was found. It's also an ultra-pleasant hiking destination, complete with babbling brooks, succulent green meadows, winding forest pathways, mildly dramatic shale rock formations, and quaint villages where people set out bookcases full of old horse magazines by the side of the road. The leaves were, to use Oscar Wilde's phrase, 'ruined gold'.

During the hike I made a wrong turn or two and ended up in Mettman, famed as one of the epicenters of German Spießbürgerlichkeit (g) (petit-bourgeois stodginess). Everything there was quiet, respectable, recently-cleaned, and terrifyingly rectilinear.

Perhaps you readers can help me clear up a few mysteries in the pictures below. First, those metal studs pounded into the (mold-yellowed) wooden electricity pole? Who puts them there and  what do they mean? Second, the old stone markers by the side of the road in Bracken, Germany. What was their original purpose. Any clues would be appreciated.

Moss on rotting tree stumpPath and Meadow near Düsssel in Neander valleyPath in sunlight in Neander valleyRuined gold chestnut leaves in Neander valleySignal Studs in Wooden Electricity PoleStone marker in BrackenStone markers in BrackenUprooted tree roots amid broken slate Neander valleyView of Mettman Creek ValleyHouse in MettmanRectilinear neat garages in MettmanIch hase Zigreten machine in Mettman











Beech roots Neander valley
Bookshelf and door near BrackenDetail of mountain creek wildlife info posterDüssel river in fall Neander valleyEsel Nicht Füttern Don't Feed the DonkeyGaststätte im kühlen Grund Christmas festInformation poster about molesIvy and beech leaves Neander valleyIvy Covered Rocky OutcropMaple leaf caugh in twigs Neander ValleyMeadows in Neander valleyMein Pferd magazines in outdoor bookshelf BrackenMigrating geese and doves in Neander valleyMoss covered rotting tree branch Neander valley













Urban Archeology

The Corneliusstraße train overpass, one of Düsseldorf' many hideous underpasses, was recently stripped of its advertising hoardings, exposing squares of long-hidden posters and graffiti, including this advertisement, which appears to be for a long-ago performance of Swan Lake (Schwanensee) by the 'Ballet Classique de Paris' (extra points for anyone who can date this poster):

Corneliusstr. 18 May 2014 (Schwanensee)

Just above that I spotted the words 'raus aus Vietnam' (get out of Vietnam), barely legible in light-green ink:

Corneliusstr. 18 May 2014 (China raus aus Vietnam)

The first word was hard to read, but it's got to be the USA, right? The Vietnam War was, to put it mildly, not very popular in Germany (g) at least among the sort of people who paint underpasses with graffiti.

But on closer inspection, the first word turned out to be China (!):

Corneliusstr. 18 May 2014 (China)

That narrows things down. I'm sure I don't need to remind you that the last time China invaded Vietnam was in the 1788 Battle of Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa, so this graffito is 226 years old!

On closer inspection of Wikipedia, it turns out that China invaded Vietnam (again) in 1979, during the Sino-Vietnamese War. No wonder the Vietnamese still distrust their giant neighbor

Now the question is who wrote this? Perhaps a Vietnamese. But I like to think it was a member of a tiny Marxist splinter group, perhaps the Autonome Autarke Syndakilistische-Solidaristische Volksfront.


People! Animals! Sensations!

Circuses disappeared from America sometime around 1975, to be replaced by God knows what.

But Europe, God bless it, still plays host to circuses. Actual traveling circuses, with genuine circus-folk and clowns with eerie, pupil-less eyes:

Welktklasse Europa Circus

Come one, come all, to see 'Snake-woman Mercedes' (who looks about 12), 'Clown Banana' (not further specified), 'Fire-fakir Santokan and Belly Dancer Destiny', 'Schecki -- Europe's smallest Pony', 'Clown Peppo', and 'Arelina and Cartier', her trained horse.

I know we're supposed to find these things slightly louche and express concern over proper animal storage and all, but I for one welcome the prospect of humans leaving behind their flickering screens, foregathering in meatspace, and watching other humans do amusing things with each other and certain animals. Who says the new ways are always better?