Monday, July 4, 2011

Dusseldorf: The Post Industrial Landscape: May 31st - June 6th

From Berlin we took a 4 hour ride on one of the high speed German regional trains(that put Amtrak to shame in speed and comfort) to Dusseldorf. Dusseldorf is nestled in the Ruhr region and home to the adaptive re-use of various post industrial sites, the reason for our journey. This adaptive re-use that I talk of is using, for example, an old coal manufacturing plant, as a park space and also a place for educating the public about its past without losing the character and identity of the site. The region is very well suited to these types of uses because it has a strong link to manufacturing, mining, and refining from back when these entities were thriving, but now remain unused. These old sites were once very productive, back since the 1850’s and most remained active until the past 30 years or so. Just recently these places have been given historical preservation statuses, and the opportunity to be reshaped by Landscape Architects to make park spaces that celebrate this industrial heritage, and preserve the cultural heritage that is attached to it. Often times there are various contaminants in the soil, issues with degrading architecture, and various problems associated with a site that has been left to itself for quite some time. These things are often contained by different methods like specific plantings to help improve soil or water quality, or other remediation methods.

Our first day in Dusseldorf began with another walking tour of the neighborhood, and also the main open space of the city, the river promenade. This was also the scene for one of the best meals I would have on the trip. In Dusseldorf there are four main breweries, and they all make the same variety of beer, the alt, and each would tell you that theirs is the best. The breweries are interesting in that often people stand outside at tables just drinking with friends. Waiters constantly bring out beers, as soon as you are done with yours, a new one is brought out to you and a tick mark is placed on your coaster as a means to keep track of your beers, thus making your coaster your receipt. Once you have had you fill you simply place the coaster on top of the empty beer and no more will be brought to you. But onto the best part, the food. Growing up my mother used to make a dish called Rouladen that her stern German grandmother taught her how to make. It happens to be one of my favorite homemade meals, and I was quite looking forward to finding it in Germany. It is thinly sliced beef wrapped up with various stuffing’s, usually bacon and onions and served with gravy, sounds good, I know. So naturally I wanted to try the real thing, and to my surprise, they stacked up even, in taste. In size the German dish was more than three times the size and served with boiled potatoes.

Zollverein Industrial Complex

The Zollverein coal plant was a once functioning plant, but has now been turned into a museum and park space. A few floors of the old plant have been turned into a museum to the old coal plant, the industrial region Ruhr, and some general history of the area and some of the area surrounding the plant has been turned into a park space. The museum was excellent and thoroughly explained and celebrated the Ruhr region. However, the landscape areas, could, to put it nicely, use a little more work. The park space wasn’t clearly defined and was difficult to get to. From there we took a tram line a couple of stops down to Margaretenhoe. It is currently a very exclusive neighborhood, with a very long waiting list for renters. However, it was once used as housing for the workers and their families of the factories in the surrounding areas. The development was actually built by the owner of the factory in an effort to bring people to work for the plant as there was a worker shortage during the industrial boom. We walked around a good portion of the neighborhood, and it was very well kept, but the actual houses were rather small and didn’t seem like the exclusive title was rightfully attached.

Benrath Palace

A rococo mansion just outside of Düsseldorf was the next stop. It is home to a European garden museum and a baroque garden in addition to the impressive mansion. The baroque garden is characterized by a strong axis coming from the mansion framed on the ends by different focal points. The museum was very comprehensive and the landscape was equally impressive. Similar to Sans Souci in some ways, but much smaller in scale.

Bike Tour #1

What a different way to see a vast landscape over the course of the day. We began with a train ride to Duisburg where we were renting bikes for the day. It was to be a bike tour along the Emscher river and along old rail lines that used to run close to the river. It was a little bit of a nervous bike ride out of Duisburg, but once we found our way to the bike path it was smooth sailing to various stops along the river. One of the first stops was along a German cemetery. This sounds uninteresting initially to us in America, as we are used to the large open more arboretum set up. The German cemetery is made up of small garden plots that are maintained by the families. They are maintained by the families because it is said to help with the grieving process. Also unlike the US, the plots have lease periods, and after the lease is up, the family has the option to renew the plot or to allow another person to rent the plot.
The next main stop we took was at a sewage treatment plant. This was also another example of an adaptive reuse site. There are two treatment basins, one is still functioning, and the other has been converted to a wildflower garden. They are located close enough to each other that when you are in the middle of the park you can see the stark difference of the spaces. Other features of the park include a childrens playground, interactive water fountain, and small café.
The last stop on the trip was a raised soil mound left over from the mining of the area. It has been transformed into a terraced walking and bike path up the hill culminating in a large plateau with a very tall observation tower. The tower had several platforms leading to a small one 70 meters above the ground. The climb to the top was slightly unnerving, only made worse by very, very strong gusts of wind.
The was the last stop on our journey for the day, we arrived at a different train station and dropped off the bikes. Everyone was pretty exhausted after a day of riding over 40km.

Duisburg Nord

Duisburg Nord is the example in postindustrial sites. I was abandoned in 1985 as a steel and coal plant. There was an international design competition held in order to get fresh ideas for the future use of the site. The winner of the competition was the office of Peter Latz. This was to be his first attempt, of what would become a career specializing in this area. We were very fortunate in that Peter Latz had strong ties to the technical university of Munich in Freising, where we would be doing our one week intensive design workshop, and that our professor on the trip worked for his office. Latz would also be giving a lecture on some of his current projects when we got to Freising as well.
The site itself is the perfect blend of industry and park, excelling where the Zollverein complex dropped the ball. There are areas where contaminated soils are being treated by phytoremediation, old waste water areas are also being treated. Recreational areas, both active and passive are provided. An old gas tank has been converted into an underwater ruins for scuba enthusiasts. There is a covered seating area that holds over 1000 people for small concerts and performances. Over an acre of the sites old building infrastructure has been converted into a post industrial rock climbing haven. River and meadow walks are provided. Even swimming areas in a once polluted, but now cleaned and safe canal exist. Some of the larger industrial towers have been kept open, to climb up the old plant and see the old machinery that was used. They provide view points from about 5 stories up over the park and the surrounding area. And like any good park, there are a series of cafes for visitors who, like our group, wish to spend the entire day there.

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