London to Latvia (and everything in between) - Part 2

Date April 2010
Posted August 2011
The Germans, the coal mines and Old Maskie
The first night in the car produced two stiff necks and a bemused stare from an elderly lady hobbling past on the pavement. The windows were misted up and siologen, asleep, lolled to one side with a string of drool descending from his agape mouth onto a borrowed grey sleeping bag. This vast human slug twitched now and then, probably dreaming of 'big titty porn' and vodka, the tail making rustling noises amongst the rubbish which was starting to pile up in the footwell. This seemed like an opportune moment to get up: I climbed out of the car, had a stretch and grinned at the old bag.

Zeche Schlagel and Eisen, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

As we were to be driving across Germany from one side to the other it made sense to enjoy some of the lesser-visited attractions. Here in the west we'd nominated the disused collieries as worthy of a few hours, starting with the one we'd camped outside. It turned out that most of it had been laid to waste, but not the giant white winding tower which turned out to be easy enough to climb once a razor wire fence had been breached (lacerated hands all round).

Zeche Hugo, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

Before jumping back in the car to voyage further eastward we had a look inside the bath house. The hanging baskets in the photos seem to be the German equivalent of the steel lockers found in most British collieries, and once filled would've been hoisted up to the ceiling and the chain locked off. Other than this room most of the building was ransacked.

Zeche Schlagel and Eisen, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

Our second stop of the day was a chance one, another of those massive white headstock winding towers rising up above the approaching horizon. We circled the town and parked up at the back somewhere before following an overgrown railway line into the premises to be met with the view shown below. Quite impressive how much of this obviously disused mine was still intact.

Zeche Schlagel and Eisen, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

In advance of landing in Germany siologen had warned that we'd meet other people literally everywhere we went, no matter how obscure the location happened to be. After twenty minutes of creeping around we ran into a group of local mine enthusiasts working hard to restore an old steam winding engine. From fearing being caught by guards and escorted off the property, now we were dispatched with a set of keys and rough directions to some of the more interesting and better preserved areas of the colliery.

Zeche Schlagel and Eisen, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

With light fading we made a last stop at the Ewald colliery, which was at one time united with Schlagel & Eisen as part of a consolidation mine. Many of the original buildings remain here although lots have been converted as part of a retail park. Importantly though the headstocks still stand, and are to be kept as part of this development. There wasn't time to do more than climb both of the tall structures and then depart, continuing our easterly course and hoping to find somewhere to camp out just short of Berlin.

Zeche Schlagel and Eisen, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

Several hundred kilometers later and siologen was still at the wheel. I was bleary-eyed and largely drunk, suddenly shaken awake as a figure stepped off the pavement and into the road forcing siolo to swerve violently to avoid collision. A ghostly mask flashed past the window, vacant eyes staring lifelessly at us. Face suddenly pale siologen stamped on the gas barely daring to glance in the rearview mirror lest the gaze of that horrific monster somehow turn him to stone. Once he'd calmed down we found a carpark and berthed the car discreetly in one corner. After checking the doors were locked my companion, trembling, began to tell the story of Old Maskie, who stalks the wooded areas around Berlin looking for victims or something. I only caught the first couple of minutes of it: too tired to give much of a shit I turned back to the window and fell asleep.

Zeche Schlagel and Eisen, Essen, Germany (2010) courtesy of

Sunrise found us alive and intact, sharing a dusty patch of wasteland with two cop cars, the occupants of which paid us little interest as we got out of the car, had a stretch and set up the burner to cook breakfast. Intentionally we had parked a short walk from the former US listening station on Teufelsberg hill. The hill itself is actually a heap of rubble dragged out of Berlin after the Second World War. The NSA built a radar station on top to help with their intelligence gathering activities during the Cold War. Today it still stands, although it has been comprehensively ransacked. We found it deserted save for a few musicians who were in the main dome recording sound effects.

NSA Listening Station, Berlin, Germany (2010) courtesy of

Late afternoon we continued into Berlin, took a brief look at the old Tempelhof airport (but didn't have time to go inside) and sent some postcards. Regrettably this fleeting visit was all that we could spare Germany's capital city: instead we had to push on into the night. Siologen was at the wheel again, steering an eastward course and following signs for Poland.

(Old Maskie was last seen with a companion riding a vintage Metro train in Paris.)
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