I’ve since been exploring the west portion of the region near the Rhine River, but I’m backed up on blog posts.
Shortly before landing I read an excerpt from JB Jackson’s ‘A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time’ about the American landscape and use of the phrase ‘a sense of place’. Despite a common desire amongst designers, planners, and architects to create a ‘sense of place’, Jackson argues that we often associate place with an event or reoccurence we have strong memories of. Rather than only the location itself, he argues that it is our sense of time that establishes a sense of place. Jackson also delves into the divide between mechanical time such as that based on the 24 hour day and our sense of schedule, as opposed to time based on earth processes. He asserts that this shift happened more decisively around the time the railroad (and railroad schedule) was invented and the the workday became more regimented. The processes relating to industrialization have shifted our sense of place to rely more heavily on a sense of time through the increasing importance of mechanical time and detachment from natural cycles, also concurrently with a marked decrease of topographical landmarks.
The landmarks of the Ruhrgebiet on the Industrial Heritage Trail are meant to commemorate the area itself, as well as the time period associated with industrial development that led to the creation of an identity. However, after reading Jackson’s article, I tried to imagine how my own sense of place is shaped by the sense of time, and how approaching this totally foreign object that I read about online is affected by this.
The one thing is for sure, this place looks totally different by day than by night.
This picture is off the website, the light-art installation ‘Yellow Marker’ is meant to indicate the western point of the region while a similar marker on the eastern point has its own yellow light. Both towers are former mine shafts, used for excavating vertical tunnels, and they are the shaft Rossenray in Kamp Lintfort and the Königsborn in Bönen respectively. Around 80 km apart, they intersect each other perfectly to form the west/east axis of the Ruhrgebiet, and also intersect the north south axis of marked by the Schurenbachhalde (will come at the end of this post). By defining the space of a regional cultural landscape, these shafts are simple and elegant identifiers of a ‘place’ defined by mining activity.
Another fun fact too, the shaft was used by the Rossenray mining union, of which Krupp owned most of the shares (yeah they were also in mining). Mining in the lower Rhine ceased in 2012, and ‘Yellow Marker’ was installed in 1999.
By presenting a strong online presence, the Westpol struck me as having a sense of place before I’d even been there. However, this place I’d read about on the internet is totally different than the one I encountered in real life.
First of all online the shaft is totally not under construction, and its sense of ‘eternity’ or maybe immortality is much more palpable. Not like that it would actually last forever, but something about existing as an emblem of its own decay and abandonment makes the artifact feel more eternal, because everything is always decaying. Oddly enough, seeing the act of something new being built around it made it feel more like just the raw material the building really was, rather than a symbol. By comparison, seeing landmarks post-revitalization/post – new construction makes them feel like they’d last forever even if you can clearly see they are no longer what they once were. Capturing the spirit by way of carefully composed narrative through design is really much more effective than showing up to a place that’s been ripped to pieces even if it is cool to see the giant hole in the ground and how tall the building is.
The Act of Going Places
Wallace Stegner described the American as rootless and migratory, a discarder and a transplanter, constantly in motion.
Motion can be described as change over time, and if time plays a role in forming our sense of place, than so does motion as it is linked with time. Stegner was arguing that this motion led to a sense of placelessness, because it means you can never get to know it enough for it to acquire the poetry that gives it a sense of place. But that puts me in a pretty awkward place then I guess, because the experience of the trail I have is largely one of motion, since I’d probably spend just as long or longer getting to or between ‘places’ than I’d spend at the places themselves. Unless the place here is defined as the whole trail, or just the whole region of the Ruhrgebiet. But then that also means there are places within places, within places.
The Halde Lothringen in Bochum (east of Essen) was not easy to find, and actually I reached it by motorbike because I wanted to hit a couple places at night to see them with their lights on (this and one other).
The particular light installation was done in 2003, the yellow structure made to look like a old pipeline that passes over ground with a yellow LED ribbon that looks as if its floating on top of the hill at night. A lot of haldes, which are old mining soil waste heaps, now support thriving ecosystems with landscaped pathways and have art installations at their tops. The Halde Lothringen isn’t one of the better known haldes, but google reviews give it a 4 out of 5 saying:
Its a nature oasis in Bochum, good for an hour’s walk with someone you would like to get to know, good for dogs, and ‘I find it good’.
Less positive reviews read something like:
Theres nothing there, not suitable for children, and that it looks neglected.
All the reviews are in German, and are only google translated.
The reviews had a funny contradiction, some liked it for its feeling as a nature oasis, while others called it neglected. Nature, which often represents the absence of man’s actions, would therefore imply a sense of ‘neglect’, but I guess its only preference. Joan Nassauer’s “Messy Ecosystems, Orderly Frames” talks about ‘cues to care’ and the signs of intervention that often make places more attractive to us. She also writes of how our conception of beauty is heavily influenced by cultural norms and the idea of picturesque landscape gardens.
The yellow pipeline seems like it was meant to provide a semblance of order and structure to the wild forest that looks out upon an agricultural field. It still does in my opinion, but actually the light did not turn on and the vegetation surrounding the pipeline looks much taller than some of the earlier pictures of it. Additionally, it was not as well marked as some of the other points along the Industrial Route, and I didn’t see a single sign pointing towards it.
Like every other point along the trail thus far, I’ve used Google Maps as an aid to locating the points. Honestly, where would I be without digital navigation, its completely dominating with regards to my sense of where I am. But Google Maps didnt register most of the smaller paths surrounding the halde, and given its rather overgrown ‘nature’, my travel partner and I sought direction from a group of bikers. They didn’t recognize the name Lothringen at all, but after showing them a picture one man was able to point us in the general direction of where we could find it. After scrambling around a bit more in the dark, we finally located it after passing through a pair of boulders and entering a different forest trail.
It felt as if the art installation itself had actually been abandoned. Which maybe was the point, that after a while the structure would again be enveloped and people would just sort of forget about it, or maybe it wasn’t. But either way, I think the act of finding the pipeline is just as embedded in my mind as ‘Lothringen’ as the landmark itself, and the act of finding the pipeline is also very much intertwined with my use of Google maps.
I don’t know why the lights weren’t on here either, they look like this.
But the funny part is that the silhouette is still perfectly visible without the lights because of all of the surrounding city lights of Gelsenkirchen.
Online, the lights are supposed to switch on half an hour after the streetlamps turn on and last until midnight (mysteriously off when I went), but google reviews (5 out of 5 stars) speak of the fantastic review of the skyline. In the distance you can see other industrial landmarks, as well as some chemical factories, and a clock tower. The light is enough to make the sky purple.
I hear it looks totally different during the day though. Since it was after dark I climbed via the steps (about 300), but the sweeping paths cross through rolling fields which I will definitely check out later.
This landmark I’d actually seen during my Essen bike trip, not on my landmark-after-dark motorbike trip, but I don’t want to forget to post it and I think its still relevant to this theme of a sense of time as well.
The story here was that this heap contained a large amount of mining waste from the Zeche Zollverein, Essen’s iconic coal complex. Its also adjacent to the Rhein-Heren Kanal and the River Emscher, only a short bike away from Gelsenkirchen’s Nordsternpark which is also along the Emscher landscape bike trail.
By the late 80’s, about 250,000 trees were planted on the slopes of the heap (halden.ruhr), and become open to the public in the 1990s. Then in 1998, American artist Richard Serra was commissioned to create the Slab for the Ruhr, a steel monument about 48 feet high, 14 feet wide, and 5 inches thick.
The slab has a slight tilt, and marks the north/south axis of the region that intersects the west/east axis of the ‘Yellow Marker’ installation.
While the slopes are rich with vegetation and wildlife, as well as two small pond ecosystems, the top of the hill is barren and gray, ‘like a lunar landscape’ and many of the reviews say. The slab, which appears a speck in the distance but towers when you approach it, cuts a daunting figure and draws people in just by virtue of being the only ‘thing’ around. Just within 10 minutes of being there, I saw a man on a bike stop and begin filming a vlog, another man approach on a bike, a hiking couple, 3 jogging girls who ran neatly around the slab before turning back the way they came, and 2 running children who did the same. The lunar field was huge, actually, but it seemed everyone was only interested in the same thing.
Actually when I saw the Schurenbachhalde I did not think of a lunar landscape at at all, but imagined the top of the hill covered in ashes, like at the sight of some exploded factory. And the little picture I captioned with a ###### is actually a tiny pond at the top of the hill, not like the much larger green one below, and reminded me of the ‘poulders’ the region now experienced from land subsidence due to mining. I also wonder how often they run over or mow the surface of the lunar hillface, since I could see little specks of green peeping out of the dirt and I’m sure they intend to keep the landscape there bare, not like the birch forest growing at the hill slopes.
I think its pretty rare to be in a place as ’empty’ as the top of the Schurenbachhalde, and the giant towering steel slab only accentuates the feeling of nothingness. Time is calculated in distance from the slab, the effort it takes to reach it, and how many puffs of smoke you watch go by when you’re standing there.