Posted by: facetothewind | June 27, 2010

Lost Leipzig

Sebastian and I went cycling in search of ruins in Leipzig and found an abandoned industrial complex. It was the Bleichert Werke plant built in the late 1800s to manufacture aerial tramways used all over the world. The company employed thousands of people in its heyday. Bleichert closed its plant in 1991, after the re-unification of Germany. Many people left East Germany for the West, leaving towns like Leipzig crumbling. At one point, there were 60,000 abandoned homes in this town of half a million. The illustration above shows Bleichert thriving in 1925. Below is the remains of it, only 19 years after its closure.

Here’s a little video clip of our visit to this little industrial ghost town. The music was deleted by SONY Entertainment. Thank you SONY for making it impossible to promote your artists. Go to your CD collection and pull out some Philip Glass and put it on while you watch it…

Oddly, there were no No Trespassing signs and so although it was fenced off, it didn’t take much to walk between the fences. Clearly people have visited this site, though we didn’t find anyone squatting. There were only sounds of the building creaking and occasional bits of debris falling. In places it felt quite dangerous to be walking on a floor that might collapse or under an already collapsed roof dripping tiles. There were big holes in the floor that gave way to a basement or the floor below so we had to watch our step. We found one 5th floor room at the top of a ladder with a steel trap door completely swept out and clean with a brand new red swing hanging from the rafters. This small room, once the elevator control room atop the building is now someone’s escape perch – a secret playpen.

It was wonderful to witness the plants taking back the buildings. I imagined how this would look in fast motion, accelerating through the years of nature’s ravage. This building was abandoned most likely after the re-unification. There were lighting and ceiling fixtures from the 80s inside. Without someone to patch the roof and pull the weeds, it is astonishing how fast a building will reach its point of no return. Even a masonry building built to German engineering standards will begin to collapse within 20 years.

The first thing to go are the windows. Flying rocks from vandals are usually the culprit. Once that happens, the building is then vulnerable to weather. Then the roof goes next…usually because a roof is framed with wood. And water is the enemy of wood. Once a window is breached or there is a crack in the roof, the decomposition begins.

Water gets into cracks. Water freezes and expands the crack, opening the building to more weather. The wood beneath expands and separates tiles, inviting more water into the building. The plaster inside begins to crumble, bricks tumble, creating soil.

Birds soon nest inside. Microbes and termites eat the wood framing. Birds and other animals bring seeds into the building and soon you have the perfect growing conditions for plants. Plants send down roots, breaking open mortar joints, causing more bricks to crumble, making more soil for plants. Plants drop their leaves seasonally, adding organic matter to the brick dust and within only a decade you’ve got a living roof and an indoor eco-system.

The pavement outside splits open with plant roots pushing the slabs apart. The moisture causes the steel frame of the building to rust and give way and within 25-30 years, the roof will cave in. The next floor down is not built to withstand weather and goes faster than the exterior. The floors then pancake and the whole building will be a pile of rubble, overcome with plants within 100 years depending on how the building was built and the forces of nature. Of course fire, high winds and earthquakes accelerate the process.

The only thing keeping this from being a terrifying scene is that it occurs in slow motion. Score one for the plants!



  1. Like the way you describe how the buildings succumb to the forces of nature. The way I see it, the more buildings “die” this way, the better it is for planet earth. We have too many buildings in this planet. Now, do I sound like a eco-show-off? 😛

  2. Fascinating David.
    There’s a great book called the World Without Us by Alan Weisman
    It describes in detail what would happen to human built objects if we (humanity) disappeared off the face of the planet and makes for very interesting reading.

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