An early wake up turned into a time travel back to the period when ironwork and coal mining were the heart of Europe.
The curtains added a soft glow to the morning light and the first sunbeams were coming through the window. It was five in the morning on one of those typical dry European Summer days, the windows of my room were fully open and the first talk at the conference I was attending would not start until eight in the morning. My eyes were open, but not because of the light; distant sounds of constant hammering and iron cutting had woken me up without warning. I was staying at Viktovice, a former industrial park now turned into a multipurpose area and tourist attraction in the city of Ostrava, Czech Republic.
These noises of ironworks made no sense to me at that moment. The park is just an attraction nowadays and these sounds felt like a ghost of the city´s past following me up in a dream.
Like the echoes of a techno club in an abandoned warehouse in Berlin inviting me to follow the music, the sometimes rhythmic and arrhythmic sounds felt like a call. I left the hotel expecting workers and vehicles bustling around me, but what I found was a solitary labyrinth of rusted iron warehouses, pipes and conduits inviting me to tour around.
Still, I realized I had not been dreaming: the sounds came from the Trinecke Železarny tube mill, one of the few steel manufacturers in Ostrava still functioning and located only a few hundred meters away from the industrial park.
On that Sunday morning of July, I wasn´t surrounded by visitors of the Vítkovice industrial area or the crowds of ravers at the Colours of Ostrava, a music festival celebrated in the industrial site every year. I was alone in front of the industrial past which shaped Europe, accompanied by a sound that took me back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Europe´s new trend
Industrial and abandoned zones like Vítkovice have not always been an attraction. In fact, according to Radio Praha in 2012, Ostrava, and in particular the city’s industrial zone Vítkovice, used to be one of the most polluted parts of the country. It was a destination with a limited offer to tourists. Still, it is one of the most important zones when it comes to recent cultural history.
With traveling turning more and more into a search for personal and unique experiences, visiting abandoned areas has become a trend, allowing people to experience a different side of a country´s history. Industrial zones play a big role in Europe´s cultural heritage and renovations have transformed most abandoned industrial parks on the old continent into attractions and places to learn more about this part of history.
What was years ago a zone of darkness and unpleasantness, has now given life to a new attraction which draws visitors from all ages and backgrounds.
Walking around Vítkovice that morning was exactly the kind of exclusive experience most travelers look for. It was like venturing onto a set of old history. The grass peeking up between the slats and the rusted metal pipes connecting one building to another had a unique beauty which kept me exploring further. It felt like being part of a dystopian movie in which each set piece had been perfectly placed by nature and history. Peeking into one of the abandoned buildings, I could only see rotten wood and a few obsolete pieces of rusted factory equipment. I was lost in a unique collection of industrial architecture. During that morning the paths connecting the industrial site were my playground and the sounds of the working mill were my audio guide. I was a spectator, as I traveled back in time to the period which defined the character and culture of Ostrava.
Jennifer Ceaser from The Independent described the industrial areas as follows: “No, this is definitely not a chocolate box of castles, churches and villages, but the industrial relics of these areas possess a unique kind of beauty – a testament to the gritty manufacturing past that has shaped Europe for more than 150 years.”
With giant gas containers transformed into multipurpose halls for cultural events, coal mines turned into museums and abandoned railway stations becoming techno nightclubs, industrial sites are becoming the new trend in Europe. I guess we finally understand that beauty doesn’t necessarily mean perfect.