Kloster Hude

Among the ideas proposed over the years for preserving post-industrial ruins in American cities such as Detroit has been converting them into ruins parks. That the structure(s) should be preserved in such a way that they are left a ruin but stabilized to be safe to visitors and protected from further deterioration. The most notorious example of this was when photographer Camilo Jose Vergara suggested in the 1990s that the “skyscraper graveyard” around Grand Circus Park be turned into such a park honoring Detroit’s industrial age. He likened it to the American version of the Acropolis. Similar proposals for individual structures, such as the Michigan Central Station have been made, although attracting less attention.

For the most part, these proposals do not get very far, if they are taken seriously at all. In the case of Grand Circus Park, that is more than likely for the best. Europe, on the other hand, is littered with ruin parks. Some, such as the aforementioned Acropolis, are famous and seemingly obvious candidates for preservation. Others are far more obscure. While most are hundreds, if not thousands of years old, it is possible to find preserved ruins that are recent, and even comparable to our own. They can be preserved for their historic and aesthetic qualities, or as a memorial to an event. Suffice to say, I find the diversity of structures, how they are preserved, and how they are used to be fascinating.

I figure that I will devote a few posts to some of the different ruin parks that I’ve come across on my current trip to Germany. In doing so, I will start out small with a look at the kloster ruins in Hude, a small village near Oldenburg in northwest Germany. Hude certainly isn’t on a standard tourist route. I was only there for genealogical reasons. But it is a nice town and a popular spot for retirees, with a nearby lake and lots of country trails. At first glance it is not the first place you would expect to find an impressive ruin.

The kloster ruins are on the edge of town, anchoring a quaint little historic district named for it. The kloster was originally built in the thirteenth century and I must say that I was surprised with how large it was, even in ruin. For example, the village’s current church was merely part of the kloster’s gatehouse. The site has been in ruin for about four hundred years, as the abbey fell into hard times after the Reformation and eventually had to close. However, it has only been relatively recently that efforts have been made to preserve the site. As a result, only fragmentary remains are left.

Even so, the kloster is an impressive ruin. The principle feature is a large wall section of the nave with scattered smaller sections here and there giving you a sense of how immense the building really was. Some wall fragments tilt at frightening angles, appearing ready to topple, and have recently been reinforced with buttresses. In other areas missing brick has been replaced with newer brick to prevent the collapse of arches. The old and new brick do not match so that one can tell where patches have been made. Most of the floor is buried under several feet of dirt, but one section has been excavated to give the visitor a sense of the structure’s true height. For extra splash and dash the ruin is illuminated at night. Most impressive of all are all of the details still to be found. One finds flowers, faces, and fish, all molded into the brick itself.

All things considered it is a very peaceful and beautiful place. A series of paths wind through the structural fragments, giving one free reign of the site. In my time there I saw several people visiting the kloster, taking photographs, sitting on the benches and reading the historical marker. From what I could tell they appeared to be a mix of locals, people who came to the site specifically to see it, and people passing through who found it by surprise. If only some of Detroit’s ruins could be enjoyed in the same way.

Hude certainly has embraced its ruin. A stylized version of it even appears on the town seal. The exact motivations for preserving it, at this point I cannot say. The neighboring museum and the information inside is only open odd hours, none of which were while I was in town. I could only peer through the windows and see the panels about the stabilization work. Whatever the reasons, the ruined kloster remains very much a part of the life of Hude. Browsing online I can see that the kloster gets considerable use, even as the site of weddings. As a park it is no dead monument. That is what impressed me the most. The structure remains as useful, relevant and lively as if it had been completely restored.

Could Detroit have a similar ruin park? I would like to think so, but the answer isn’t so simple. For starters, American buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not built like thirteenth century European abbeys, even if they mimicked the architecture. The interior details of St. Cyrils, for example, were delicate plaster. Even the seemingly solid stone construction of the Michigan Central Station is a thin veneer. In a comparable state as the kloster in Hude they would be reduced to steel and concrete shells. In other words, most ornate buildings would decay beyond recognition or otherwise be unsustainable if indefinitely left open to the elements.

More importantly, there is the memory issue. Detroit’s ruins are often seen as something to be ashamed of, a symbol of the city’s perceived failure, a collective trauma, or centuries of injustice. I can find no fault with such viewpoints. Maybe the history and memory associated with Detroit’s ruins is less distant than that of the kloster and Hude? Regardless, I don’t see Detroit putting the Packard plant on its seal anytime soon.

There is, of course, much to say on this specific train of thought, and I will continue it in further posts. But after spending time at the kloster in Hude, as well as other ruin parks I can somewhat see the appeal that Vergara and others might have seen when suggesting that parts of Detroit get similar treatment. When done right it is possible to make a ruin as relevant as any new and occupied structure. Who knows, perhaps there was a time when the idea that the kloster and other ruins in Europe be turned into parks was just as impractical, silly and upsetting to Europeans as making a park out of a twentieth century skyscraper or automotive plant is to us?

1 comment to Kloster Hude

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>