With a majority of the world now being accessible by traveller’s package deals, North Korea maintains its doors-shut-tight approach to allowing foreigners in, making it possibly one of the most illusive and mysterious countries in the world.
The sinister history and political stigma surrounding this state is reflected in its architecture, with buildings and sites left abandoned in the previously owned Cheorwon district and modern architecture reflecting communist characteristics and ideals. Here we explore five abandoned places that present an insight into this esoteric nation.
Former Korean Worker’s Party Office
(Image: Thierry Hoppe, reproduced with permission)
The former Korean Workers’ Party Office is situated in what is essentially the “old” Cheorwon County. After North Korea’s ruling from 1945, this town took a beating throughout the Korean War, mostly from American military. The original town features many relics from a time of severe conflict, the best building to reflect this being the ruined Cheorwon office. The abandoned three-story building was used by North Korea’s Workers’ Party as its headquarters. Built in true Soviet flair it shows the intrinsic features of a communist structure, being a mass of dull concrete and symmetrical high-rise windows. Although the second and third floors have collapsed, the outer shell remains strong. Bullet holes can be found on the interior walls, reminders of hundreds of anti-communist citizens killed and tortured within its ramparts, making this building a chilling symbol of the national division that remains to this day.
Former Woljeongri Train Station
Another wasted site worth a visit just south of the DMZ border is the former Woljeongri Station. Built originally as an industrial line from Seoul to Wonsan, it is now a tourist attraction following a restoration in 1988. Although the front desk and platform have been renovated, the wreck of a train bombed by American forces during the Korean War remains. The long pipe of rusting steel amid overgrown weeds is again a barefaced reminder of the political conflict this country has suffered.
The Manyongdae Funfair
The Mangyongdae Funfair is located 12 kilometers from the capital, Pyongyang. Although not strictly abandoned, there are several rundown amusement parks in North Korea that make for an unsettling visit. With many of the rides rusty and decrepit, local farmers are often called in to test the rides. Due to the lack of visitors, these hazardous machines are only repaired as and when needed. The deserted atmosphere and dismal rides barely makes this place an ideal escape from the despotic government. There’s even a game where players can shoot an imperialist soldier. During a recent inspection, Kim Jong-un ordered the Director of the Political Bureau to repair and rebuild the fair with the Songun era in mind – an era that prioritises North Korea’s ‘Military First’ policy. Surely the end product will not be much of a deviation from the norm.
Panmunjom holds the most significant political history, representing the tension of the nation. It is an abandoned village on the border of North and South Korea and is the place where political figures from both sides hold discussions giving it the name “truce village”. During the Korean War, this area was the battlefront and is also where a treaty was signed between the UNC and the Chinese-North Korean Command. Organised trips can show an insight into the stiff atmosphere, with hundreds of surly guards keeping visitors in order. Tensions are so high here that even waving is frowned upon as inciting propaganda. This serious and quiet place is turgid with Korean historical prominence.
One of the most prominent pieces of architecture in North Korea is the Ryugyong Hotel or “The Hotel of Doom”. Although it is now being renovated, for 16 years the empty shell stood as a perpetual reminder of the North’s failure. The original goal was to build a hotel as a Cold War reaction to the construction of the world’s tallest hotel in Singapore. But after erecting the outer pyramid the Soviet bloc collapsed causing a severe lack of funding in North Korea. Plans to continue were halted although its 105 story structure remained a eyesore on the city’s skyline. For many it was a perpetually embarrassing metaphor, freezing in time the failure and turmoil of North Korea.