Guest article by Seamus Murphy of Trenditionist
(All images by Seamus Murphy of Trenditionist)
Out on the street, it was nice to breathe some fresh air. That was until an old Trabant rumbled by, belching smoke and fumes, adding an air of authenticity to the scene. We walked onwards to our next destination, passing countless buildings in a similar state. My friend promised me the next place would prove far more interesting than the apartment, and he wasn’t wrong. We arrived at his favourite breakfast venue, an old abandoned factory with a yellow “Chemnitzer Leuchten GmbH” logo adorning its façade.
My friend explained that the factory was one of the core locations for producing light fittings in East Germany. To gain access to the facility, we had to climb over a fence and cross a stream before warily crossing a mound of rubble. This was obviously the remains of a collapsed wall and once over it, we were at the side door to the workshop. Unlike the apartments, the metal door was wide open, almost inviting. So with flash-light in hand, on we went into the darkness. The redbrick walls of the factory had certainly seen better days and were crumbling, but inside the workshop itself, the scene was one of remarkable preservation.
As we entered the production hall, we could see a pale green machine, its silhouette resembling one of those eerie Moai figures from Easter Island. As we moved further into the massive room, the cracked windows illuminated the scene in its entirety. Even though the work benches were gone and that green machine is standing idle, there was ample evidence of the factory’s function.
Shelves packed with tools still lined the walls, as did pipes and electric wires. I was surprised the tools hadn’t been stolen over the years. You could still find handcarts, fire extinguishers and even some desks complete with old lamps. Aside from the absence of the work benches, the peeling paint and prevalence of invading ivy, it felt as if work stopped just the week before.
Moving on, we came to the most interesting part of the factory, a storage room for finished products on the second floor. Hundreds of cardboard boxes were stacked to the ceiling. On closer inspection, they still contained the lights produced all those years ago, untouched and as good as new. Even though they were horrendously ugly, the discovery was intriguing. If you want to set up a business selling retro East German light fittings, come to Chemnitz!
In the adjoining rooms, it was possible to find small electrical components, still sealed in their original plastic bags, complete with the company logo. It felt like a time capsule. And it wasn’t just the factory itself. Peering out through the broken glass, it was possible to make out multicoloured Trabants on the street, with more dilapidated apartments just beyond them. A passing BMW quickly destroyed the historic illusion, a symbol of the modern optimistic Chemnitz mixed with its depressed past.
Sadly, I didn’t have time to enjoy a sunrise breakfast on the roof of the Chemnitzer Leuchten factory. Like many people before him, my streetwise friend has left Chemnitz and moved on to greener pastures. He told me that in the years since 2009, the factory was torn down. Explore that place and uncovering its secrets while it still stood was an amazing experience. Nevertheless, I’m sure to this day, there are many more urban ghosts around Chemnitz and other East German cities, just waiting to be explored.