For those that feel like they need to catch up on some reading...
This was meant to be a regular column in Il Draino, but it came at a bad time and I only published a few. I just found them (unformatted sorry) and figured that it was a shame to see them go to waste. I also hope Jim doesn't mind me posting them here.
I hope they don't break any UER rules.
The file is 16 years old.
Paris 2nd to last
The extensive underground quarries in and around Paris (read: Catacombs) are by far the most interesting and complex underground places that I have seen, very likely the most interesting systems in the world. Because of this, I decided to spend the last two weekends in Europe exploring them.
The first place I went to the first weekend was the suburban quarry of Bougival (or so I thought) that I had spent a few hours looking for a few weekends earlier and finally had found the entrance, or so I thought, at the last minute. However, the cataphiles had mentioned that this quarry had been closed due to an accident. This time I returned, equipped with the map. Sure enough, the entrance I had found appeared to correspond with the main entrance to the quarry. There was supposed to be a tractor just inside the entrance passage, which continued straight for quite a while, but here there was no tractor and the passage instantly curved to the right. There was no place that looked similar on the map, but I was still convinced it was the right quarry. I continued back, and soon started mapping the place out. The passages were of the same design and type as those on the map, but even after mapping out all passages in this quarry, which turned out to be relatively small, it was certainly not the nearby large quarry on the map known as Bougival. Maybe a good reason to call it Not Bougival. After a short walk through the woods, I found the real entrance to Bougival, as the cataphiles had said it was very well closed, with a thick slab of cement. I was able to dig open a small hole just above the entrance, which quickly got colder (meaning large underground space), but soon got too small to continue.
Then I went over to the town of Acheres. There was a quarry shown on the map here, but no info as to how big it was, or of what design. The only entrance that remains is a vertical crevice that looks like the entrance to a natural cave, this leads down to a small, low room with four crawl passages off of it. All four dead-ended at rooms, two of which were sizeable, but there were no continuations. That’d be the smallest quarry I have visited around Paris.
At midnight, I met the cataphiles Joli Dragon and Christelle, and we went to the quarries of the 13th arrondissement. Only a couple blocks from the entrance, we arrived at the Salle PTT, surprisingly much larger than I had expected it to be. I had thought that there were alarms on both sides of the room, and that it was used by the telephone company for something, but there were no alarms and it was wide open. The stone room was designed in an approximate square, at least 10
meters on a side, and the ceiling was a semicircular arch. Next to the room, there was an amazing sight – a double cement staircase (one of those where there are actually two intertwined staircases, usually used in tall buildings to save space and so there are two fire exits) but this one was completely out in the open so you could see both of the stairs at once and climb between them on each floor. Really neat. We went on through the central area of the 13th, a labyrinth of both straight and winding passages under the Place d’Italie, stopping at the Salle des Carriers where another group was taking a break, and soon arriving at les Trois Chatieres, the three squeeze holes. The middle one of the three was the smallest, and also the most interesting, the ceiling was a semicircular arch coming down to the floor at the sides and only slightly above a foot high in the center. On the other side of the chatieres, there were two interesting sights, one was a room that had been used as a storage cave but looked like it had been burnt, the other, through another chatiere, was a ladder leading up to a manhole that led directly out into the middle of the well-lit RATP (Paris metro, bus, tram company) garage. The manhole was closed, but you could look out a hole and see a brand new metro train. Then we went on out the three chatieres again, and soon arrived at the Salle K. Here, Joli Dragon and Christelle got out their hammocks to take a nap. I didn’t have a hammock so I tried to sleep on the floor, but as I soon found out, it was a lot colder than expected, because when you’re moving around the passages it feels a lot warmer than when you’re staying still. Instead of sleeping, I went over to the Cabinet Dentique (underground dentist’s office), similar to the Cabinet Mineralogique in the 14th arrondissement, except that this one has two staircases, is half-filled with dirt, and has a plaster mold of somebody’s teeth on top of one of the staircases. Whoever the teeth belonged to was very unfortunate, some of them were missing and some were pointing at sharp angles to each other and out of place. After taking a few pictures, I headed back to the Salle K, and we went onward to visit a couple more places before leaving. First was La Taverne (the tavern), a very small room with a low ceiling that wasn’t much to see, and close by was the Salle des Sculptures, a small confusing maze room with many small sculptures made out of either stone or mud, most of which represented comical faces. Then we left out up another nearby shaft. It was almost noon. I went back to the hotel, checked out, and headed out to the suburb of Livry, home of one of the Paris region’s tallest quarries with a ceiling of (at least) 18 meters.
Walking across a meadow behind the town and through a thicket, I soon came to an entrance. Here the ceiling was about 15 meters high, and it was walled off up to the ceiling, but there was a hole in the wall, and I entered the quarry, and followed the perimeter to the right along a straight passage towards a distant light, presumably the other end of the quarry. The ceiling continued to rise, to the point where I could almost not see it with a halogen flashlight. There were old double-doors as wide as a normal street in all of the side passages, the quarry had been used for storage at one point. The passages were in a trapezoidal shape, with the ceiling about 3 meters across and the floor about 12
JIM’S JARGON CONTINUED (part 2)…
meters across, the rough walls sloping inward from floor to ceiling. When I finally arrived at the light, it was an amazing sight. Light was pouring in several large entrances, illuminating the quarry from floor to ceiling. Of course the rest of the quarry was just as big and tall, but it was all the more amazing with daylight coming in. There were a couple of old garage buildings in the quarry, and two staircases similar to those in the Cabinet Mineralogiques in Paris, except that these are made out of cement and have no historical meaning. This could be called the Cabinet Mineralogique de Livry. I walked out of the truck-sized entrance passage and down the trail up to the nearby street. Surprisingly there was no fence or signs telling people to keep out, only a nondescript trail leading into the woods and a discarded happy meal box. I went back into the quarry and explored another of the trunk passages to the back of the quarry. Simple grid pattern room-and-pillar design. At the back was a circle of rocks around a fire, probably the cataphile hangout. I left the quarry and took the train back to Paris, then went home to Germany.
It’s amazing that the Livry quarry, as well as several nearby large-scale Gypsum quarries, is in almost perfect condition (there was only one spot where the ceiling had collapsed here) while all of the small-scale human-sized gypsum quarries in the region are filled with rubble and in very bad condition. This probably has something to do with the trapezoidal shape of the quarry providing good support. Although the volume of this quarry itself is probably much larger than some of the extensive Paris systems, it would only take an hour or two to see the whole place.
Paris 1st to last
Friday night I went to the extensive telephone cable tunnel system under the center of Paris, with the intent of mapping it out. First, I went to the RER (express subway) station Auber, in the middle of the tourist-overflowing Opera neighborhood, and walked past several large fashion clothing stores, arriving at a ventilation grate that I had previously marked as being openable. After climbing in and turning sideways and upside down, I was finally able to slide through the slot between the vent and the manhole shaft and down the ladder. All there was at the bottom was a small room with a mess of telephone cables coming out of the wall. Bummer. To avoid any more similar disappointments, I went back out and took the RER back to the vent that I had first entered with Olrik, across the river Seine. From here, I began to map out the tunnel system, which at this point was primarily one tunnel leading north toward the river. At a certain point it ended at a locked gate that I had not remembered being there the last time, probably because it had been open, but one of the bars to the side of the gate was able to move aside, giving just enough room to slide through along the cables. This tunnel continued along to the shaft with a spiral staircase leading down below river level, and then down underneath the river, and under the island in the middle of the river where Notre Dame is. A side tunnel led off to a spiral staircase, but I didn’t map out that part because it was right underneath the national police headquarters. There were a few inches of water on the floor, and boards that had been placed there for the purpose of walking above water level were floating on it. Suddenly a loud rumbling started up, it sounded like a pump and was probably pumping the water out of the tunnels. But it wasn’t doing a very good job. I continued on under the other side of the river and up another spiral staircase, emerging in the room directly underneath Place de Chatelet, right in the center of Paris, and began to map out the more complex tunnel network north of the river. One tunnel led to a locked gate, the other led through an open gate and continued on. Soon I found a shaft leading down about 30’ to another tunnel leading back to the other side of the locked gate. There was basically just one continuing route through this part of the system, most tunnels dead-ended. I checked most manhole shafts to find similar ventilation holes with grates that could be opened, out of the 25 or so that I checked, only 3 were passable, and one of those required severe wiggling and contortion while hanging in midair, but the three were evenly spread out throughout the system so that it would not take too long to return to any one point in the tunnels. About half of the manholes were openable from the bottom, so you could exit from wherever you want to, but that would be much more noticeable than a quick opening and closing of a vent grate. Unlike the catacombs, while walking through the telephone tunnels, you can usually hear voices, and it sounds like they’re in the tunnels because they echo throughout the tunnels, but it’s really just surface people talking above the vent grates. The tunnels themselves were relatively dirty, quite warm, and often had a couple feet of water in them, so unlike the catacombs and quarries it wasn’t a pretty place to explore, but it was geographically because the tunnels ran practically under the whole city. The intersections were several blocks apart, in one case the tunnel ran a couple kilometers with only short side tunnels leading to shafts. One small section was more extensive and included a couple disused tunnels (no more cables), one of which was filled with cobwebs and very ancient, which had a hole in the wall that led to the sanitary sewer system. I followed this not-very-enjoyable tunnel for a block until it ended at a larger tunnel. “Rue Etienne Marcel,” it said. They even have street signs down in stinkytown. I went back into the cleaner telephone tunnels, there was even a sign in the sewer marking the cross passage as leading to the telephone tunnels. I finished mapping out a good portion of the system, but leaving five passages unexplored that have potential of leading to even more complex and extensive parts of the system. Then I took a taxi back to the hotel. The driver wondered why my boots were so dirty but I told him that I was exploring the tunnel system and he didn’t mind that.
Saturday, I went to the suburban quarry Herblay. There are no less than seven walk-in entrances in a small clearing in the woods and several more along the edge of the hillside nearby. There are stone arches along some of the entrance passages, two with a
JIM’S JARGON CONTINUED (part 3)…
date engraved in the late 1700s. Most of the main passages have street names. From the entrances, the main passages lead straight back into the quarry, sometimes splitting, and generally ending a few blocks back. Low, narrow cross passages lead between them, and there are mazes of low, curving passages between some of the main ones, but in this part of the quarry it’s hard to get lost because of the frequency of the main passages, most of which lead back outside. However, hidden deep inside the far northwest corner of the quarry, there is a small, wet passage labeled “Pase de la Carriere Neuve” – Pass to the new quarry. This shortly comes out in a similar quarry, but which has even more endless passages, and no difference between primary and secondary tunnels as in the old quarry. Adding to that the fact that all of the tunnels that lead back to the hillside are filled in, it is very easy to get lost in this part of the quarry. This one was previously used for mushroom growing, the sacks filled with dirt are still there. I followed a trail of reliable red arrows for a few blocks, so I wouldn’t get lost, and soon came to a locked door with light coming from behind it, probably coming out behind somebody’s house in the town, then followed the arrows back out. Certainly a quarry to come back to and finish exploring, preferably with the map. There were many quarry entrances along the cliff through the town, but the ones that were accessible led to very small quarries, basically just one room. I went to a quarry a couple kilometers away behind someone’s house, but it was of a large amorphous room-and-pillar design, and although it should be somewhat large because of the location of the ventilation shafts shown on the topo, it was not that fun to explore, as is typical of most newer amorphous room-and-pillar quarries. There was a car just inside the entrance.
That night, I met Titan and friends, and went to the catacombs of the 14th arrondissement. We met at the entrance to the abandoned train tunnel, walked along it, and in through the only entrance to the catacombs that does not come out in the street. The disadvantage to this entrance is that it is very far from any of the interesting parts of the quarry – it took us about half an hour to walk to the first interesting room – the large Salle Marie Rose, which was about a block long and filled with pillars and a lot of paintings on the walls. Then we went on to another small room, and a couple blocks later passed a side chamber with a model train in it. After going through a couple more confusing areas at the intersection of many passages, we arrived at the Bar des Rats, where several friends of our group were waiting. They joined us, and we went over through the German bunker, past the Fontaine des Chartreux, and over to a small, new room under a shaft with a ladder leading up to a (closed) entrance. I made a quick detour to leave some tracts at the top of nearby spiral staircases, and after resting there for a while we left and went past the Tombe Philibert to a new room at the end of a long, curvy passage, where more friends of our group were, some of which were sleeping in hammocks. After a rest there, we headed south in the direction of the entrance, a couple hours from there, stopping to rest a couple times, once at the Salle Dragon, named after a dragon carving in the wall. It was 9 AM when we emerged back into the train tunnel. A strange feeling to see lights at both ends of the tunnel and wondering where the light is coming from, only to realize that it’s daylight.
I took a nap for an hour and woke up to the knocking of the hotel maid on the door asking if I was going to stay another night, and then mysteriously found that my alarm clock had been shut off and was on the other side of the bed from where I had put it. I quickly got ready and took the next train out in the suburbs again, soon arriving at the quarry called Hennocque. A couple guys were getting ready to rappel the face in front of the quarry. I walked past them and entered. If this had been an American quarry, they would have stopped me, warning that exploration was not allowed, but being France, they didn’t even look twice. The goal of this trip was to find a room called Salle Mercury, built out of large stone blocks by cataphiles. (Pictures of this room are on the page http://www.titan.free.fr/
under photos.) But I only had an hour to find it before it was time to leave to make the train home. I found the entrance to the quarry much sooner than expected, it was wide open. I started to explore the southern end of the quarry, it was of a similar design as Herblay, with main passages radiating out and mazes of low, winding passages in between, but this quarry had more room-and-pillar sections, and a couple main passages running parallel to the entrance passages. It didn’t take long to find a squat (room made by cataphiles) with several face carvings, and ornaments decorating the room. After a short break, I continued to explore to the north, where the passages got wider and taller and became more modern. Some had large cement arches across the ceiling. When it was time to leave, I still hadn’t found the Salle Mercury, but I had probably explored less than half of the quarry. Another place to come back to.
We’d like to thank Jim for letting us use his material for his webpage, that will hit the Net in October, in this & upcoming issues of Il Draino.
There is enough material for the next ten issues, so as long as it stays topical, Jim will be with us for awhile. Maybe he can write a regular current column on what he’s been up to.
Coming soon - www.undereurope.com
I visited a mine called Schiefer Angstberg, just across the creek from Jakobsberg but up another steep slope on the other side. This one was all on one level and was in more of a predictable tree-branch pattern, at the end was a room filled with deep water and possible continuations. A couple other passages were too muddy to continue. The third and last mine, which I had discovered earlier but had not explored, soon ended at a large deep pool. With crystal clear green water, it would have been an ideal place to go swimming if the water hadn't been so cold. There was a passage leading off the other side but you would need a boat to continue.
The hotel down the street
A few doors down from where I live, there is a brand new four-star hotel and high-class apartment building going up. Although I bike by there every day to school or work, I have never stopped to explore it, being preoccupied with all the more interesting underground explorations a few hours out of town. But a short study break during finals week was a great time to explore it. The hotel had already opened, along with the gourmet (very good) restaurant next door, but some of the upper-level apartments were still under construction. I entered through the back of the hotel through an emergency exit alarmed door that was left open (European hotels are harder to infiltrate than American ones because the reception desk checks everybody entering the place, you're supposed to always leave your key there), went down through the parking garage, and back up into one of the apartment houses. On the top two floors, there were two large apartment suites, each taking up two floors, and they had wrap-around balconies that provided a great view of the city in all directions, being above the level of all the surrounding buildings. Then I went back down to the parking garage and entered the tallest of the apartment buildings (although they are technically the same building, each set of apartments accessible by one staircase has a different address than the others and is separated from the others by fire walls. This is true of most European apartment buildings.) At the top, there were more unfinished apartments of a different design. This side had an 11-story outdoor staircase.
The bomb shelter next door
Next door to my apartment, directly outside my window, is a 4-story bomb shelter left over from WWII. I have attempted to get inside three times but have never succeeded. The first time, I threw a section of rope up over the bottom of the ladder leading up to the roof (it took half an hour to get it up there) and then climbed up to the ladder and up onto the roof. The trap door leading into the building was locked, but a small door on the roof, visible from my window, opened right up. But there was only a small room inside filled with garbage. This shall be known as the Chamber of Disappointment. For the next few days, one day I would look out the window and the door would be open, the next day it was closed, then later it was open again. This was probably due to the wind, but another possibility is that there is a ghost up there that was disturbed when I visited there. The city workers finally came along and closed the door, I have never seen it open since.
Along the ground floor of the bomb shelter, there is a row of square ventilation holes covered by metal grilles. One night I unscrewed one of the grilles and considered going in, but there was too much dust inside and the ventilation hole was too narrow. A few nights later I came back with dirty clothes and more courage, but soon found out that although the hole is large enough to slide through, there is a right-angle bend a short way in and my legs are simply too long to fit around the bend. So much for the bomb shelter. www.undereurope.com
I spent the week of vacation between final exams and work exploring forts, military ruins, and several other assorted underground places back in the Lorraine region of France. I stayed in Metz, a city in the center of Lorraine with the reputation of being the most fortified place in the world. (today it probably has the most abandoned fortified places in the world but very few are still used and guarded.)
Most of the forts in this area were built around the same time and have similar features, like a long row of rooms facing the courtyard and a connecting corridor behind them. They also all have a dry area around the outside walled in on both sides, similar to a castle moat. In this report, this area is referred to as the moat. There must be a more accurate term to describe it somewhere.
The first thing I saw when entering Metz, before I even got to the hotel, was a half-mile long series of abandoned three-story stone buildings along the main route in front of Fort Belle Croix. This was good, I was expecting these buildings to be used or to at least be a museum. I almost stopped to see them right then, but decided to postpone it for later. This was a good sign for the rest of the trip. There was going to be a lot to see.
After checking into the hotel, I went up to the Mont-Saint-Quentin area, a fortified large hill with an abandoned fort at each end. The fort at the end closest to Metz was enterable by climbing up a dirt
cliff where the moat wall had collapsed. Of all the forts that I visited, this is the hardest to enter, as well as being the least interesting. Several arched entries led off of the overgrown courtyard to rooms, and there were also a few rooms upstairs, but on the whole it was not that interesting. However, the next fort I visited, the nearby Fort de Plappeville, was very large and quite interesting. To enter this fort, you can walk right up the main front driveway past all the guardhouses and bastions. Coming up the hill, the first thing that meets the eye is a large courtyard with a 3-story building (one story below ground level) forming a right angle on two sides of the courtyard, at least one block long on the short side, two blocks long on the long side, and an angular section in between. I walked the full length of the fort on a couple different floors, along corridors that ran behind the rooms facing the courtyard. There were only a couple of places where tunnels led on behind the fort, one ended at some large chambers and the other led past a series of rooms and then outside. However, a website had mentioned that there were 1.5 km of tunnels connecting the various parts of this fort. I was hoping to find them.
I emerged in the courtyard, where a young couple was walking, and then went up to the top of a staircase and emerged out onto a ledge that followed the edge of the top of the fort along the courtyard side. The young couple was sitting next to a cross monument on the embankment opposite the building. I disappeared into the fort and reappeared farther down the ledge, and finally went down at the other end of the fort and explored some basement rooms that I was hoping led to tunnels but didn't. Around the rear perimeter were some short tunnels leading to a series of rooms each, but none of them connected. On the way out, I explored all of the smaller buildings near the entrance but none of them led to tunnels either. Then, just as I was about to leave, I went down into the moat and found an entrance to a low tunnel hidden behind thick undergrowth. This was the last place I was expecting there to be an entrance because the enemy could have easily entered the moat. But the tunnel went onward, and soon forked. One fork led back up to the main building and came out in a hole that I had overlooked, the other led on to some rooms full of hay that had obviously been the stables (in the tunnel?) and then on to some battlements. After exploring this area, I left the fort, and stopped at a two-room bunker along the
entrance road. From here it was possible to climb down an equipment shaft to a tunnel, but it ended in both directions. Further down the road were two larger, identical bunkers,
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except that one was built in 1896 and the other 1897 (from the dates engraved on top of the entrance.) There was a tunnel between these and some long side passages leading to gun turrets, if this is part of what the website was referring to, the tunnels could easily total 1.5 kms.
The last fort I visited that day was Fort Gerardin, at the opposite end of Mont St. Quentin. The entrance road lead through two gatehouses, then along the front of the fort. Since no door was in sight, I climbed in the window. Again, a corridor led off into the distance behind the long series of rooms. To the right, it ended in a series of rooms filled with artistic graffiti, to the left it led back to the main entrance corridor, which was large enough to drive through if the floor hadn't been missing. I followed the entrance corridor back into the fort. It curved to the left, similar to the entrance gatehouses, and then emerged in another courtyard. Another line of rooms with a corridor behind them, and the main passage ended at a wide spiral staircase leading down. Down the stairs, through a short tunnel, and up again, I emerged in a room on the outside of the moat. Tunnels led in both directions, but it was getting late so I went back to the hotel. A couple days later I came back and explored these tunnels, they are symmetrical and both end in a long series of rooms.
The next day, I visited some of the fort complexes in a ring around Metz, connected by tunnels. The first one I stopped at was Groupe Fortifee Driant, on top of a wooded hill outside of Metz. The road to the fort led in a series of long zig-zags up the hill, passing the sign "Terrain Militaire, Defense d'Entrer," but with the words "Sauf marcheurs a pied sur la route" (except for pedestrians on the road) handwritten below it. At the top of the hill the road ceased to zigzag and headed directly toward the main fort in the center of the complex. The main fort was a two-story cement structure. Although all the entrances had been bricked off, I was able to climb through a large window and enter the fort. A corridor led off in both directions along the front of the fort, countless rooms led off of it. One end of the fort had been severely bombed, the upper floor had collapsed leaving the lower floor basically a pile of rubble. Upstairs, the fort was similar to downstairs. A tunnel led around the back of the fort in a semicircle, with several small stairs leading to rooms off of it and a side tunnel leading back to two symmetrical outlying bunkers. At one corner of the main fort, a tunnel led off to a small caserne, from here another tunnel led to another small bunker, and then the same thing again until I reached a bunker that had no further tunnels. Most of the tunnels were in very poor condition, you had to straddle the edges to walk along them. In several places, a whole section of bunker had been blown to bits. I left the last bunker and walked back to the car. The map showed a symmetrical series of bunkers on the other side of the fort but apparently the tunnel connecting them to the main bunker had been destroyed.
A quick stop at McDonald's, and off to the next fort across the river, following the outer circle of "groupes fortifee" counterclockwise around Metz. This one was the Fortified Group of Verdun (not to be confused with the town of Verdun, described later!) and unlike most of the others, it was made up three large forts and no smaller bunkers. I soon found out that the main fort was still occupied and used by the army, but one a short ways away in the woods was abandoned and wide open. Walking across the moat and in through the woods, and even after arriving at a small bunker, at first the fort didn't look like much, but after looking around inside I soon found a tunnel leading off and then splitting. Both passages soon ended at small bunkers where you could go back outside. Back in the main rooms, there was another larger tunnel that was almost filled in, but there was enough room to climb past the rubble and continue downhill, up a spiral staircase, and into the main 3-story part of the fort. Each floor was basically a long series of rooms off of a front corridor with a series of wide windows. In places, the fort had been bombed, leaving gaping holes in the walls and floor. One of the two staircases had half a flight of stairs missing. Three or four short tunnels led off the bottom floor of this complex to spiral staircases with about 70 stairs each, each of
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which led to a tunnel with a shorter spiral staircase at the end leading up to an outlying defensive bunker. I walked back through the woods from one of these and in a short distance was back in front of the first bunker. I continued on counterclockwise around Metz to the next fort, Groupe Fortifee de l'Aisne. This one was being in the process of being restored, and tours were led through it once a month, but even so several of the doors were left unlocked. I didn't explore far because it was the middle of the day and I didn't want to run into one of the restoration people on the way out, but it certainly has potential for exploration. This complex consists of three large forts and two smaller bunkers connected by tunnels.
A few kilometers away was the Groupe Fortifee de l'Yser, which appears as a group of long bunkers on the map and is probably similar to the Fort Koenigsmacker near Thionville described later in this report, but I didn't stop because of lack of time. The path leading to the fort was overgrown, from all indications the fort was wide open and disappearing into the vegetation. A few kilometers farther was the Groupe Fortifee de la Marne, of which three large forts and several small bunkers are shown on the map, and which should be a very interesting system to explore, but again I didn't have time to visit all the forts. Several cars were parked on the disused road that ran in front of the forts, one of them probably belonged to explorers and another had a guy sleeping in it. In front of this fort was a large abandoned military camp with 20 buildings or so, I was considering stopping to explore it but a man who could have been an official was walking back just inside the entrance. He was probably just another explorer because he didn't look back at me even after I sat in front of the entrance for a minute with the engine idling. I headed back into town, & after another stop at McDonalds headed up to Fort Belle Croix, close to downtown. After driving around for a few minutes around the apartment building neighborhood built on top of the fort, I found a series of gun-shooting windows along one of the battlements. One of them was barely wide enough to squeeze through. Indeed, a tunnel led alongside the windows, and soon a tunnel branched off downhill. Following this passage, numerous crawl tunnels began to appear. I climbed up one of them, it went for a short distance, then up, over, up, and over again, then ended. It would be interesting to find out what this system was used for, maybe ammo storage in the crawl tunnels. Soon I found myself at a four-way junction, where I began to map out the system of tunnels. It took about 2 hours. All of the passages are numbered at each junction, and almost all go in a straight line. If a passage bends, it is given a new number. Along the western edge of the tunnel network, most of the passages ended at wells, whereas along the eastern edge they ended at blockages or upper-level passages with windows, like the entrance passage. In general the tunnels led downhill to the northeast. I was able to find and map out passages #55-100 and 109-111. Which leads to the question: Where are passages #1-54? (I found these a few days later, read on.) I ran into 4 fox-like creatures with reflective eyes in this system, the first 3 stared at me, shaking from fear, & the fourth ran off behind me after I got close. I was tempted to reach down and pet the critters (Does anybody know what these are, or if they are dangerous to humans?) Quite an interesting labyrinth. On the map, which is on my website, this is shown as the northeast section of the fort's tunnel system. www.undereurope.com
The next day I went to Verdun, scene of the famous Battle of Verdun. There are probably 30 or so forts in the woods around Verdun. First stop was the Citadelle, in the center of Verdun, and the largest of all the forts on an area of about 1 km2 and with several kilometers of underground tunnels and rooms. However, this fort had been overly tourist-ized. I walked into the touristy entry hall and asked the lady if you were allowed to walk around on your own or if a guide was necessary, she informed me that you must take a tour, and it sounded like the tours were automated. So much for the Citadelle. Outside, there were a group of tourists that were looking to go up the paths beyond the signs that said that it was forbidden. I drove on out into the countryside, passing a few casernes (French for barracks or living quarters) that were still in use by the army, and stopped at Fort Bois Bourrus, along a ridge far out in the wilderness, supposedly having one of the best tunnel systems around Verdun. This place wasn't listed in the tourist guide, because of that no one was there. Unlike most of the forts, the rooms here were arranged in several rows perpendicular to the moat front, instead of parallel, off of several smaller main courtyards. I went down to the lower floor. There were many places where tunnels dug directly into the rock led down from this level, but they were half-filled with collapsed rock and I didn't go far. Another system of finished, safer tunnels led between different parts of the fort, under the moat, and up into a series of defensive rooms on the outside of the moat.
After stopping at a couple minor works, I went to the smaller Fort de Vacherauville, shown on a website as having one of the most extensive tunnel systems, only to find that all entrances had been carefully closed with bat-gates by the bat-conservation people. I went on to a wooded area known as le Mort Homme, the Dead Man. Here, there are three tunnels over a kilometer long, dug by the Germans to be used as living quarters while they fought the French forts. A website mentions that all of the entrances have collapsed, which I soon found out after searching the woods for a while. Except for one entrance, a steeply sloping pit. But this entrance was gated a short ways down.
I went on to the main battleground across the river, where there are plenty of monuments marking the location of destroyed villages and destroyed casernes. The website mentioned that there was a tunnel system in a nearby quarry, but there was no sign of any entrance. I visited one of the larger forts, Fort de Souville, which had been destroyed, for the most part. One underground bunker remains to be seen from the outside, but the signs say that the inside is no longer enterable. Looking at the halfway-collapsed state of the unfinished tunnels leading off of the only part of the fort that is still enterable proves this - if it is possible to climb over the rubble for the 3-4 blocks of tunnel that leads to the bunker, it would be very dangerous. The main section of the fort remains - 12 large halls connected by two corridors. One of these corridors continues up into the older part of the fort, which is now nothing but rubble.
Then I visited a smaller fort closer to the city, Fort de Belrupt. Virtually undestroyed, but very small and no sign of tunnels. Going back into Verdun, I visited a caserne that, from the looks of things, had been abandoned 5 years or so, but nevertheless had no graffiti or vandalism. It only showed signs of natural deterioration. There was one long 3 or 4 story main building surrounded by several old barracks and a couple modern buildings in back. One of them featured an abandoned auditorium.
On the way out of Verdun, I stopped at Fort du Rozelier. An inscription above the entrance gate reads: "S'ensevelier sous les ruines du fort plutot que de se rendre," which appears to translate to "To bury oneself under the ruins of the fort instead of to surrender." This was the first tip-off that there was an underground to this fort. The fort was relatively large and had both a deep and shallow tunnel system. The deep tunnel system featured several long rooms; one staircase and two shafts led back up to the shallow tunnels. The rooms in this tunnel are most likely where the soldiers buried themselves when they were under attack by the Germans. The shallow tunnel system was more extensive but integrated with the rooms and courtyards of the fort itself.
The next day, I visited forts around Thionville, just north of Metz, and nearby iron(?) mines in the nearby country of Luxembourg. As well as Thionville having the most of the large Maginot Line underground forts, it also has three older German forts surrounding the town, built when the town was German and known as Diedenhofen. One of these requires a tour, the other two are abandoned. First I went to the fort of Illange, but it was in very bad condition. I explored a few of the buildings and a couple connecting tunnels, but it was not a pleasant fort to explore because for the most part you had to straddle the sides of the tunnel because the floor had collapsed and broken sections of a large pipe were below. I soon left and went on to a Maginot Line ouvrage that on the topo map appeared to be of a slightly different design than the others. However, after wandering around the woods for a while and finding all of the blockhouses, I couldn't find anything that even remotely resembled a human entrance. Then I went on to the town of Rumelange, just across the border in Luxembourg. Along the road just west of the town is a series of iron mines, one of the most densely mined areas in the region. A few of the mine entrances closer to the city had been closed off, and one even had a new railroad leading into it, apparently used by tourists, but farther out in the woods and off the trail were wide open abandoned mine entrances. I parked on the road above the first mine and worked through the dense thicket until I was right above the entrance. Although the mine tunnels were of large dimensions, the overall size of the mine did not appear to be very large, consisting of one passage that followed the hillside and several offshoots leading into the hill, but some of these had suffered minor collapses, including the main passage, and I hadn't brought any flashlights bright enough to illuminate the large dimensions of the passages here, so I didn't go far. Another mine entrance in better condition was right next to the creek a couple blocks away. The entrance passage led diagonally into the hillside across the valley from the first, and ended at the second cross passage parallel to the hillside, which I followed for a short distance. At one point there was a pile of rubbish directly under a shaft which presumably led up to higher levels. The parts of these mines that haven't collapsed are fun to explore, but be sure to bring bright lights!
Next stop was the Maginot Line ouvrage (underground complex) of Soetrich, which I had previously visited twice but hadn't completely explored. Continuing along the main, straight tunnel beyond the network of entrance galleries, dead-end side tunnels branched out to the blockhouses 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 before ending at blockhouse 2. I didn't venture up into any of the blocs because of lack of time.
Lastly, I visited the German fort of Koenigsmacker, east of Thionville, which I had previously visited once. Walking along the entrance trail, just before the front gate I noticed a building off to one side. Inside the building, I noticed some graffiti that we had seen on a previous visit when we had entered through a distant caserne and followed the tunnels over here, not knowing that it was that close to the entrance! A tunnel that we had previously not explored led around the edge of the complex past numerous small windows looking out into a ditch that was presumably this fort's moat before ending at collapse. I must have gone about halfway around the complex, this tunnel was very long. Then I drew a rough sketch of the rest of the tunnel system, exploring numerous bunkers and casernes around the complex, ending with the largest of them all, Caserne Est. At least 10 separate parts of the fort have access to the tunnel system, including 2 large casernes and the power plant. Jim www.undereurope.com
The next day I went to Toul, south of Metz and just west of the city of Nancy. The first goal in Toul was a series of "caves" along the river in a small nearby town, which I was expecting to be mine entrances due to their density and number, but surprisingly they were all natural caves. While I was walking up the trail, a school van drove past. The first row of cave entrances along the road turned out to be duds, as none of them led more than 10 m back. Farther down the trail, the group of schoolchildren had set up camp. Walking past their campground, I soon came to some cave entrances that looked much more promising. Most of them were quite small and low squeezeways, but I followed a couple of the higher crawls back about 100 m. Many passages branched out, but most of them were low squeezeways. At one point I went in one entrance and came out 3 entrances down the trail. The last cave on this side of the river was known as the Cave of Seven Rooms, but after the second room the passage led down a narrow shaft so I didn't continue. On the way back up the trail I passed a group of elementary school kids with two guides. They all were equipped with helmets and headlamps, I was probably setting a bad example by going alone and without a helmet.
On the other side of the river were a few more natural caves. I followed one known as Cave of the Eccentrics back until it became too low to continue but then decided to go on to more exciting man-made places, namely the ring of abandoned forts surrounding Toul. The first one was Fort de Domgermain, at the top of the hill at the end of a long, one-lane zig-zag road. Finding a way across the high barbed wire fence surrounding the grounds was easy, I soon walked across the drawbridge and into the fort. This fort was about as old as those around Verdun, but larger and of a different design. Also, it did not have a tunnel system, except for isolated passages leading to the outlying bunkers. However, the central section of the fort was quite large and worth the visit. Of particular interest was a semicircular group of rooms at moat-level with an arched ceiling. I continued on into the city of Toul itself, and stopped at a very large abandoned caserne with several main buildings. Although this would have been an interesting exploration, I didn't stay long because it was planned for demolition, and there was the chance that somebody was on site. It was also in full view of the neighbors.
I then visited Fort d'Ecrouves. Pulling up in front of the main entrance, I noticed another car hidden in the bushes nearby. Someone else was exploring the fort. The main entrance of this fort had been cemented shut and the drawbridge was gone, but a door in the moat directly below the main entrance provided easy access. I continued on inside and soon emerged in the main courtyard, surrounded by rooms on three levels. Distant footsteps could be heard echoing through the tunnels, but soon they were gone. This was the second largest one-unit fort, next to Plappeville, that I visited that week. All of the staircases leading to upper floors were missing, but the upper levels could be accessed by holes in the floor. A system of large tunnels led back to underground rooms and the outer bunkers, and one tunnel led in an arc around the edge of the center section.
I left the fort and continued up a rutted gravel road and stopped at several large tunnels on the way that led a short distance into the hill and connected at the end. At the top of the hill was Fort de Lucey. The fort was not all that large, but was a perfect square. In the center of the fort was a circular passage, off of which led five main corridors, two of which led down to the caserne area and the others led to the outer fortifications. Climbing up several staircases, I soon emerged in the wilderness on top of the fort. Here you could look down into several small courtyards, if the courtyards hadn't been there it was so overgrown that you couldn't even tell you were on top of a fort.
From reading the back of the hiking map, I learned that there was supposedly a long system of man-made tunnels under the woods just west of the city of Nancy, originally used to carry water to the city but had been long abandoned since the water had too much rock dissolved in it. Since Nancy was on the way back to Metz, I stopped to look for them. There were numerous manholes in the valleys that obviously led to some kind of tunnel, but all of them were locked. In one nondescript location in the woods was an underground reservoir that apparently connected to the system, but the only sign of it that I could find was a small, overgrown brick building that had no doors or windows. After looking for some mine entrances that must have been bulldozed over, I went back to the hotel.
Hitler's underground tunnel systems
A few weekends ago, I went to the province of Thueringen, in the center of Germany, home to most of Hitler's extensive underground tunnel systems, built by tens of thousands of slaves from the horror camps. Although I was there the whole weekend, due to transportation problems I only had time to explore one of the systems. I didn't have the car that weekend so the plan was to take the slow train to the places and then bike from the train station. But about halfway through I got a flat tire, jeopardizing that idea.
Anyway, the little that I did see was very impressive. The first system I attempted to visit was an extremely large network of mostly grid-pattern tunnels under an entire mountain, but I soon discovered that Hitler had carefully bombed shut all entrances to the system except for one which lead to a triple dead-end and the original mine entrance, which had been recently closed by a gate. I continued on to the town of Jena, and proceeded to explore a complex of large abandoned buildings that I had seen from the train on the way through. Just before arriving there, it started pouring. But I continued on, soon riding right into the complex, no keep out signs or anything, which is strange because this complex is right in the middle of the city. Behind one of the buildings, a man was unloading boxes of things. Apparently they used it for something, paintball maybe. He greeted me, and I went on into part of the complex that was completely unused. I quickly rode into a large, empty shed in the back to get out of the rain. Looking over to the side, I noticed something moving next to a pillar. As I was riding in that direction to investigate, a man walked out from behind the pillar and sauntered off in the other direction. Strange. A few seconds later, I heard a loud POP and fast hissing. My rear tire was flat. Meaning no more exploration far from the train stations. I said something expressing my annoyance, the random guy continued to saunter out of the shed saying nothing. Weird. It was clear that the guy's appearance had nothing to do with the flat tire though, there was broken glass everywhere and he had been walking in the other direction, but what he was doing there was unclear. Anyway, even with the flat tire I was determined to make the best of this weekend, and a wide-open entrance to the largest of the abandoned buildings was only a few meters away. So I parked the bike and walked in. The stairs leading up had been walled off, but I went down into the basement. The place was quite empty, but nevertheless quite interesting. A short way down the hall, the hall had been walled off but somebody had dug a hole in the wall (strangely similar to the catacombs), on the other side of the wall was a staircase leading past another entrance and upstairs. Going upstairs, the first two floors had been walled off from the staircase, but the third was open. I went inside and explored this floor of the main section of the building, arranged in an H-shape. Empty and deteriorating rooms led off of the corridors. But the strange part was a corridor that led over to a T-shaped annex building, but then ending at a blank wall without entering the building. Going one floor up, the hallway did continue beyond this point into the annex. I explored the annex from here, including the large one-room attic, then left through the entrance on the stairs and rode my flat-tire bike back to the train station and left. On the way out, there was an old sign claiming the buildings to be old military land, probably from Hitler and related to the nearby tunnel systems. But it was an odd combination of used and disused buildings, and it was not apparent what the used buildings were used for.
After at least a 3-hour train ride and half an hour of biking around on a flat tire, I finally arrived at the Mittelwerk, near Nordhausen, probably Hitler's largest tunnel system and certainly one of the most renowned. Guided tours were led through part of the system, but I had read on the website http://www.jinxed.de
that one of the non-tourist entrances was open. I first went
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by the tourist entrance to make sure that the place was completely devoid of human life, and then rode around to the north side of the mountain, at least 3 kilometers away, to look for the "secret" entrance which led to the part of the system known as B12. Down a gravel track and through an old gate with a sign "Paintball area - do not enter" led to a group of abandoned buildings, which probably had something to do with the nearby quarry. After exploring these (there was only one floor so it didn't take long), I walked up to a large, cemented shut tunnel entrance and climbed above it, soon finding a small hole leading to a short crawl with two large plastic pipes (roughly 4' x 4') leading downhill off of it. The first was too steep and dangerous to go in, but the second was passable, and a rusty ladder was there to help at the point where it got to steep to descend. Another ladder led from the pipe down to ground level in the tunnel. I got out the map and started walking into the system, deeper inside towards the Mittelwerk and other parts of the tunnel system. The two large pipes followed the tunnel, and numerous cross passages appeared. Rusted machinery was everywhere. Hitler had produced something very large and expensive here but I don't remember exactly what it was. One of these systems was used for the production of airplanes, another for liquid 02. Cross tunnels branched off to the right, but they were all walled off to the left. The place was humongous, much larger than I had thought from looking at the map, the cross tunnels were as wide and high as a gymnasium and at least twice as long. A short ways in I heard footsteps. I held still for a moment and waited, but they did not get any louder or softer, moreover they were in a regular rhythm. Ahhhhh, water dripping. I went onward past the loud drip and around a few corners. Soon the tunnel got smaller so it was just big enough for a truck to pass through, then wider again. This was the connection between B12 and the main system, the Mittelwerk. Inside the Mittelwerk, I took a cross passage across the two parallel main tunnels, which were low and filled with debris this far back, and headed into a diagonal side passage leading in the direction of Project Eber, officially a separate tunnel system. After a few minutes of climbing over the piles of rocks, a light was visible in the distance. But there were no voices, no sign of life. I guessed that it was simply daylight, because the quarry face, which was still in operation, was in that direction and the tunnels might lead directly outside there. But the current quarry face should have been farther away from that, plus it was getting dark so any light should not have been that bright. Looking around a corner, there was an electric security light, and next to it an object that could have been a motion detector. Hmmmm. So I turned around and headed back out, stupidly forgetting to turn down the first cross passage back in B12. So I ended up checking all of the walled off-cross passages to find which one led back, but in the process saw a lot of interesting rooms including one large high voltage transformer. As I had anticipated on the way in, I again mistook the dripping water for footsteps for a second and almost freaked out, but then continued on up the ladders and outside, arriving in town just in time to take the last train back to the hotel in Erfurt. In most underground tunnel systems, I don't feel nervous at all, but there was something about this one, possibly the enormous size of the tunnels, that was making me quite nervous.
The next day, I took the train in the other direction, to Saalfeld, hoping to see at least one system in that direction. Unfortunately I was bikeless, because the rental bike belonged to the hotel and they didn't have an inner tube. But after arriving at the Saalfeld train station, running to another gate, and finding out that the connecting train to the town near the tunnel system was just pulling out of the station the minute I arrived (it wasn't an official connection but the next train was in an hour and a half
), getting annoyed with the train system, I decided instead to visit some mines just outside of Saalfeld. Four of these were either closed or could not be found, but one was accessible directly behind a scenic restaurant and hotel in the woods named after the mine itself. With the entrance located in a mowed grassy area behind the hotel, I didn't stay long. Following the main passage back, there were several entrances to water-filled chambers that would require a boat to continue. Soon the passage split into two main branches, I didn't continue beyond this point. It would be fun to stay at the hotel and explore the mine by night; it should be a large system. But one would have to be careful that the hotel people don't know they are exploring the mine.
Paris 3rd to last weekend
A couple weekends ago, I went back to Paris. Friday night, I went down to the largest network of catacombs, the 14th Arrondissement, with the main goal of getting acquainted with the main through routes from the south (where the good entrances are) to the north (where the most interesting places are). When one views the map of the 14th, it seems that there are many different ways to choose from to cross the system. In truth, it is not so easy as it sounds. What may look like a direct connection to where you want to go may be either almost full of water or blocked by a stone wall. So the actual through routes wind around for no apparent reason on the map, and there is no real way of telling which way is best, or even possible, when looking at the map. The first direct passage that I started out on, which appeared to be a simple and direct way of getting across the system, soon started to become filled with water, and I followed it until the water was about a meter high. At this point, I could hear music coming from somewhere close by and directly ahead of me, but there was no way of getting there without getting everything soaked. Turning around and heading up another passage, I soon found this too to be filled with water. So I went back and took a street known to be one of the best throughways. Along this street is a confusing area, where you must use careful sense of direction to find the way through, I had been through here before but it still took some careful comparison with the map to find the right way though. Somewhere in here I saw a flashlight just ahead of me but when I got there they were gone, probably hiding. Weird. Then I came across a guy that looked like Mouser and 6 candles in the middle of the passage. He explained (in French) that he was part of the cataphile group Leptoporose (I think - I forgot the name because it was too complicated but then found one of their tracts just down the tunnel which described the disease known as leptoporose, caused by rats), and that they had dug out the entrance to a room right there. Indeed, there was a large hole in the wall, very well done, and it led to a long, interesting room. A few more people came out, including two girls (one of which was very attractive). I went in to check out the room, at the end of it, around some corners, was a guy in a hammock who was about to fall asleep. He said that he wasn't going to sleep yet but he definitely looked like it. I left and went on down the tunnel, then through a long area which is a good example of a through route as described above, and finally arrived close to the other side of the deep water, where I had heard music before. There was no music to be heard, and no sign of anybody. This was curious. Anyway, I went on the other way to look for an entrance to the nearby Bunker FFI. However, all obvious passages had been walled off. In one place, I heard a spooky windy sound, but it turned out to be coming from a pipe leading directly into the underground offices of the quarry inspection agency. There was also a locked door leading to their offices. But even after I went around the block and crawled up a small hole (chatiere), there was no entrance to this bunker to be found. Then I ran into the group Leptoporose again and talked to them for a few minutes. They explained that this bunker was used for official storage and therefore had been carefully closed. They went on to the bone rooms, I went on over to the Cabinet Mineralogique and Galerie des Promos, where we had stopped on the previous international expo, but my camera batteries had died. This time, I took plenty of pictures, and then started to head back, taking a different route this time. Another guy that looked like Mouser went by, he might have been one of the same group that I had met earlier. I continued to head back, taking a few necessary detours after finding that the passage was blocked, but learning the through routes in the process. I stopped to see if a couple entrances to the grid-pattern reservoir section of tunnels were open, but they
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weren't. Then I checked a couple of possible manhole exits to see if they were open, one was up a shaft with at least 100 rungs, but they were both closed. Strange, because a couple people had mentioned that they’d left that way a couple weeks ago. I left the same way that I had entered by, and took the first morning subway back to the hotel.
Later on I found out that the police (a special group of Kta-police that only give fines to people exploring the catacombs) were down there that night. Fortunately I didn't see them. Supposedly there are more people down there on the average weekend night, which explains why I had only run into one group. Maybe the police had also kicked out the people that had been playing the music in the water tunnel.
The next day (technically, that afternoon) I took the train out to a quarry in the town of Bougival. The hill that the quarry was beneath was full of small holes that had previously been quarry entrances, but the only real entrance that I could find was covered with iron sheets. Nearby, there were several small bunkers in the hillside that had no entrance, maybe they are accessible by a ladder from the quarry. Soon it was time to head back to the train station to get back to the city in town, but I decided to quickly go look at what appeared to be an artificial gully in the woods nearby. Sure enough, in the woods just behind someone's house, there was an entrance that was wide open, got colder, and appeared to continue quite a ways. But I had to leave to make the next train. To be continued.
That evening, I met Olrik and Lezard and friends, and Matt, an American who is making a film on Paris from the perspective of the underground, this time we went to the quarries in the southern part of the 15th Arrondissement. We stopped at a large, heavy manhole, and they placed the protective fencing that was conveniently lying nearby around the manhole, and we prepared to descend. Just then a neighbor lady came up and asked what we were doing, and if we were allowed to go down there. Lezard and Olrik talked to her in French, from what I gather she was just curious what was going on. She was keeping them there talking while we wanted to explore the quarry, but they didn't want to be impolite in case she called the police. Meanwhile, a police car went by but didn't even slow down. Lezard's explanation for that: The police are inexperienced and trained to look for somebody running away stealing someone's purse, not for people climbing down manholes. Seems logical enough. So we went down, leaving the heavy lid open, and crawled through a muddy chatiere (squeeze hole) and very quickly walked through numerous passages. I was barely able to keep up on the map. In one confusing area known as the Frigo, it took even them a few tries to find the continuation passage, but we continued on and soon arrived at a large room with a huge white claw painted on the black wall known as the K-taclysme.
After resting for a while and eating, Matt got out his camera and shot a video of the shadows of his friend and I pretending to fight each other illuminated by a red light. Very eerie. Then we went through a confusing section of quarry with a variety of stone arches to a room known as the Salle des Sculptures (Note: there is also a room of the same name in the 13th district), where Matt shot more film, including some good shots of the arches in the confusing area. In the center of one wall there was a sculpture that could be likened to a devil's head.
After looking around the area for a while, they led us out (very quickly) the same way that we had come from.
Donnersberg copper mines
One night last week, I headed out to the nearby copper mines on the Donnersberg (Berg = mountain), three of which I had previously found to be not gated: one tourist mine, one which requires rope to descend a steep slope, and one which requires even more rope to descend an even steeper slope, I think it was vertical. This time I had brought enough rope to conquer the first descent of the second mine. I headed directly up there, and with the help of a couple logs and the rope easily made it down the first descent to the gentle slope leading directly into the mine. But soon this slope got unexpectedly steeper, and although it would be easy to go down there was no way of coming back up without at least 50 more meters of rope. So I went back up, and then entered through a small hole to a level overlooking the main gorge. Another underground steep slope led down from here, but this time it was too steep to risk even with rope.
I went on over to the tourist mine, which was long closed for the day, I think it was only open for a few tours on the weekend anyway. But regardless of when it's officially open, it's unofficially accessible at anytime by climbing over the low entrance gate. From there, you can look down several pits similar to the previous mine but not as deep, and also see many horizontal entrances. It's an impressive entrance area, but most of the tunnels do not go back very far. I went down a staircase on the tour route, which doubled back on itself and entered the main section of the mine, directly below the entrance area. From the first entrance room, passages led off in all directions, but most of them turned out to be dead ends. One led back to the closed main tourist entrance gate. There were exhibits of rusted mining equipment along the route, but no passages went in a loop, apparently the tourists had to turn around and return to the main room after seeing every side passage. Most of the tourist routes ended at a log blocking the passage just around the corner from where it ended, and there were other non-tourist dead-ends branching off of the tourist route, so it would have been highly annoying and unrewarding to take the tour and see all these unexplored mysterious passages, presuming it to be an extensive labyrinth but not knowing that they all dead-ended just around the corner. And at the same time moving very slowly & listening to some boring guide talking about the history of the place, etc. Anyway, one of the passages appeared to continue but it was gated. In one place, a spiral staircase led to an upper level, from where the continuing staircase was barred off from the tourists. In a few feet the reason was clear, a steep slope led down into one of the pits. That passage might have continued at one time, but now it was filled in. I went back home.
The next day, I visited several of the large fort complexes in and around Metz. The first one was Fortified Group of Jeanne d'Arc, just northeast of F. G. Driant which I had visited a few days before. A paved, one-lane road led through the woods to an 2-story puke-green abandoned building. Across from the abandoned building was an overgrown trail leading downhill to a long, two-story bunker. The bunker had been abandoned much longer than the building. All exits on the lower floor were closed, but a ladder led up to an open door on the second floor. Just inside was a pile of at least 100 yellow pages phone books, about 10 years old. Going back downstairs, I soon found a tunnel leading on to the next bunker, and began to draw a map of the tunnel system. There was a total of nine large bunkers, four smaller works, and three observatories - small rooms with a dome to look outside - that were connected by tunnels. Throughout the system, there were eight open entrances, most of which came out in the middle of the wilderness where you would need a GPS to find your way back. The tunnels were in fairly good condition, about 1/3 of them required straddling the edges. One tunnel was bricked off, but there was enough room to climb underneath the wall. I didn't explore it. Another tunnel led to a locked door. I went outside through a bunker near this door and found myself right behind the puky-green administration building. Just over the hill were two more bunkers that had been much more recently used, although everything had been removed there were still a few paintings and signs left. These bunkers had been used within the last ten years and were still in good condition, in contrast to the rest of the system which must have been abandoned at least 40 years ago. Lastly, I looked around the administration building itself. It was roughly
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T-shaped, and surprisingly there was only one staircase in the building. It would not have met American fire codes. Everything had been removed from the rooms.
Across the highway, I turned down a deserted, one lane road that leads towards a line of larger bunkers. After driving through the woods on the road, which appeared to be completely disused, I ran into a large military truck with two soldiers inside. I asked them if it was alright to drive down there, they were very friendly and told me that it was a military route, but it was possible to go to the end of the road and turn around. Sure enough, at the beginning of the road was an old, battered sign proclaiming it to be a "Route Militaire." I went back into town to eat. A couple hours later, I returned to a nearby group of forts, F. G. Frere de Guise, to check if they were abandoned and possibly visit them. There was a military complex on the road leading to the forts, and furthermore the road was well paved, but I continued onward and soon pulled up in front of one of the twin forts. The place was triple-gated, and a security camera was staring right at me. I turned around and headed back, and just as I arrived at the place where the road forks, a military truck came out of the other road and stopped right in front of me. Same soldiers that I had ran into before! Again, they were very friendly, but this time they wanted to know exactly where I wanted to go. He even said it in English. After I asked if it was possible to visit the forts, he said it wasn't sensible, and then left. They didn't even follow me out of the military zone.
I drove through the next town and parked in front of a cemetery that was obviously not military terrain. Behind it were the Bunkers of the Quarries of Amanvillers. The quarries turned out to be aboveground quarries, basically long, deep gullies with a cliff on each side. I only found two bunkers connected by one tunnel and no other branches, but it was still interesting to see these bunkers in the cliff in the middle of the woods. Close by, down the road, was the large abandoned Fortified Group of Lorraine, but I didn't stop there due to lack of time, and because I didn't want to run into any more "sensible" people. I went back into town and finished exploring the Fort Gerardin, described above, then went back to Belle-Croix and explored the middle one of the three abandoned buildings along the front of the fort. I had visited the northernmost one a few nights before and will describe it first. Entrance to the this (northern) one was easy, crossing some barbed wire in full view of the highway in front led to a long backyard, one of the windows in the back was wide open. All three of these buildings were very long and had three stories. All are made of stone around the turn of the century, which makes for a lot of wasted space in the thick walls, but grand architecture and a building that lasts forever. The attic of this building was exceptionally nice, basically one huge room with its arched pillars. Too bad it was getting dark, this place would've made some great pictures.
The middle building was accessed from the top of the steep hill behind the row of buildings. After examining a few short tunnels that led into the hill but ended shortly (I was hoping to find the main underground part of the fort), I entered the building through a door on the lowest level. Directly in front of me was the grand front door, almost two stories high, flanked by a large stone staircase leading to the second level. This building was probably longer than the first, and had several small sections of basement. But no tunnel leading underneath the fort. Between the second and third buildings, there was a series of balconies on the upper floors accessible from the second building, but no connection to the third. I went back outside and wandered around on the hillside for a while, and discovered that the ground went up and over the third building, and a woods of young trees was growing on top of it. I tried to enter down through a chimney with iron rungs leading down it behind the building, but the lower rungs were rusted away so I quickly abandoned that idea. The only possibility of entering this building would be to bring a ladder and climb up the side of the garage next to it, climb across the roof and in the open window.
Later on, I combed the woods and parks around the battlements looking for the passages 1-54, and after an hour of searching, I found a hole at the southernmost end of the fort leading to a window-gallery. The next cross-passage was marked by #9. This was it. Soon I came to a brick wall, but there was a hole in the wall, on the other side was a very warm tunnel with steam pipes running along it. Following along the tunnel, there were several metal doors that lead to colder passages similar to the part I had explored a few days before. I mapped out a small section that night, and came back the next day to finish the map.
This system of passages, which will be referred
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to as the Main Section, is very long and only a couple blocks wide, as opposed to the section I explored a few days earlier, which will be referred to as the Northeast Section. In the main section were galleries 8-54, 101-107, and 112-116, missing a few in between. The system was about a kilometre long from end to end, running the whole length of the fort. One zig-zag tunnel with filled windows, often with steam pipes or cobwebs, ran along the west side. At all four-way intersections the tunnel went around a square booth with one entry and three gun windows, one pointing down each of the three other passages. The strange part was that the entry side was facing the direction of the passage coming from outside, the direction that the enemy is most likely to come from, which would have made it easier for the offense coming from outside rather than somebody trying to defend the tunnels. It took about 2 hours to map out this section of fort, which has about the same length & number of galleries as the more condensed and pleasant northeast section.
I never found anything that looked like the central unit of the fort. Unless it was the three long buildings in front of the fort, but although they are very well protected from the back by all the battlements, they would be wide open to attack if the enemy were to go around to the front.
Although it was about time to start heading home, I made a quick side trip to Fort Queuleu, one of the inner ring of forts still inside the city. This one was shown as a museum, but after climbing through a window in the parking lot and finding most of it to be abandoned, I regretted not having allotted more time for it. A passage led along the front side of the fort through countless rooms, and soon there were two stories and a large passage leading up to a brick wall. Walking across the drawbridge and into the main part of the fort, I found that it was used as a jogging track. There were two-story stone bunkers everywhere, although a half-hearted attempt had been made to seal them off there were plenty of accessible entries. Inside one of them was a tunnel leading back to two more bunkers, but there was no sign of a more extensive tunnel system. However, I only checked a fraction of the fort.
On the way home, I stopped in Falck to map out a confusing maze mine that I had found on an earlier trip. The entrance hole was again filled with rubble which I had to dig out. As opposed to the first maze mine I had previously mapped out on the other side of Falck, this one was made up of primarily dead-ends and loops following one route that continued to lead farther back. There was no way of telling which way continued to lead back without checking several dead ends first. Up to a certain point, about 1/3 of the way back to the farthest point I went, white arrows clearly led back to the entrance, but from there on there were only red arrows which led in seemingly random directions all over the mine. Similarly to the first mine, there was a mixture of squarish obviously mine passages and tunnels that were similar to a natural sandstone cave. Most of them were pleasant crawls, but some were walking height. The sand on the ground was very relaxing, it would have been easy to fall asleep lying there. In one small, extremely confusing area there were two levels. These led between and around a high room with about 10 passages off of it on both levels and an extremely confusing area of fallen rocks, when I first arrived there I almost gave up mapping the place. I mapped everything out with the exception of a few very low squeezeways in the back, but it's possible that it continues beyond. The cave appears to follow along the edge of the hillside, one likely explanation for the design of the mine - the fact that there is basically only one main route leading back along the hill and that it doesn't go to far into the hill could be because there used to be many entrances along the side of the hill. If the remaining entrance was the only one, it would have been a tough job hauling all the rock from the back of the mine out that way. It took a couple hours to map out the place, but it only took 4 minutes to walk/crawl directly back to the entrance.
Just across the border in Germany there is a place called the Voelklinger Huette (Hut of the town of Voelklingen), a huge abandoned iron works. It looks impressive from the freeway, with its maze of outdoor catwalk systems and buildings, but part of it is still used as a cultural center and I think they lead tours through the rest of it. I didn't stop to explore because there was too much chance of someone being there.
A few days later, I got a call from the mechanic at work from whom I have a rental car. Apparently the soldiers that I had ran into in the military zone around Metz had called the French police, who in turn had called the German police, who called the car rental agency, who called the mechanic, who called my boss, who contacted me, all just to find out who had been driving through the military zone. They never called back, apparently that's all they wanted. Jim
Coming soon - www.undereurope.com
First, a note on terminology:
In French, carriere means rock quarry, regardless whether above ground or underground. Carriere souterraine refers to an underground rock quarry. Mine refers to a place where minerals are extracted. In English, mine has the same definition, but it is often used to refer to underground rock quarries as well, whereas if one says "quarry" it is assumed to be an above-ground pit quarry. The catacombs and other underground systems in and around Paris are underground rock quarries, hence the word quarry, not mine, will be used here.
Now, on to the good stuff.
Back in July, I went to Paris for the first "international" Paris UE expo. I had the pleasure to meet 6 Australians from the Cave Clan and Ben and Tomas from the Netherlands as well as Olrik, Lezard and friends from Zone Tour and Brewal, Mickey, and friends from the cataphile group Electron. The first night, Olrik and Lezard led us out of the pouring rain into one of several large rectifier stations around Paris and down into a system of galleries that branched out in a tree-branch network leading directly out onto different subway lines. At the end of each tunnel was a row of unprotected 500 V transformers so everybody had to be -very- careful. Then we climbed down a ladder that led to the Green Line galleries, an extensive system of tunnels that looked similar to the telephone galleries except that these were carrying green high voltage cables instead. A short walk led us to a series of ladders that led up to a door. At this point we were told to be extremely quiet, to follow them out at the instant they said to, and not to speak any English. There was a night security guard somewhere in the building, they had no doubt that he would be sleeping, and Lezard was going to wake him up and interview him until he realized that we weren't supposed to be there, then we would quickly leave. From what I gathered either the guard was too lazy or too fat to follow us. We snuck into the building and quietly walked up the stairs, stopping at every floor while Olrik and Lezard looked around for the guard. Apparently he wasn't at his usual sleeping post. After a while we walked through one of the floors, up the back stairs, and entered the top floor, which was full of at least a hundred transformer-gadgets, all that looked the same. After looking around for a while, we were standing near an elevator when Ben exclaimed, "The elevator's coming up!" Everybody was tense for a second until Lezard explained that he had called it. We rode the elevator down to the first floor and entered a very large chamber in the heart of the building. The guard was nowhere to be found. Lezard apologized for the fact that the French are lazy and don't want to work, hell it's not his fault. We took a few pictures & left back down the ladders & through the tunnels, exiting through a high-voltage box that came out right on the subway platform.
The next day Prowler and I met Brewal and Mickey (who had also been with us the last night) to visit some suburban quarries in Ivry-sur-Seine. We entered the first quarry through a manhole shaft. The first section of the quarry was basically a few dead-end wide passages, but a series of stone arches had been built down the middle of each one so it was quite a sight to see. The main tunnel led to the other half of the quarry, a group of cataphiles that had official permission from the city had been digging out a series of grain storage pits. You could look down them through circular brick holes, some of them were about 40' deep. This cave had electric lights, when the lights were on the main passages were magnificent. In the center of the quarry was a large circular shaft leading up to the surface, four main passages radiated out from here. The stone walls and arches made it look like a castle.
The second quarry we visited was only a couple blocks away from the first. Following the map, we entered through an inconspicuous door on the street that you couldn't tell led to a quarry, went down a wide concrete stairway, and came out on the upper floor of this two-story quarry. It didn't look like a stone quarry anymore, having been renovated into a gas factory. Aside from the two floors, there were some narrow passages between the floors. We went downstairs to the lower floor. Walking through the rubble, we found a spiral staircase shaft, but all of the metal stairs had corroded away. Each passage in the rear part of the factory had been converted into two or three gas storage tanks, on top of each other. Stairs and catwalks (mostly corroded away) led to the
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upper levels. The tanks were great echo chambers, banging on the plexiglass windows that opened into the gas tanks created quite a racket. We went up another stairway and left the quarry.
That night we again met with Zone Tour and Electron. I was late but they were still there and we went straight down a shaft entrance and into the catacombs. First stop was the German Bunker. After a short rest here, we left out the back entrance and soon came to a spot that a man back in the 1700s (I think) had been searching for when he became lost for several days and died. He never found what he was looking for. We went on through the bunker, passing a group of people that our leaders thought were suspicious, and met another group of cataphiles that knew members of our group. The room we were in was interesting, there were stairs leading down to a well with crystal clear water and several pillars and ledges. After another quick break, we left through the bunker and stopped at the Abri Faco, a small room-and-pillar bunker, and then stopped at a corner with a staircase leading into more clear green water. Next, on to the bone rooms, the real "catacombs." We followed a confusing lower-level gallery to get there, a way which was seldom used because the straight, upper level passages were much easier to navigate. Through a hole around a wall led to a low tunnel where you couldn't continue without literally climbing on top of piles of bones. I got a couple pictures of the bones before my camera battery died. Most of them looked like leg bones, there were no full skulls left. After visiting a tunnel called the Crypt, we met another cataphile that was with a friend of hers. They went back to visit the Crypt while we went on to the Cabinet Mineralogique, then they returned to join us. This room had been built in years past to promote tourism of the catacombs, now the same organizations that had built this room are trying to keep the tourists away! There was a staircase in the center of the room, each step of which came from a different layer of limestone under Paris. A short distance away, we came to the Gallery of the Promos. Every year, several cataphiles from the nearby School of Mines come down and paint a new mural on the wall, each mural was interesting and different from the others. Unfortunately my camera batteries had died by then… We went by the Salle Zlard on the way out, another interesting system of confusing galleries. Last stop was La Plage, a large room-and-pillar area which I had visited a few months earlier, coming from a southern entrance. We left by following a series of passages that ran underneath a street, but you couldn't tell it was a street because, unlike most of the main passages, there were so many twists and turns and side passages that you couldn't tell which way actually followed under the street. An exit manhole that came out in a parking garage wouldn't open (probably because a car was parked on top of it), so we went out through a nearby manhole on a street. It was 9AM.
The next night I went with Ben and several of the Cave Clan to visit the NATO headquarters in the suburbs. We took the train out, and walked a couple kilometers along the road until we reached the entrance of a quarry down the road from NATO which I had previously visited but had not explored completely. This one featured old machinery, underground offices, and plenty of graffiti exclaiming "Vive le Roi!" Half of it was an abandoned mushroom-growing cave; there were plenty of old wooden trays with plenty of an interesting white fluffy substance growing on them. Part of this quarry was still used as city council storage, there were lots of new street signs there.
Then we went on to the underground NATO headquarters itself. The ceiling in this quarry is at least three times the height of the last one, it's magnificent. From the entrance we followed the main passage straight back for a few blocks until it ended, then went up the 140 stairs and visited the small bunker at the top, & lastly we looked around the building complexes near the entrance. NATO is described in more detail in a previous report.
We got back to the train station 10 minutes after the last train left and had to call a taxi from another town who reluctantly took us back to Paris. The price for the 22-km journey was 400FF = $55. Lezard had offered to take us climbing up the scaffolding of a church, but everybody was too tired.
Ben is making a great page about the expo: http://snapshotgal...s/paris/paris.html
And Tomas has a picture collection: http://y42.photos.yahoo.com/tgviguurs
and Click on Paris.
Jim’s material from Europe will appear in the next 12 issues (including this one), a total of 21 pages. A big thanks to Jim and apologies for the American flag even though the U.S. hardly gets a mention in the 21 pages Top stuff Jim.