Yes. It’s puzzling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this before.
-HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
One travel resource that I have come to really like is AtlasObscura.com. This quirky website maps out and describes unique sights and experiences off the beaten path, and I try to refer to it whenever I'm in a new place. So, with two weeks in Brussels, I decided to make the day trip (about three hours round trip using public transit) to nearby Charleroi to see the abandoned cooling tower at Power Plant IM. Built in 1921, Power Plant IM was once one of Belgium's largest coal-burning power plants; by 1977, it had become Charleroi's main source of energy and cooled an astounding 500,000 gallons of water per minute. According to AtlasObscura.com, "water would be let into the cooling tower where it would be cooled by the wind that swept in from portals in the base of the tower, releasing billowing columns of hot air." In the early 2000s, a report discovered that the plant was responsible for 10% of Belgium's total CO2 emissions and attention from Greenpeace protests led to the site's eventual closing in 2007. AtlasObscura.com's description says the tower may be demolished and sometimes has guards, but I saw signs of neither; there is no gate around the site.
Getting to Power Plant IM involved a long muddy walk through an industrialized area with few people around; visiting any abandoned site always makes me a bit paranoid that people will stop and question me, but nothing like that happened here (interestingly enough, I did bump into another photographer/explorer). Once at the abandoned cooling tower, I found the door to be locked; the inside really looks interesting, so be sure to check out some photos here. Bummed but not defeated, I climbed underneath the structure in attempt to get a better view. Not only was the area wet, muddy, dark, and cramped (which make for fabulous exploration), but creepy. I really did feel like I was on the set of a dystopian sci-fi movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Sleeper. Once inside the "basement" part of the building, I was surrounded by still water, mossy surfaces, and soaring rafters blocking the view above. It was, again, creeeeeeeeeeeepy. I didn't see an easy way for a person to safely access the upper level, or at least without someone to help them up, but there must be an opening somewhere.
As I was leaving the cooling tower, I noticed an abandoned house and industrial building immediately across the dirt road. Since the gate was not just unlocked but open and taunting me, I went in. The house was in bad shape and didn’t look very interesting (or stable) so I wandered over to the enormous round metal building. I started climbing the stairs and soon found myself peering through a small opening into a dark canyon with sharp, odd concrete blocks and wires on the ground; from above, it looked like a tiny play city. Suddenly, I felt even more creeped out than I was with the cooling tower. Whatever this building was, it was completely empty and devoid of human activity. And although I don’t really have a fear of heights, being so high up on the narrow metal stairs and shoving myself into a black hole that led to a long and painfully sharp landing made me a bit queasy. (Also, the thought of tiny aliens living in this miniature town of concrete blocks flashed through my mind, not gonna lie). Fully on display for anyone driving past, I sat paralyzed for a few minutes taking in the scene and enjoying the view (and trying not to drop anything into the great abyss).