The walls are tall and relentless, the razor wire on top spirally and overdone. The tinted windows of the diamond watchtowers reflect distorted pictures of yourself back at you. Rationally, you know these towers are empty, but you can't help but feel watched and dehumanised. Breaking into prison is quite an intimidating task.
The justizvollzugsanstalt Dusseldorf is known in urban exploring circles as Prison H19, perhaps because its real name is as much of a tall order to pronounce as its walls are to scale. The building was built just outside Dusseldorf on a small hill that had formerly served as an execution site. At the time of construction, in 1889, Dusseldorf was part of the Kingdom of Prussia, which is clearly reflected in the severe and austere architecture of the prison.
Due to continuing industrialisation, Dusseldorf expanded rapidly during the early half of the 20th century. The prison that once stood alone, isolated on a stubby hill, quickly found itself enveloped within the expanding suburbs of Dusseldorf-Derendorf. Although the prison came first, it doesn't stop it from looking out of place as it looms imposingly over the sleepy suburb of Derendorf.
Between 1919 and 1923, the prison was the sight of eight incidents of capital punishment, with the prisoners executed all having been convicted of murder. When the Nazis came to power in the early thirties, the prison found itself full of political prisoners, from socialists and communists through to Jewish citizens convicted on suspicious grounds.
During the Second World War the prison suffered damage twice from aerial bombing. The first time being in April, 1944 and the second time in November of the same year. 36 and 12 inmates died respectively as a result. The prison was evacuated and the prisoners relocated to the nearby city Wuppertal, where they were liberated by allied troops a few months later in 1945.
After the war, life returned to normal at Prison H19, and it served its purpose as a location for inmates serving short jail sentences. It played this role until 2012, when the prison in Derendorf finally closed and a new one opened in the nearby town of Ratingen. A lack of room to expand and ageing infrastructure were the reasons for the closure. The fate of Prison H19 is today unknown. 850 prison cells remain eerily empty.