Imagining Schmidt’s

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I imagine a place. A large historic building, brick and stately. The entrance like a gate. Either to a castle or a factory. Images of the early Lumiere films come to mind—this building saw the workers flood in, punch in, get to work and flood out when the day was done. Now it sits, scared, awaiting an uncertain future.

To be or to be razed.

I have been to a similar place in another country. The same kind of gated entrance, the entry that whispers with the ghosts of grungy workers. The people entering it now are a different sort. The well-dressed brief case-carrying, the families, the retired parents wandering with their adult children, the workers of all kinds buzzing around the area and the skateboarder. How and why do they all wander around this factory now? Inside, the once sooted and dour brick buildings are plotted around walkways and arbors. The gate house is the first stop. Inside an artist in residence, art scattered, working among the wanderers, a café set up, comfy chairs and spaces to sit, entice visitors, or not. Behind the open area, there is a second building space converted to a wooden skateboarders funnel. The noise recognizable and yet, not more than the background music to the café, and the artist working. This is just the beginning.

The next building on the path is a slickly renovated hall. White walls house innovative structures that hold everyday design objects from around the world. Some historic but mostly contemporary, displayed together—a design museum, shop, and another café for a different kind of wanderer. Many more brick buildings to be explored. They house an expensive restaurant, a concert hall, offices, conference spaces, and much more.

Along the way a playground unlike the standard playground in the neighborhood—this is the playground that the children beg to go to and never want to leave. Another outbuilding of the factory, still blackened and very industrial, has a neatly fitted studio and display space for craftspeople—furniture makers, fine hand-crafted jewelers. They work and sell to the diverse wanderers coming through. Designers and filmmakers have offices that they rent and open to the public. The atmosphere is conducive to creativity. Some buildings have installations by world renowned artists permanently installed.

Another museum here attracts all generations—experience your senses. A physicist collected different hands-on experiences that allow you to explore your senses. Visitors of all ages can feel the resonance of a piece of wood, or test their nose and eyes with different experiments. Here too, a café invites to verweilen, to forget the while—the time.

When evening falls, the concert hall fills for world-class music and a small theater offers a cabaret. In the summer, the space is filled with an open-air cinema. A bar/café spills onto greens around the walkways. There are no oversized parking lots, just green and people and a cache of cultural experiences that keep the visitors coming again and again. The core of this industrial site was a mine. The mine is still the heart and soul of this place, and a museum commemorates the history. Tours of the buildings still left as they were keep history alive.

I imagine this for the Schmidt brewery. The vision is there, all we need are the visionary developers and groups who want to re-create, re-imagine what can be done to make 15 acres of a dead industry into a focal point for a community. With a few of the right people, this site has so much potential.

Such re-imagined industrial spaces are very common in Germany—the one I described above is the “Zeche Zollverein in Essen”:http://www.zeche-zollverein.de/. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. One hundred and fifty years of mining history has been saved, and a cultural tourist site was created—with a reverence for history and, yet, a view to the future.

Let us imagine: Use history to create a future.

Rene Meyer-Grimberg has lived in St. Paul for six years, first in Cathedral Hill and now in Crocus Hill. She moved here with her German husband and three children after living in Germany for 13 years. She has an MA in Art History and now teaches art at the Twin Cities German Immersion School and does event coordination for the Germanic-American Institute.

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