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Don’t be afraid of the D – Fascination with Detroit

Die Blütezeit von Detroit liegt lang zurück. Weshalb sich Reisebloggerin Heike Kaufhold trotzdem in die Motor City verliebt hat erzählt sie hier.For sure, Detroit isn't the city it once was. But there's no place like Motor City, Travel Blogger Heike Kaufhold writes.

Detroit is not the first city that would occur to a European for a vacation in the Land of the Free. Our picture of Detroit is formed by news reports that frame the city as cold and in decline.
So why, people repeatedly ask me, could one fall in love with Detroit?
Today, the once blooming Motor City is one of the most dangerous cities with 70,000 empty houses and a very high unemployment rate.
So let me try to put my fascination into words.

There is no place like Detroit

Detroit - Stadtansicht

Much of this fascination alone made up the image of Detroit that I experienced when I first got to know the city. How in the world was it possible in 2014 for the large part of a North American city to resemble a ghost town? What did it mean that actually everyone warned me not to walk alone in certain parts of the city?

I can’t deny that a large portion of boundless curiosity in Detroit ultimately made me “long” for the city.
Last year, I was lucky enough to be able to attend NAIAS and explore Detroit for two days. And on the flight back home, I decided to book another flight back to Detroit. I spent three weeks there last year.

Detroit – Lost, Forgotten, Rediscovered

An awesome tour guide introduced the beautiful parts of the city to me: the lively Detroit, the flourishing Detroit and the Detroit embellished with PR. But a true Detroiter shared with me her emotions and enthusiasms regarding the city and I began to see the upcoming Detroit.
The many cool bars and restaurants, world-famous museums, the green lung, “Belle Isle,” Downtown, …

But I also wanted to see the abandoned Detroit, the “ugly” parts. The “ruin porn,” as the Americans call it.
Even if that is frowned upon here. Because it’s pretty much the most superficial thing that you can do in Detroit. But it is also necessary to understand what’s going on here. Necessary to see both of the city’s faces.

Detroit - Stadtansicht

In 2013, Detroit was officially declared bankrupt. Thirty-eight percent of Detroit’s citizens live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is over 15% higher the national average doubled. From the past 1.8 million people, only about 700,000 still live here. But they are doing everything possible to bring Detroit back.

This fighting spirit definitely makes up of a part of my fascination. Last year, the city succeeded in moving past the largest municipal bankruptcy proceedings in American history. They like to say here, “the only way is up.”

“The only way is up”

And in fact, a lot has been done in just the last few months in the destitute city with all those empty houses and insufficient trains, ambulances, fire trucks and busses. Hundreds of deserted or burnt down houses were finally demolished and others were auctioned off in speedy trials. The huge area that Detroit once decadently covered will be reduced in the future to narrow down the high urban maintenance costs.

Home here might have even been sold here for an apple and an egg at some point. But those days are over. In addition to the already high renovation costs that come with the sometimes beautiful, yet dilapidated houses, taxes are laid on the top. Detroit has become popular with the young people & creative professionals, who are are setting up more and more offices in the Motor City to build up their startups or to simply try out their luck in settling here.

Detroit - Stadtansicht

In downtown Detroit, which was still deserted a few years ago, there is hardly a free office space left. In the scene-area Corktown, the oldest district in the city, bars are popping up one after another. Michigan Central Station, which was vacant for 50 years
and left unused as more and more cars were built, was once a symbol of the decline of the city. Now, it is a landmark and is even dressed up in the winter with some poinsettias in the windows. They take away the really spooky, yet impressive setting or at least some of the horror, and are a sign. The hope of a new beginning.

The Detroit that I was able to get to know is as a city that fights, lives and changes every day. My fascination surely lies in the sheer scale of this change. Detroit is alive and will show it in the next few years, maybe more than ever.

Detroit - Stadtansicht

My tips – Discover Detroit

  • John K. King – the best bookstore in the world (I’m sure).
  • Slows Bar BQ, 2138 Michigan Avenue: good food, good atmosphere, good beer selection, just hardly any open parking spots.
  • Detroit Institute of Bagels: delicious fresh baked bagels to go or to eat there.
  • The Z’ parking garage: a parking garage full of street art and a fantastic view of the city from the open top floor. Very convenient if you are traveling by car
  • Belle Isle: the green lung of the city in the middle of the Detroit River at the Canadian border. A recreation area for Detroiters and accessible by bridge. From here, you have a great view of the Detroit skyline. Here, the Michigan State Police has the say and often patrol the park.

About the author
Heike Kaufhold ist writer, photographer and Travel Blogger from Cologne, Germany. Her (german) weblog “Köln Format” is about traveling with kids, discovering the world and the most beautiful roads.

Published: 8. January 2015

About the author

Thomas Gigold has been writing about cars for more than ten years. He loves long road trips, is father of three and lives in Germany. Thomas is the Editor-in-chief at the MOTOR SHOW BLOG. Learn more.

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