Decline of an Arcade

Who would have thought that in our time another arcade could go down spectacularly? That irretrievable cultural assets would be destroyed? Partly destroyed wantonly? A report on a rescue attempt that was doomed to failure from the start. I’m sorry if my usual sarcasm and irony completely fall by the wayside here. I am still stunned, angry and sad.

A word on cultural heritage

Yes, I understand that many people think arcade machines are old junk. But in fact, the first video games and the first vending machines were technical forerunners of the „computerisation“ of our society. They tell a lot about the rapid development in technology and design. Pinball machines and video games always represented the spearhead of technology. Mechanical pinball machines easily surpassed in complexity all adding machines in the offices of the time.

Technology transfer always took place from the gaming sector to the commercial sector. “Space technology” that made our everyday lives easier is just a myth. Games always enriched our lives. In one way and in another. This is still the case today. Game consoles got the first real multicore processors and graphics chips when expensive workstations and servers had two, at most four CPUs in separate housings and sockets.

Highly sophisticated gamer graphics cards with physics acceleration and hundreds of processing units developed for the mass market only made it possible for their affordable and energy-efficient computing power to accelerate serious applications. Only because of elaborate games do current smartphones have powerful graphics processors and CPUs with up to eight cores and 64 bits at all. These devices have a computing power that equals – or exceeds – that of PCs from five years ago.

At the same time, they are designed to be power-efficient in order to extend battery life and limit heat generation. The origins of these developments need to be preserved. Many old games shed an interesting light on the social and political conditions of the time. They are not silent witnesses. You can play them, they are alive. And they still „work“ today. A good game doesn’t need bombastic graphics, DLC or 4k resolution. Anyone who has seen even the smallest children playing enthusiastically on these „old“ machines will understand what I mean. I recommend a visit to the For-Amusement-Only in Seligenstadt, which is open every first Saturday of the month.

The news is spreading in „the scene“

Hi Hessi, how are you these days?“ – such a PM via Facebook is usually just the overture for something someone wants from me. And right: „There’s an arcade collection to loot in Worms, if you have the time, the inclination and the necessary health,“ Ariane from For Amusement Only e. V. wrote on. That was correct, because I was suffering from a mutated kindergarten variant of the common snout plague. Everyone who has children knows this: during kindergarten, the little ones bring home flu-like infections that can turn adults into disoriented zombies for days. That’s what happened to me

But of course, those few lines made me suddenly forget about my stinging headache, neckache and congested sinuses. An arcade? To loot? A glance at the calendar confirmed it for me „February 2015″. Not February 1990! Hahaha! No. Video games were recognised as a cultural asset by the Cultural Council years ago. So it can’t be that dozens of arcade machines can be open for looting somewhere. An adventure beckoned!

A chance that probably only comes once in a lifetime in this day and age. I removed the rear five seats from my car and hung the trailer on the gypsy hook. After work, Ariane arrived directly at the train station in Seligenstadt, where I was already impatiently waiting for her.


Was the whole thing a bad joke?

Unfortunately not. The owner of the premises where „Vossen’s Arcade„, the largest collection of automatons in Germany, was located, actually opened the doors and left the remaining inventory to anyone who was interested. „What’s gone, I don’t have to throw in the press.“ were his words to Ariane, who had the unbelievable story that went through the various arcade and retro forums confirmed. And we should hurry, because the demolition excavators would be arriving in the next few days, the contractor told us. With that, we had our letter of marque in our pocket.

Well, „all those interested in the inventory“ – that was first the „copper mafia“, who smashed all the tube monitors to get at the copper windings of the deflection units. There is a vacuum in such an old tube. If you smash the tube from the front, there is a violent implosion that sends the glass splinters flying in all directions. The vending machines and the floor looked like this: Millions of glass splinters, some of them very small, made the recovery of the machines not without danger.

It would have been intelligent to leave the vending machines in their entirety and auction them off on Ebay. Two vending machines would have brought in the same amount as all the copper windings. So much for intelligence. A „janitorial service“ also had a go at the vending machines and tore all the metal out of them. These are mostly made of plywood – so you can imagine the level of destruction.

Ariane met these people on site and asked what they were doing there. They said that for one tonne of metal they would pay a proud EUR 150. Wow! When she explained to them that a functioning car race would be worth between 500 and 1,000 euros, their faces fell. Another vivid example of superior intelligence and the limitations of plate edges. At night, young people were probably still rampaging through the area and vandalising many of the vending machines. But people who knew full well that many of the machines were irretrievable cultural assets also destroyed them in order to get their hands on spare parts or to secure „decorative pieces“.

But how did these acts of destruction come about in the first place?

To put the summary of the whole story in Ariane’s words:

Long story short .. Collector stores 500+ vending machines, landlord wants a hefty rent increase, collector sues — court forbids collector access to the hall until court proceedings are over, this goes back and forth for about 3 years — There is a break-in and the tubesare killed (for the copper in the coil) — Collector closes the case (for himself) — The landlord gets into financial difficulties himself — The whole area is sold by forced auction to a building lion — The building lion wants to flatten the whole area (because it is partly dilapidated) and releases the „scrap“ in the hall for looting — The hall is now open to everyone for ~4 weeks, the copper mafia and the scrap metal dealers pluck out everything they think they can turn into money… The clearers are already at it — The „scene“ gets wind of it and starts to rummage through the „leftovers“ for spare parts — In the next week, at the latest the week after next, the thing will be torn down.

This may not be as bitter a loss for a large vending machine manufacturer as it is for smaller associations – the For-Amusement-Only (FAO), for example. These are dedicated to the preservation of such equipment. No wonder that after reinsurance with the current owner, they went on a great caper. Initial soundings on Sunday, with minor salvage, by Reiner and Ariane from FAO served to take stock and plan, because after all, FAO also only has 1,000sqm of space at its disposal.

Those who know the FAO know that it cannot actually accommodate any new exhibits. So it was with a heavy heart that we had to do without the mass of automata. As early as Sunday evening, there were about 30 people in the halls looking for spare parts and complete machines. This did not bode well, there was a need for haste, but it was not until Wednesday that a truck could be hired. But was there anything useful left at all until then? So we had to leave on Tuesday evening for another sounding and salvage.

Imagination blown out of the water

What we were actually to find in the halls was far beyond my imagination. I suspected maybe 10 or twenty devices and expected rather smaller rooms … On the huge site of 31,000 square metres, there are many abandoned and half-ruined factory halls as well as residential buildings. There is nothing to be seen of paved roads. We could still make out something that looked like a large swimming pool in the light of the spotlights. Everywhere there was rubble in the way, the muddy ground had countless depressions, some of them very deep. Apparently the ground is not the most stable. I hoped not to drive any rusty nails, shards or screws into my new winter tyres.

Arriving at the former arcade, a ripped out orange seat from a racing game greeted us. Next to one of the entrances, a Gauntlet Dark Legacy lay upside down in the rubble. The drizzle slowly stopped.

Incredible pictures!

arcade gelände
(Large and also smaller, dilapidated halls)

Arcade eingang
(Vossens Arcade)

vossens arcade gelände
(A former timber factory, as far as I know)

vossens arcade areal
(Site littered with rubble)

arcade nachts
(A small impression of how dark it really was)

But even on foot, the terrain was anything but safe. A stump of a thin tree sticking out of the ground had been sharpened(!). An ingredient like something out of a horror movie. Only a few metres away, there were open shafts. One wrong step and ..

dracul pfähler
(Vlad would have been thrilled)

offener kanaldeckel
(Down, please!)

vossens arcade nebeneingang
(One of the side entrances)

gauntlet 2
(Gauntlet Dark Legacy carelessly tipped over)

arcade off road
(Three-player machine Off Road right at the entrance. Even still somewhat repairable)

acrade nba dino jurassic park
(Dino/Jurassic Park Vending Machine)

sega outrun
(Willfully destroyed cultural property)

panorama vossen arcade
(The first hall we explored)

vossen arcade nba zerstört
(Leaky hall roofs, the false ceilings partly fallen down)

verfallene decke
(Destruction and decay everywhere!)

arcade table
(A sad table with a Pong clone)

area 51
(„Vandalism“ – there is no other way to describe it)

implodierte bildröhre
(Monitors smashed from the front(!)! Anyone who hangs on for dear life knocks off the neck of the picture tube to evacuate the tube. The copper coil is also located on the neck. How stupid do you have to be?)

touch master

bildröhre splitter
(Watch your steps!)

As bad as it is with the monitors, at least you can still get old 51 cm TVs for cheap or for free at the moment. Ariane unscrewed the mini-chassis from the sets, because they are important for restoring a vending machine to its original condition. Fortunately, neither the collectors of raw materials nor the „enthusiasts“ found these circuit boards interesting.

arcade autorennen le mans
(A Le Mans car race)

(How stupid can a person be to come up with such ideas?)

The Le Mans was wonderfully preserved. Sure, the monitor was smashed and the steering wheel had quirks, but the GRP parts were all still in tip-top condition. When Ariane arrived the next day with the „Frankfurt boys“ and a 7.5 tonne truck, the „caretaker service“ had already completely smashed the wonderful and valuable device to get to the far less valuable metal. What a shame. Or to put it plainly: you can’t eat as much as you want to throw up. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

arcade zerstört

konami implodiert
(The implosion tore the luminous layer from the centre of the screen)

What a madness for the few euros! There were shards everywhere, you had to watch your every step. Cuts were to be avoided at all costs, because the shards were partly from the front, i.e. vapourised with a luminescent layer consisting of arsenic, lead, cadmium, nickel and mercury, among other things. This layer was like powder, you can rub it off relatively easily. The stuff must also have been inhaled by the „copper mafia“ during the implosions. It was their own fault.

dino park arcade
(„Something has survived“ – not really. A destroyed Dino Park vending machine)

indy 500 arcade
(An Indy 500 – literally destroyed)

rave racer
(trampled rave racer – who does that?)

testarossa radikal bikers
(Testarossa, Radikal Bikers …)

atari pole position
(In the back, an original Atari Pole Position!)

(Senseless destruction)

phoenix zerstört
(The name says it all, the Phoenix was saved)

arcade michael schumacher
(Advertising light panel with Michael Schumacher – sadly fitting)

arcade autorennen
(In other halls even more rubble and chaos)

zerstörte automaten
(One could easily lose the overview)

vossen arcade
(Destroyed contemporary witnesses)

zeitung vossen arcade
(Old newspaper in the rubble: „Invest“? Too late!)

demontierte toilette
(Dismantled toilets? Seriously?)

daytona usa
(A small reflection of the former greatness, or more precisely the grandeur of the collection)

arcade scheibe
(Unbelievable: the disc has remained intact!)

Bergung konami
(On the hanger)

Arcade midway
(Safe in the FAO)

Was it worth the drive? Yes. Full stop. Even if we couldn’t salvage much. Or rather: hardly any of the big equipment. The paths were simply too dirty to transport the heavy cabs with the hand truck in the dark while still handling torches. The risk of injury was simply too great. So for me it remained with a laserdisc player and a Betamax cassette (I am currently working on an article about digital dementia). Ariane was busy, though, while I stumbled through the chaos and took pictures. She was able to salvage a lot of monitor chassis. Last but not least, we threw a King Fu machine on the hanger, which was right at an exit and made a good impression. The next day, Ariane wanted to move in with more manpower and better equipment during the day with a 7.5 tonne truck. So she sacrificed another day of precious holiday for the association. Just look at the pictures at your leisure. And always remember that they are not from the early 90s, but from 2015. Monetary value aside, the cultural-historical value that was destroyed here is just … unbelievable!

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