When we think of a city, we tend to reduce it to a simplified stereotype. New York is skyscrapers, pizza, and rudeness; Rome is Colosseum and 10 billion scooters; and San Francisco is a goddamned Michael Bay movie waiting to happen. Of course, these images couldn't be further from reality. Cities are things of complexity by default, and the whole "just a bunch of buildings and streets" thing is just a facade for a ridiculously labyrinthine infrastructure that can actually cause your brain to malfunction.
And, sometimes, you barely need to scratch their surface to unearth some of the strangest bullshit you ever saw.
#5. Berlin's Giant Swamp-Fighting System
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Berlin is a city of duality. Its current careful cultivation of cool and open-mindedness often finds itself at odds with the city's sober (and occasionally somber) historical architecture. However, that's not what we're here to discuss today. We're here to talk about these things:
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"Pipes? Maybe step away from the keyboard and come back when you're sober, man."
That there is Potsdamer Platz, one of Berlin's most important public squares, and therefore the kind of place that's unlikely to feature giant, ugly-ass pipes running above the ground, unless your city planners are really, really drunk. Yet there these massive pipes are, and they're far from the only ones. Painted with enticing hues of pink and purple, these constructs run rampant all over the city, forming massive knots in people's backyards ...
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"I'm not saying it's alive, Kurt. I'm just saying it wasn't there last night."
... and ominously twisting and turning over the streets like an Elder God's game of 3D Snake:
Via Berlin Global
The pink ones are docile. If you see a green one, fuckin' run.
Some visitors assume these are gas pipes, or maybe some strange, city-wide art installation. Others write them off as a particularly horrifying spin on a sewer system, a theory that could add some very literal shittiness to the already crappy 5 p.m. traffic when one of these pink city-colons inevitably bursts over a busy street.
The truth is just as strange, if not stranger: these pipes are actually designed solely to fight the marshlands that are Berlin's bane. The city is built on swamp (its name basically translates as Swamp City), which leaves its ground-water level insanely high -- just a little over 6 feet under the surface. This means that every little act of tunneling and construction would equate to willingly flooding a significant area ... that is, if the city didn't have 40 miles of easily constructed drainage piping system at its disposal. It's pretty neat, though I'd argue that my pet theory of Berlin being under constant attack by a mechanized tentacle monster is significantly more awesome.
It would flood the city with Japanese tourists instead of water.
The insanely snaking shape of the pipes has a reasonable explanation, too. It can get pretty cold in Berlin, which means the pipe system faces enormous strain from negative thermal expansion. Avoiding long, linear parts solves this issue and also creates the twisting appearance custom made to make Super Mario seasick.
As for the colors, the company making the pipes consulted a psychologist to come up with a cool hue that the kids would like. They went with pink and purple, which might seem a little odd, but it's probably a pretty comforting color scheme as giant piping systems go. Imagine seeing those things entwining a city in, say, blood red, and see if you don't immediately imagine they're connected to a giant beating monster heart deep under the city. Compared to that, there is a comforting innocence to the images conjured by their current pink ... shaft-like ... appearance ...
... let's, uh, not pursue that train of thought anymore.
#4. The Secret Disaster Tunnels of Tokyo
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Japan has seen more than its fair share of natural disasters, and in the process it has leveled up to a point where it can bounce back from the attacks of seemingly unbeatable weather-bosses like they were goombas with water pistols. For instance, when the 2011 earthquake/tsunami combo ravaged the country, it flat out refused all foreign attempts at charity because no one could be more effective at helping Japan than Japan. But how does the country manage to cope with all the bullshit nature throws at it without so much as calling for backup? How does, say, the bustling mega-city of Tokyo, an area constructed entirely of electricity and panty vending machines, manage to not get washed into the ocean as soon as Mother Nature sneezes at it?
The answer is simple: money, mad skills, and massive friggin' tunnels.
Insert your own "Yo mama" joke here.
Meet the Water Discharge Tunnel, Tokyo's secret weapon in its ongoing fight against the forces of nature, and the winner of the prestigious Understatement of the Century Award in Name Olympics. A 3.7-mile structure composed of massive tunnels and five-story shafts, the system is powered by 14,000 horsepower turbines that can pump a whopping 200 tons of water into the nearby Edo River. Per second. The $3 billion structure is located entirely underground, out of sight of the bustling city above. Presumably, they use it as a Godzilla evacuation tunnel when not in active use.
That is, Godzilla itself can John McClane through it if Rodan gets the upper hand.
Oh, and they're currently building another one of these beasts, with a third one scheduled after that.
It wasn't always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Tokyo was essentially a mess of constant typhoons and heavy flooding, and large parts of the city got routinely wrecked. Yeah, all those "Tokyo gets wrecked by unstoppable, monstrous forces" films are basically documentaries. The progress of technology and the utter liftoff of Japan's economy have enabled unprecedented flooding solutions such as these giant tunnels. However, nature has taken notice of this and upped its game too. Tokyo is constantly bombarded with worse and worse weather, which in turn forces its officials to search for more and more ingenious methods of battling the elements, such as pavement materials that sponge up the water and release it when the weather is better, handily cooling the city in the process.
And so the largest city in Japan remains locked in mortal combat with the weather, both constantly looking for ways to one-up the other. I'm fully expecting giant battle robots to enter the equation by 2030.
#3. The Death Bridge of Prague
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, is often thought of as a relatively quaint place, what with its idyllic river, old buildings, and a generally laid-back spin on the whole Eastern Europe vibe:
That is, until you zoom in and see the quintillion tourists crawling out of the woodwork.
However, look a little closer and the city starts to reveal its numerous ... eccentricities. Turns out, Prague is teeming with Cracked-worthy creepy statues, monuments, and graveyards, gleefully mooning the sanity of passers-by amid all the gorgeous architecture. Still, every city has its little peculiarities. It's not like Prague boasts, ha, a giant death bridge ominously looming over a residential area or anyth-
Oh, OK, so they might have one of those, too.
That, friends, is Nusle Bridge, a massive, 1,591-foot structure looming over its otherwise idyllic namesake neighborhood like it was drunkenly levitated there from some Soviet industrial hellscape by Concreto, Magneto's deadbeat cousin with power over cement-based composite materials. The Czech language name of the Nusle Bridge is Nuselsky Most, but I wouldn't bother remembering either of those, because most people prefer to call it "The Suicide Bridge." It's not just a loving nickname, either. Be it because of its questionable aesthetics or its impressive 139-foot clearance, this infrastructurally necessary but ugly as fuck construct became a suicide hot spot almost immediately after its completion in 1973. Estimations of the number of people who have jumped from the bridge range from 200 to 400, each presumably adding a unique extra element of horror to the dreaded 2 a.m. "Did you hear that thud from the attic?" question for the penthouse residents of Nusle.
Luckily for everyone involved, recent years have seen officials finally notice that their city features a massive structure primarily known for tragedies, and so they installed safety railings that should deter at least the more impulsive jumper candidates. Presumably, this realization involved a sudden eureka moment and much slapping of foreheads.
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"Jesus, Franz, look at that thing! Has it always been there?"