5 Famous Cities With Creepy Secrets Hiding in Plain Sight
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.
Berlin's Giant Swamp-Fighting System
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:
"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 ...
"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:
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.
The Secret Disaster Tunnels of Tokyo
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.
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.
"Jesus, Franz, look at that thing! Has it always been there?"
The Lost Rivers of London
Quick: name a river in London. You said the Thames, didn't you? Everybody says the Thames. After all, it's the only damn river thereabouts ... that is, if you don't count the 21 other London rivers, quietly and unassumingly doing their thing. Granted, they're not quite as picturesque (or even visible) as the ol' Thames:
"Hi, I'm Effra. Ask me about that bastard Thames, always stealing the spotlight."
London's River Score is in fact far larger than 21. Those are just the largest tributary rivers that flow to the Thames -- they have their own tributaries, which in turn have theirs, and so forth. In fact, the "notoriously one-rivered" London is secretly fooling around with a whole harem of smaller, more slender rivers, playing with them as it sees fit and discarding them when used. That metaphor got dirty in a hurry, but this doesn't make it any less apt; the reason we so rarely hear about the non-Thames rivers is that London pretty much corrupted and devoured most of them.
Back when London was a medieval upstart, it needed its vast network of rivers for, well, everything: they provided its drinking water and waste management, helped its economy boom, and enabled traveling. As the population grew, however, the lesser creeks started turning from watercourses to fetid pudding containers. The Walbrook, the original river around which the city was founded, was mostly paved over in the 1460s due to turning into a festering, sediment-caked mess straight out of a particularly unsavory horror movie. In 1710, the River Fleet, a large and extremely crucial waterway, had to be rerouted via storm sewers thanks to being composed mainly of dead dogs and poop.
You can admire the mouth of the River Fleet under Blackfriars Bridge, because after that description,
how could you not want to witness its majesty?
One by one, the rivers started turning from life-givers to disease-spreading stench pits, until the vast majority of them were buried under the infrastructure. They're still very much there, though -- after all, it's almost impossible to stop a river from flowing. Even today, London's secret rivers flow in every nook and cranny under the city in various stages of sewery disarray, providing Aquaman ample opportunities to tunnel-invade everything from Buckingham Palace to the Bank of England as soon as he figures out how to cope with the stench.
The Giant Supervillain Lair of New York's Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan is one of the most famous train stations in the world, and its many architectural curiosities can and have filled entire books. From its elaborately designed main concourse to the accidentally reversed Zodiac mural on the ceiling ...
"It's, uh, meant to be observed from a divine point of view."
... to the voice-carrying Whispering Hall and the elaborate jade clock above the ticket offices, the place is an impressive piece of work. That is, until you compare it to its basement levels, which is where the really impressive stuff is located.
As notorious documentaries Spider-Man 1 Through 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 have shown us, New York City is crawling with supervillains that can be taken down only by a weird dude with a penchant for comedy and bodysuits. No matter how many times the cops tell me to take off the spandex and stop harassing the street performer dressed like Doc Ock, I'm convinced that this is absolutely true, and I think I may finally have found where my rogue's gallery lies. Yes, I'm saying the basement levels of Grand Central are total supervillain lairs:
That would be possibly the most secret basement in the entire city. It's located a neat 10 stories below the station, and at 22,000 square feet, it is roughly as large as the station's massive central concourse. The hall used to house giant rotary converters that helped power the trains, and at certain points in history it was so heavily guarded that accidentally attempting to use the entrance could get you shot. Some say the giant room is still used for undisclosed purposes, which are obviously nefarious as fuck because how could they not be?
Another point of basement-related interest is the secret train platform called Track 61, which was created as a hidden Batcave-style commute for none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt and several subsequent presidents:
If a secret train track and the name Roosevelt ring a bell, well, that's probably because it was a fairly sizable plot point in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, where a secret track labeled Roosevelt indeed acted as the secret lab of Spidey's dad. See how these coincidences keep piling up? A mysterious, massive lair and a mysterious train platform with a connection to Spider-Man mythos? That place is totally teeming with villains just waiting to attack the city. Shit, if there aren't any, I'm calling dibs. It's too good an opportunity not to use.
"Sir, we found some hobo in a Venom mask creeping in the basement."
"That guy again? Just find him some pants and return him to the Cracked offices."
For more from Pauli, check out 4 Famous Mysteries With Really Obvious Answers and 4 Creepy Conspiracy Theories That Need to Be Horror Movies .
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