More than 20 years ago, the West-German government tried to take a Fast Breeder nuclear reactor online in the small town of Kalkar, 30 miles from my hometown. The building phase between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Equipped with a green parka, long hair and a big sign, I spent a whole week protesting. And we won. The reactor was built but never activated. No nuclear material ever came close to the concrete memorial and the holy river of Rhine we all tried to protect.

For more than a decade, the developed facility stood deserted until a Dutch entrepreneur had the brilliant/crazy idea to convert the space into a hotel/amusement park. (He paid $2 million, the tax payer $4 billion…)

The cooling tower became an attraction, the core a bar and the administrative offices transformed into hotel rooms. During my recent Europe trip, we spent one night in the reactor and it was quite  a fascinating experience.


Since the beginning of the financial crisis, we saw many images like the one above, documenting the decay and decline of cities, communities and institutions. We continue to look in the back mirror, instead of looking forward.

While our human experience continues to develop and evolve, we’ll see many of these conversions. There’s no reason why old factories can’t be transformed into new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Deserted developments transformed into agricultural experiments. Demolish old communities to build real estate innovations. The old industrial core of Germany (Ruhrgebiet) was transformed into a high-tech hot spot.

We need to stop looking backwards and hoping the old times will come back. They are gone forever. We need to look forward and live with what we have and transform it to our new needs.

Who doesn’t want to sleep in a nuclear reactor, old automotive plant or coal mine? Let me tell you, it’s a pretty special experience?