Good vibes from Detroit

Detroit is not just any big city in the USA. Detroit was once the American industrial city par excellence. But the days when Detroit set the pace in the American economy are long gone. Today, the city is often associated with economic decline, high crime and decay. What Detroit is today is not just something you can see. It is also a feeling that arises when you walk through the city with open eyes and discover the many small and large revitalization projects. The city that was on its knees is reinventing itself. Cars still play a role, but the positive vibes are mainly coming from artists and creatives as well as financially strong residents who are investing heavily in their home city.

Streetart in Detroit. Ein Arbeiter im Hubwagen wirkt wie ein dreidimensionaler Teil der bemalten Hauswand / © Foto: Georg Berg
Street art in Detroit. A worker in a pallet truck looks like a three-dimensional part of the painted house wall / © Photo: Georg Berg

Lost places, that was yesterday

For many decades, Detroit only made headlines with negative headlines. There was a corrupt administration, a criminal mayor and thousands of empty and dilapidated buildings. Definitely not a place you would want to visit voluntarily. Instead, you’d rather look at the eerily beautiful images of the ruins of a once thriving industrial city from afar. Detroit was the Mecca of lost places photographers. They carried the image of Detroit as the ruins of the industrial age into the world.

Street Art in einem Außenbezirk von Detroit. Botschaft: Nothing Stops Detroit / © Foto: Georg Berg
Street art on the outskirts of Detroit. Message: Nothing Stops Detroit / © Photo: Georg Berg

Shopping on West Canfield Street

Today, there is much more to discover in Detroit than just ruins. On the trendy Canfield Street in the west of the city, for example, there are two exciting stores. Third Man Records is an independent record label that specializes in vinyl. It was founded by Jack White, Ben Blackwell and Ben Swank. The record label has locations in Nashville, Detroit and London. The renovated brick building on Canfield Street not only sells records, but also has a vinyl pressing plant. Musicians from all over the world have records pressed here again. These are often special editions in flashy colors and with cool cover motifs.

Verkaufsraum von Third Man Records, ein auf Vinyl spezialisiertes unabhängiges Plattenlabel auf der Canfield Street in Detroit. Im Gebäude befindet sich auch ein Vinyl-Presswerk / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sales room of Third Man Records, at the end of the corridor you can take a look into the vinyl pressing plant / © Photo: Georg Berg

Third Man Records offers guided tours of the production hall every Friday. If you can’t get a ticket for a tour or are in town on another day, you can look through a large window into the bright yellow production hall.

Third Man Records ist ein auf Vinyl spezialisiertes unabhängiges Plattenlabel, das von Jack White, Ben Blackwell und Ben Swank gegründet wurde. Auf der angesagten Canfield Street in Detroit befindet sich auch ein Vinyl Presswerk. In direkter Nachbarschaft hat das Detroiter Designerlabel Shinola seinen Flagship-Store / © Foto: Georg Berg
Third Man Records in the west of Detroit. The designer label Shinola has its flagship store right next door / © Photo: Georg Berg

Shoe polish and overalls

The designer label Shinola has its flagship store right next door to Third Man Records. Hardly any other company stands for the comeback of Detroit like Shinola. The range includes classy watches, bicycles with a retro look and high-quality accessories from writing pads to leather bags. Shinola, named after an old shoe polish, wants to make Detroit’s image shine again. Detroit is and remains a manufacturing hub and the rest of the country should not write off this city, according to the message of the company founded in 2011.

Flagship-Store von Carhartt in Detroit mit Bagger und Baustelle vor dem Eingang. Carhartt produziert seit 1889 Arbeitskleidung in Detroit und ist zu einer weltweit bekannten Marke aufgestiegen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Carhartt flagship store in Detroit with excavator and construction site in front of the entrance. Carhartt has been producing workwear in Detroit since 1889 / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Carhartt fashion brand is much better known outside the USA than Shinola. Cap wearers around the world have been particularly fond of sporting a thick yellow C on their foreheads for some years now. Hamilton Carhartt, a salesman who traveled by horse and cart, founded a company to produce workwear in 1889. Carhartt still produces robust clothing today, but instead of being worn for the shift on the assembly line, casual chic from Detroit is worn in leisure time.

Eastern Market Detroit

Eastern Market Detroit was founded in 1841 and has been held at its current location around two kilometers from downtown Detroit since 1891. Every Saturday, the historic market district is transformed into the largest open-air market with flower beds in the United States. Over 40,000 people come from the surrounding area to visit the market and the many specialty stores in the district.

Häuserzeile am Eastern Market Detroit. Der größte Freiluft-Bauernmarkt in Michigan wurde 1841 gegründet und 1891 an seinen heutigen Standort verlegt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Row of houses at Eastern Market Detroit. The largest open-air farmers’ market in Michigan was founded in 1841 and moved to its current location in 1891 / © Photo: Georg Berg

Into the RenCen!

With its eventful history, the Renaissance Center near Hart Plaza is a vivid example of failed urban planning and the influence of the automotive industry in Detroit. Today, the GMRenCen is home to the global headquarters of General Motors. However, the huge complex of five towers was built in 1977 by the Ford Motor Company. Its decline was already in full swing at the time. Ford was aiming for a renaissance of the city with the construction. Office space for 5,000 people was created for this rebirth. But the building was completely isolated from downtown Detroit. People drove their cars into the underground parking garage and back to the suburbs in the evening.

Renaissance Center, auch kurz „RenCen“ genannt, ist mit 221 Metern das höchste Gebäude in Detroit. Sitz der Weltkonzernzentrale von General Motors. Der Komplex aus fünf Türmen steht direkt am Detroit River und ermöglicht eine Aussicht auf Windsor (Ontario), die gegenüberliegende südlichste Stadt Kanadas / © Foto: Georg Berg
Renaissance Center, also known as “RenCen” for short, is the tallest building in Detroit at 221 m. / © Photo: Georg Berg

This prestige project by Ford, which was supposed to give Detroit a new lease of life and an upswing, had the opposite effect. In 1996, General Motors bought the building. The Renaissance Center was given a glass opening to the promenade along the river. The RenCen is now accessible to everyone. Escalators lead up to a labyrinth of reinforced concrete stairs. If you make it this far, a drink in the Highbar is not far away. Now you just have to take the right elevator to the Highlands restaurant. The view of the Detroit River from the 72nd floor is magnificent. You can understand why the city’s founder, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, named the settlement Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit in 1701. Détroit means strait in French. Where the French adventurer La Mothe went ashore, the river was the only landmark. The Detroit River gets its water from Lake Huron and flows into Lake Erie after just 44 kilometers.

Aufzug im Renaissance Center. Der Komplex aus fünf Türmen steht direkt am Detroit River. Blick auf Windsor (Ontario), die gegenüberliegende südlichste Stadt Kanadas / © Foto: Georg Berg
Elevator in the Renaissance Center. The complex of five towers stands directly on the Detroit River. View of Windsor (Ontario), the southernmost city in Canada / © Photo: Georg Berg

Goodbye dreariness

The heartbeat of the city is no longer determined by the automotive industry. New investors are driving the upswing in Detroit. Private initiatives as well as artists and creatives are breathing new life into the city. There are urban gardening projects, street art in the parking garage, cycle paths through downtown and cool rooftop bars with a view of the city.

Rooftop Bar im Element Building. Der neogotische Bürobau von 1925 stand 40 Jahre leer. Der Zustand des Gebäudes war abbruchreif. Netze wurden gespannt, um Passanten vor herabstürzenden Fassadenteilen zu schützen. Aufwändig restauriert, Wiedereröffnung als Hotel, Restaurant und Bar mit Blick über Detroit / © Foto: Georg Berg
Rooftop bar in the Element Building. The office building from 1925 stood empty for 40 years. The building was ready for demolition. It reopened as a hotel, restaurant and bar in 2018 / © Photo: Georg Berg

The name Bedrock can be seen on many construction fences and buildings in Detroit. Behind it is Dan Gilbert, born in Detroit and now one of the richest people in the USA. Gilbert’s company specializes in the strategic development of city centers. The real estate company’s portfolio includes 100 properties in downtown Detroit with a total area of over 19 million square meters. To date, Gilbert says he has invested over a billion dollars in his home city, making a significant contribution to its upswing.

Den Namen Bedrock liest man in Detroit an vielen Baustellen und Gebäuden. Dahinter steht Dan Gilbert, geboren in Detroit und heute einer der reichsten Menschen der USA. Bedrock hat sich auf die strategische Entwicklung von Stadtkernen spezialisiert. Zum Portfolio des Immobilienunternehmens gehören 100 Immobilien mit einer Gesamtfläche von über 19 Millionen Quadratmetern in der Innenstadt von Detroit / © Foto: Georg Berg
The name Bedrock can be seen on many construction sites and buildings in Detroit / © Photo: Georg Berg

Don’t miss Detroit!

Detroit is well on its way to becoming one of the top travel destinations in the USA.

Our journey through Michigan starts in the capital Detroit with classics and new attractions of a city in transition. The huge Michigan Central station, once a ruined line, celebrated its comeback as a research location for mobility in 2023. However, the options for getting around Detroit have long been extremely diverse, as mobility in Motown works pretty well even without a car. The journey continues to Traverse City on Lake Michigan with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Mission Point Lighthouse is one of these lighthouses with a history. Why the lighthouse in Grand Traverse County is particularly popular with women is explained in the story about Sarah Lane and the keeper program. We continue on to Charlevoix. The town has a maritime flair and lots of stones. There are Petoskey stones on the beach and Earl Young’s famous stone houses in the town. USA without cars? A fact on Mackinac Island. The success story of Michigan’s heavy industry began with a defeat.

The research was supported by Visit Detroit

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