Rebecca O'Connell
Rebecca O'Connell

A Look Inside Austin's Cathedral of Junk

Rebecca O'Connell
Rebecca O'Connell

Tucked away on a residential street in southeast Austin, you can find action figures, broken toilets, bicycle parts, and assorted knick-knacks all woven together to form a looming, strange castle-like structure. Known as the Cathedral of Junk, the massive castle stands a little over 30 feet tall. Its creator, self-proclaimed “Junk King” Vince Hannemann, has been working on it since 1988, much to the chagrin of his neighbors. 

The King stands at the gate of his house with his trusty companion—an Australian cattle dog named Smoky—and lets in visitors. He asks that guests make a reservation and that they park on a side road to keep neighbor agitation at a minimum. A red box sits nearby asking for $10 donations. Once inside, visitors can explore the 60-ton structure, which has an elaborate system of stairs, bridges, and even a slide.  

The Cathedral of Junk is a testament to the slogan “keep Austin weird,” which, as Vice puts it, is a sentiment that has lately been reserved for sorority girl bumper stickers. In 2010, the city asked Hannemann to dismantle the cathedral, as it was upsetting the people who live in the neighborhood (if you climb to the top of the structure, you can peek into the neighboring backyards). Austinites take their weird art seriously, and after a bit of a kerfuffle, Hannemann received a building permit and the Cathedral of Junk made a triumphant return. A few hundred volunteers came to help the rebuilding. “It was very motivating to have the public support,” Hannemann said.

Taking a stroll around the structure, you can find plenty of oddities, from strings of AOL CDs to motorcycle helmets on stakes. It has everything—kitchen sink included. In the interior of the building (the foyer, if you will), the massive clumps of junk are color-coded, with items sometimes being painted to match the theme. The green section features a number of different-sized Gumbys, while the pink section predictably boasts a wide selection of Barbie dolls and accessories.

The outside is just as interesting as the inside, and offers guests a number of stairways to higher levels. Thanks to a bit of concrete, the structure is surprisingly sturdy—the city has actually sent engineers to shake the building and look for weak spots. At the top of structure, there is a small bench from which to take in the view. 

Despite being made of decaying toys and broken technology, the Cathedral of Junk is actually pretty romantic. Bachelor parties, engagement pictures, and even actual weddings have used the odd attraction as a venue. Nature intermingles with the junk, in what Hannemann refers to as a “critter condo.” You can find children and wildlife alike happily enjoying the architecture. 

Despite creating a junk kingdom, Hannemann is pretty modest about it. "I just did it because it was kinda cool," he told Roadside America. "It's my clubhouse. It's fun. Kids, when they come through, they know what it is." Hannemann fields questions from his seat in the Junk Throne Room. Made from a collection of chains, toys, and even a Jesus statuette, the chair looks a lot like the Iron Throne if Aegon the Conqueror was really into garage sales. As Roadside America describes it, the effect is impressive.

Hannemann told me that he plans to keep building and adding onto his strange structure. As people continue to donate their junk to him, he has more materials to expand. He even has the nose of an airplane, though he refused to reveal where it came from.

“The Cathedral really is a cathedral,” the Junk King told filmmaker Evan Burns. “It has a congregation. It has a life. It serves a public purpose. It really is owned by all these other people too—not just by me. It will go on without me, I’m sure.”

Images courtesy of the author.

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The Best (and Worst) States for Summer Road Trips
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As we shared recently, the great American road trip is making a comeback, but some parts of the country are more suitable for hitting the open road than others. If you're interested in taking a road trip this summer but are stuck on figuring out the destination, WalletHub has got you covered: The financial advisory website analyzed factors like road conditions, gas prices, and concentration of activities to give you this map of the best states to explore by car.

Wyoming—home to the iconic road trip destination Yellowstone National Park—ranked No. 1 overall with a total score of 58.75 out of 100. It's followed by North Carolina in the No. 2 slot, Minnesota at No. 3, and Texas at No. 4. Coming in the last four slots are the three smallest states in America—Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut—and Hawaii, a state that's obviously difficult to reach by car.

But you shouldn't only look at the overall score if you're planning a road trip route: Some states that did poorly in one category excelled in others. California for example, came in 12th place overall, and ranked first when it came to activities and 41st in cost. So if you have an unlimited budget and want to fit as many fun stops into your vacation as possible, taking a trip up the West Coast may be the way to go. On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi is a good place to travel if you're conscious of spending, ranking second in costs, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of your trip, coming in 38th place for safety and 44th for activities.

Choosing the stops for your summer road trip is just the first step of the planning process. Once you have that covered, don't forget to pack these essentials.

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Netherlands Officials Want to Pay Residents to Bike to Work
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Thinking about relocating to the Netherlands? You might also want to bring a bike. Government officials are looking to compensate residents for helping solve their traffic congestion problem and they want businesses to pay residents to bike to work, as The Independent reports.

Owing to automobile logjams on roadways that keep drivers stuck in their cars and cost the economy billions of euros annually, Dutch deputy infrastructure minister Stientje van Veldhoven recently told media that she's endorsing a program that would pay employees 19 cents for every kilometer (0.6 miles) they bike to work.

That doesn't sound like very much, but perhaps citizens who need to trek several miles each way would appreciate the cumulative boost in their weekly paychecks. For employers, the benefit would be a healthier workforce that might take fewer sick days and reduce parking needs.

Veldhoven says she also plans on designing a program that would assist employers in supplying workers with bicycles. The goal is to have 200,000 people opting for manual transportation over cars. If the program proceeds, it might find a receptive population. The Netherlands is already home to 22.5 million bikes, more than the 17.1 million people living there. In Amsterdam, a quarter of residents bike to work.

There's no timeline for implementing the pay-to-bike plan, but early trial studies indicate that the expense might not have to be a long-term prospect. Study subjects continued to bike to work even after the financial rewards stopped.

[h/t The Independent]

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