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    Look Inside North Korea's Insane Ryugyong Hotel for the First Time

    Written by

    Derek Mead


    There’s no more fitting metaphor for North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel than the fact that it’s shaped like the Simpsons’ Enron ride. Construction on the hotel began in 1987, and was supposed to be completed by 1989. By 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union — and the resulting loss of cash flow from Moscow — put a major pinch on North Korea’s funds, construction on what was to be the world’s tallest structure at its inception halted, leaving a giant skeleton of building towering over the glittery squalor of Pyongyang like a wireframe spaceship.

    Despite being one of the world’s largest consumers of Hennessy, Kim Jong-il never managed to squeeze the funds out of his starving country to finish his monumental hotel. In 2008, after 16 years of sitting listlessly, construction restarted on the 105-story building. It’s hard to imagine how that could even happen. Imagine 16 years of the elements pounding away at the building’s concrete skeleton, and then imagine finding construction workers who could pick up where others left off.

    Via Koryo Tours

    But now, 25 years after breaking ground, North Korean officials have opened still-unfinished hotel up for visitors, and some folks from Koryo Tours have become the first Westerners to take pictures inside the structure.

    Via Koryo Tours

    The first thing you notice is how audacious the plans actually are. In the photo above, a woman is dwarfed by the massive scale of what’s to become the hotel’s main dining room. Sure, the aged concrete and rusty guardrails make it clear that the structure has been sitting for some time, but it’s incredible that it was even built in the first place.

    Via Koryo Tours

    It reminds me a bit of Chinese ghost malls. But while abandoned malls are a common trope in any post-apocalyptic fiction, the Ryugyong is something different altogether. Jong-il tried to build one of the world’s largest buildings in a country filled with horrific prison camps while surrounded by a Pyongyang elite that would struggle to measure up as middle class anywhere else. The Ryugyong’s stillbirth is indicative of an economy and country that never grew big enough to even feel the crushing change that an apocalypse would bring about.

    Via Koryo Tours

    But now that Kim Jong-un is in power, and has brought fitness palaces with him, perhaps one day the Ryugyong will be finished. Then, of course, there’s the minor problem of finding guests.

    Top image via Wikipedia

    Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.