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Old Towns Along Ruhr River: Kettwig and Werden

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Essen-Kettwig in Timber and Slate

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Think half-timbered houses with slate roofs, cobblestone alleys, a small town on a hillside crowned by an old church, overlooking a lake, pubs and cafes in old houses... The whole „fairytale picture“ of old Germany. Would you expect THAT in the middle of the Ruhr district?

Well, it does exist. In this industrial zone, primary target to World War II bombs, a few old town centres have survived. One of them is Kettwig, now a suburb in the south of Essen.

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Take your camera and stroll through the old town. Explore the side alleys at the bottom of the hill, too. If you read German, you will find detailed infromation about streets and buildings on the numerous boards in the streets theat describe the history and architecture and how this very place looked in former times. A goldmine of information.

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Kirchtreppe, the steep stairway up to the protestant church, is the most remarkable ensemble in Kettwig's old town.

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The six half-timbered houses along the stairway have medieval origins, although some of them bear the dates of later repairs. The oldest mentionings originate in the 14th century and archeology proved this true.

The alley used to be property of the church. It also served as one of four „fire alleys“, shortcuts downhill to the water in case of fire. Only in 1850 the steep lane was turned into a stairway with steps and railings. The figure of the night watchman was created in 1982 to substitute an older predecessor.

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Plan enough time for Kettwig because it is quite a walk from the S-Bahn to the old town. There are buses but they do not run too frequently, so you will most likely walk. Kettwig has two S-Bahn stops. I recommend not getting off at „Kettwig“ but staying on the train until „Kettwig Stausee“, the stop beyond the Ruhr lake, which the train crosses on a bridge. Walk along Werdener Straße until the footpath to the lake shore turns to the right. Walk along the lake and then cross it on the big street bridge. From the bridge you have the best panoramic view of old Kettwig with its two churches on the ridge, the lake and the Ruhr river.

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The lake is actually an artificial reservoir. The dam is hidden underneath the bridge, one does not even notice it at first sight. A small lock allows boats to pass.

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Essen-Werden, the Abbey and Its Treasures

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Werden is now a suburb of Essen but it is older than the city, even 50 years older than the canonesses' convent in Essen. The core of Werden is a Benedictine abbey that was founded by Saint Liudger (Ludgerus) in the year 799.

Liudger's family belonged to the upper 10,000, rather the upper 1,000 in the empire of Charlemagne. In his youth he had met Bonifatius who visited the house of his parents, and then decided to become a missionary himself. After studies in England he became a priest in 777 and started his work in Dokkum, the very place where Bonifatius had been slain by pagan Frisians. In Rome he learned and studied the rule of Saint Benedict.

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He did not become a monk himself but decided to found a monastery in his home country some day. Charlemagne, whom Liudger met in person during his stay in Italy, entitled him as leader of the mission in the entire Western Saxony, today's Westphalia and Lower Saxony, with Münster as headquarters. In 795 he started the construction of the cathedral in Münster. Soon after he acquired land by the Ruhr river and founded the long-planned monastery of Werden on his personal property. In 805 he became the first Bishop of Münster. Four years later he died in Billerbeck. His corpse was transferred to Werden and buried in the crypt of his abbey church where it rests to this very day.

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The new Liudger shrine

The present church is already the third in this place, built after the big fire of 1256. It is the latest Romanesque church in the Rhinelands. Older parts are preserved in the crypt and in the lower part of the western tower and its substructions.

The crypt contains the tomb of St Liudger in the central chamber underneath the main altar, and the graves of five of his relatives who also high-ranking clerics and active in the early Christian mission.

Liudger's mortal remains rest in a modern bronze shrine in the shape of the church. It was created in the 1980s by Gernot Rumpf. The former shrine, a neogothic piece, is on display in the treasure chamber.

Access to the crypt is from both transepts down a few stairs and through low vaulted passages. The crypt is actually located outside the church, as you can see from behind the choir.

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The treasure chamber of Werden Abbey at least equals the one of Essen Cathedral in quality, age, and uniqueness of exhibits. It shows several pieces that are said to have belonged to Saint Liudger himself, although this has been proved wrong in most cases because the item in question is two or three centuries younger, but still early medieval. The little portable altar, however, is really from the 8th century and might indeed have been his.

The small golden „Chalice of St Liudger“ is one of the oldest preserved communion chalices. The earliest known nativity scene in Germany is depicted on an ivory pyxis (container for hosts) dated to the 5th/6th century. The bronze crucifix, early Romanesque, is another important piece of medieval art.

The opening hours are limited - Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00-12.00 and 15.00-17.00. Planning your visit accordingly is herewith recommended, the treasure chamber is worth it.Walk round the choir of the church to the first convent building, follow the signs to „Schatzkammer“.

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Apart from the abbey church and the treasure chamber, there is a bit more to see in Werden that is worth a little walk.

Werden's old town is tiny but pleasant for a stroll. The alleys are pedestrianized and full of little shops, cafes and pubs.

One street has three cafes with outdoor seating all over, I nicknamed it „Werden's Cappuccino Strip“.

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Protestant Parish Church: Built around 1900 in the typical neo-Romanesque-gothic mix of those times. Murals and windows are also original. Note the silver crucifix and chandeliers on the altar, a donation by Margarethe Krupp, the founder of Margarethenhöhe. Villa Hügel is close, so the family probably belonged to this parish.

Open 11.00-16.00. Two friendly ladies from the community were eager to show visitors round.

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Haus Heck: The castle-like house with the round tower used to be the seat of a local noble family. Located along the street between the protestant church and the Church of St Lucius. Now property of the protestant community.

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Church of St Lucius: Catholic parish church of Werden. The church was founded in the 8th century and still shows Carolingian architecture (though rebuilt). Unfortunately I could not get in, it was Saturday and there was a wedding.

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:46 Archived in Germany Tagged essen nordrhein-westfalen

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Both Kettwig and Werden look well worth exploring, and yes, surprising to know that two such historic and attractive towns lie so close to Essen. The only town I have visited in this area is Gelsenkirchen (for football!) which sadly lost much of its town centre due to WW2 bombing

by ToonSarah

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