A Travellerspoint blog

April 2018

Stade's Old Town: Bricks, Bricks, Bricks

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Most cities have a particular colour, and Stade's is certainly brick red in all shades. Bricks are the favourite material in a landscape which has no stone quarries which would provide material for building, but at the same time lots of natural clay. Most houses are built from bricks, either pure or in combination with timberframe constructions. Even the pavement in the streets is partly made from bricks. Most timberframe buildings have the "fields" in the walls filled with bricks, often in ornamental setting.

Photographers may want to look for details to create a series. Doors, for example, are a rewarding topic, also details pf brickwork, or carved figures and ornaments on half-timbered houses.

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A collection of doors
(And no, the ornament on the last one is not a Nazi swastika, it's much older. It's a sun wheel, an old symbol for eternity.)

The old town is full of discoveries, and the best thing to do is walking the streets and side lanes, strolling around, looking at the streetviews, the houses and their particularities. In this journal entry I am presenting a number of streets and buildings within the old town that caught my eye and interest. They are all just a short walk apart. Stade is not big and can easily be explored on foot. Comfortable walking shoes are nevertheless good to have because the cobblestone pavement is in parts very uneven.

So here we go...

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Hökerstraße is the main street of the old town. It leads past the town hall and the entrance to the churchyard of St Cosmae slightly downhill to Fischmarkt and the old port. "Höker" in North-German dialect is just a neutral word for "merchant". To the rest of the country, though, it has the taste of a slang expression for a cheap or even dubious merchant (the verb "verhökern" means sell for a cheap, too cheap price).

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Hökerhus

Here, however, the name refers to the wealthy and hopefully honest merchants who built their houses along this street, the best address in town. It is still the backbone of Stade's shopping area and has several nice local shops together with some of the usual chains.

The wealthy merchants have left quite a number of interesting half-timbered houses with ornated facades. The most outstanding of them is the so-called Hökerhus, a late medieval house which survived the fire in 1659 and is one of the few older houses in town. The white timberframe structure is characterisitc for the landscape between Stade and Hamburg. It is now a cafe.

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Spiegelberg is an artificial hill by the port and river. It was created in the early middle ages, probably around 900, to build a small castle on top. The castle is long gone. Nowadays it is a residential quarter with a handful of historical half-timbered houses. The general appearance is a bit run down. From the footpath in the back you have a view of the new port and the church of St Wilhadi.

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The former Franciscan Monastery of St Johannis was closed down after the Reformation and became a hospital for poor people. Since the big fire of 1659 the church is gone, only the convent building was repaired as a plain half-timbered structure. Nowadays they host the offices of several social and cultural institutions. The modern town archive has been built next-door in the place where the church once used to be. In the courtyard in between, an "archeological garden" shows the ground plan of the basilica. Due to construction works in the street I could not enter the courtyard but that should be over soon. The building complex is surrounded by a rose garden in the South and a little park with old trees.

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Bäckerstraße

Bäckerstraße, the “bakers’ street”, is one of the finest streets in Stade’s old town with a number of interesting half-timbered houses. It leads slightly downhill and has a few light bends, which creates interesting photo perspectives.

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The most imposing house is the large townhouse at the beginning of the street, No. 1-3, three storeys high. The beams are decorated with carved sun ornaments. An inscription mentions the date 1590 and a dendrochronology of the timbers has, according to my guidebook, proved that this was indeed the date when the house was built. Style and ornaments fit that era. The building actually consists of two houses that were joined, as the different levels of cellar and ground floor show. Note the beautiful front door. Bäckerstraße is a good place to start a photo collection of doors, as there are several other pretty ones.

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Lämmertwiete

The house No. 21 is even older, though refurbished later on. Its façade is known for the woodcarved figures of King David, St Peter and another saint attached to the consoles. Following the street further downhill it crosses a bridge over Schwinge river. The houses down there are smaller and belonged to less wealthy people.

Lämmertwiete is the smallest street in the old town with a name of its own - it is rather a narrow passage between two houses. It is completely harmless but rather dark and feels a bit creepy... Its width is less than two outstretched arms. The lane is a shortcut from Bächerstraße to Büttelbrücke and "Little Venice".

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The beautiful half-timbered house named Knechthausen in Bungenstraße used to be the guild house of the brewers’ journeymen. The young craftsmen organized themselves – they had to travel and work in various workshops for some years after completing their apprenticeship to gain experience. They were young guys, new in town without family background. The guild house provided accommodation for newcomers until they found a job and a place to stay, and as meeting point for the members. The guild provided a network for company and exchange and help in all emergencies. From the beginning a pub was part of the guild house. The inn “Knechthausen” is still there.

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Alter Hafen - Old Port

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The old port in the middle of the old town is Stade's top attraction. Surrounded by historical houses from various eras, its setting is as beautiful and romantic as can be. Several restaurants, cafes, pubs have outdoor seating on the quay, so you can spend some enjoyable time there...

The port has been the cause for Stade's wealth and status since the middle ages. The first port on the river Schwinge was probably built around 900 when the castle on Spiegelberg hill was erected. In the 13th century the present basin was dug, its quays were first protected by wooden palisades, since 1870 by brick walls. The dimensions and curved shape of the old port still are those of the middle ages.

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The most prominent building is certainly the Old Crane. A crane has been known to be in the port since the 14th century. Two years after the big fire of 1659 a new one was built. Being considered useless, it was demolished in the late 19th century. So the original crane is gone for good. The present one is a reconstruction which was built in the 1970s. It is just the empty shell without the machinery, though. Nevertheless it adds a lot to the flair of the old port. Inside there is an information centre and small exhibition about the history of the port.

The old port is surrounded by historical buildings. Many of them were the residential houses as well as shops and offices of wealthy merchants.

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The most splendid facade around the port is the one of Bürgermeister-Hintze-Haus, the house of a mayor of the town and wealthy merchant. Originally it was a late gothic house but it received the new ornated facade in the renaissance style of the Weser region in 1621. The facade, however, is the only preserved part of the house. In the 1930 the house was heavily damaged due to bad foundations, had to be taken down and rebuilt in smaller size. Only the facade was saved. Behind it there is a new building.

The large building by the exit of the old port was erected around 1700 during the Swedish occupation, hence the name. It served as storage for supplies of the Swedish garrison. Nowadays the Schwedenspeicher hosts the historical museum of the town.

The small half-timbered house on the opposite quay used to be the seat of the port master who controlled the trade and the incoming and outgoing ships. The "tree" was a large wooden beam which closed the port entrance and had to be pulled up for ships entering or leaving. Unwanted vessels could be kept out this way. The monument next to it recalls the history of the sailboats that were used for all kinds of transport in former times.

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One of these boats is still there. "Willi" is a historical sailboat built in 1926. This type of sailboat is named Ewer. They were used in the 19th and early 20th century for freight transport on rivers and close to the coasts. A typical Ewer is about 16 metres long and has one or two masts. Originally they were only run by windpower in the sails but in the 20th century most of them, like "Willi", were equipped with an additional diesel engine. I found "Willi" moored next to Schwedenspeicher but the ship seems to change its location in the port now and then. The sign with the explanations can be found next to the old crane.

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A sculpture by the port depicts a woman selling fish. She proudly presents the largest catch of the day to all passers-by and potential customers. Note the cat who is clearly interested in stealing from the contents of her basket... The stature (1986) had a real model, a woman nicknamed "Mutter Flint mit dem Stint" who used to sell fish by the port before and after World War II.

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Fischmarkt is the old market square by the port, where not only fish was traded but most goods which were unloaded from the ships here. The half-timbered building in the middle of the square is the scale where all arriving goods were weighed, controlled and taxed before merchants got the okay to put them on sale.

Nowadays there are several restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating around Fischmarkt and around the port - weather permitting, a nice spot for a lunch, coffee or dinner break.

Historical Museum Schwedenspeicher

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The large building by the exit of the old port was erected around 1700 during the Swedish occupation, hence the name. Stade was ruled by the Swedes from the end of the 30 Year War until 1712. It served as storage for supplies of the Swedish garrison.
The building is rather plain, its only ornament is the baroque portal towards the quay. The relief above the portal contains the monogram of the Swedish king Karl XII.

In the 1970s the building was renovated and turned into a historical museum. Exhibitions on three floors present the history of the town and area from the Stone Age to modern times.

The ground floor has a fascinating exhibit of archaeological finds that were discovered during excavations in the old port: personal belongings that fell into the port by accident, broken pieces that people threw into the water on purpose, little things from all centuries. It also includes an interactive model of the historical town, and room for temporary exhibitions.

The first floor is dedicated to Stade’s history, in particular to the late middle ages and early modern era when the town was a member of the mighty Hansa.

The second floor with the prehistoric department has been totally refurbished and only reopened in spring 2015. The brand new permanent exhibition presents archaeological finds from the various prehistoric eras, from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages to the Viking, and explains their background. The early history was of particular interest to historians already in the 19th century and has been thoroughly researched. The region by the mouth of the river Elbe was settled in these early ages. The moors have preserved a lot of testimony, remarkable pieces among them like the four large bronze wheels.

Old Town Hall of Stade

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Stade's town hall is a renaissance building, erected after the destruction of its precedessor in the big townwide fire of 1659. Wrought-iron anchors on the facade display the date 1667. The town hall is built from bricks, with whiteish sandstone ornaments and window frames, and resembles Dutch renaissance architecture. The sculpted portal shows the coat of arms of King Karl XI of Sweden, the then governor of the town.
Since a modern administration needs more room, a new town hall has been built beside the old one.

I could not resist the open door and poked my nose in; no idea if I was supposed to or not, but a town hall is a public building, after all. The entrance hall on the ground floor is dominated by the wooden staircase in the middle. Wooden doors, rather early baroque than renaissance, lead into the offices and whatnot. The main hall on the upper floor was unfortunately closed.

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Port and Spiegelberg in the 17th century

The most interesting feature was the model of the old town. The entrance hall of the town hall hosts a large model of old Stade in a showcase underneath the stairs, opposite the main entrance. It shows Stade the way it was before the big fire of 1659 that devastated two thirds of the town. The church of St Wilhadi still has its pointed spire. In the location of the arsenal in Pferdemarkt you can spot the ruins of the convent of St Georg, abandoned since the reformation. The fortifications consist of wall and moat, the huge ramparts were built about a century later. The ground plan and outline, including the port and its surroundings, have not changed much.

Church of St Cosmae et Damiani

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Short "St Cosmae", this brick gothic church is the oldest parish church of the town, and the most impressive. The first church here was already built in the 9th/10th century. The present church's nave dates from around 1250. Soon after it was extended by the transept and chour. Its most striking feature is the majestic tower above the intersection of nave and transept. The fire of 1659 damaged the church, which was repaired soon after. The baroque spire is an addition of the 1680s.

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The whole medieval interior was destroyed in the fire of 1659, all the present interior except one chandelier dates from the baroque era. The parish community hired the best artisans from Hamburg and other surrounding towns to create a worthy environment for their worship. Note the details of the pulpit, a masterrpiece of woodcarving, its many figures are a summary of the Bible in best Lutheran tradition. The main altar (1674-1677 by the sculptor Christian Precht from Hamburg) may resemble Catholic altars but its scenes of the Passion and resurrection of Christ tell once more of Lutheran theology. Several galleries and boxes were installed to separate social groups and provide special seats for the town's V.I.P.'s. The brass chandeliers are a common feature in North German churches.

One single medieval piece is on display in the church: the altarpiece of St Gertrud, around 1500, which originally belonged to the church of St Nicolai. After the demolition of said church in the 19th century it was brought here and found its place in the chapel by the Southern transept.

On the gallery in the Southern transept they had an exhibition about orthodox icons when I visited. This area seems to be used for exhibitions regularly. It is worth going up, even if you are not interested in the exhibition, for the view down into the church and a closer look at the votive ship.

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Model ships can be found in many churches along the coast. They are reminders to remember and pray for the seafaring members of the community, and at the same time a symbol of the Christian community in general. They are usually private donations, often from sailors as sign of gratitude for rescue and protection. This one here, though, is rather young, it was created in 1960 and came into the church only in 1998, and it is a donation of the local savings bank. Well they can do with prayers, too...

The ship in St Cosmae is a four-masted tall ship named Hoffnung, hope. The best spot to see it is from the gallery in the Southern transept - pretend to be interested in the exhibition which is shown up there.

The church's greatest pride is their organ. The magnificent instrument fills the whole Western wall of the nave. It was designed and begun by the master organ builder Berendt Huß from Glückstadt in 1668. His assistant and cousin Arp Schnitger, who later became a master organ builder much more famous than his teacher and mentor, took an important part in the completion. In 1675 the organ was completed. During the following years Schnitger added some more features. After several repairs, changes and renovations the organ has recently been restored to its original shape and sound. - The three gilded statues on top symbolize the Christian virtues of Faith, Love and Hope.

In addition to seeing the interior, it is worth walking round the whole church on the outside. The surroundings offer some little discoveries. A house in the corner of Cosmae-Kirchhof to the street behind has a cute sundial high up on the facade. The sun is half-hidden but twinkling at you - exactly the weather I experienced that day.

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A small half-timbered house in the corner behind the church of St Cosmae et Damiani. It has been well restored and served as a residential house now. A plaque on the wall tells that this was the former synagogue of the Jewish community in Stade.

Church of St Wilhadi

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St Wilhadi is the other large medieval city church in Stade. It used to be the church of the Archbishop of Bremen, and parish church for the southern part of the old town. Since the reformation it has been a protestant church.

The gothic church is entirely built from bricks. The nave dates from the 14th century, the steeple might even be a bit older. In former times the steeple had a roof as high and pretty as St Cosmae, but it was destroyed by lightning in 1724 and substituted by the current low roof. Photographers: A fine view of the steeple can be caught when walking towards it along Flutstraße.

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The church corresponds the “hall” scheme, i.e. three naves of equal height. While the architecture is medieval, the furnishing dates from the 17th and 18th century. They had to be renewed after a big city fire that badly damaged the interior of the church, although the brick structure withstood the blaze. Altar and pulpit were donated by a merchant from Hamburg and are the work of Hamburg masters. The magnificent baroque organ is often used for concerts.

Büttelbrücke:
Stade's 'Little Venice'

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Every town with water must have a "Little Venice", LOL. Before entering the old port, the river Schwinge runs along a canal through the town. From the bridge in the middle, you have a view to both sides which reveal the houses' back fronts, balconies and gardens known as Klein-Venedig in Stade. I have seen many "Little Venices" in various places and this one qualifies as the most low-key one, LOL. Anyway, it is a nice walk and a convenient shortcut, as the bridge connects Bäckerstraße and Bungenstraße, two side streets with very interesting old houses.

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Schwinge has no lock towards the Elbe, hence the water level changes with the tides. At low tide it is almost dry and even less impressive...

On the Ramparts of the Swedish Fortress

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At the end of the 30 Year War Stade was occupied by the Swedes and remained in their hands for almost seven decades, from 1645 to 1712. Sweden used Stade as seat of the administration and, most of all, as a garrison town. The town was surrounded by huge fortifications, the necessarily ground for which was taken from private property without compensation. The citizens had to accommodate permanently about a thousand soldiers, many of them with wives and children. The arsenal building in Pferdemarkt is a testimony of the Swedish era, too, as well as the storage building in the port that hosts the museum.

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The historical drawing, which is on display on an information board, shows an 18th century plan with the baroque fortifications. They covered more ground than the town itself and formed a tight belt that handicapped the town’s further development for centuries.

The fortifications were abandoned and turned into park promenades in the 19th century. They are still clearly visible in the town map and the townscape, though. The moat around the old town follows a zigzag line around what used to be the bastions of the fortress. The high and steep ramparts are used for a major road on the eastern and southern side, park walks on the other. One ravelin is still there, now simply called Insel (island) and occupied by the open-air museum.

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Walking the promenade on the ramparts near Schiffertor, two animal statues catch the eye: a huge moose which is impossible to overlook, and a much smaller elephant among the lawns and flower beds a few steps further ahead.

The moose, together with the inscribed boulder next to it, is a memorial for the refuge at the end of World War II. Stade has a partner district in East Prussia, the town and district of Goldap, that the inscription on the boulder refers to: “Remember the lost homeland.” The moose is the iconic animal of East Prussia.

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These “homeland” memorials often have a certain aftertaste. The associations of the war refugees from what used to be the easternmost parts of Germany are very conservative if not outright right-wing, still fret about the lost past and won’t accept that times have changed. Goldap belongs to Poland now. My father’s family are refugees from East Prussia themselves so I feel entitled to an opinion. Both sides have suffered and both sides have done wrong. We need to remember the bad things that happened but also discuss the reasons why, and accept the reality of the present.

The elephant probably has no particular significance, it is just a statue – maybe it is meant as a contrast to the moose. It has the size of a youngster, maybe half a year old, and looks very realistic. Seeing a young elephant promenading the park and aiming at the flower bed for a snack is quite a surprise... until you notice that he is not alive.

New Port and River Lock

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Stade’s active river port is the so-called “new” port on the eastern side of the old town. It is entered from the Elbe through the mouth of Schwinge river, and open so the water level changes with the tides.

It is navigable for rather small vessels only. Small freighters are able to enter, a historical one docked along the quay and two cranes tell of the active times as a trade port. Sailboats and yachts use it, as well as the water police. I doubt there are too many goods loaded and unloaded nowadays.

On the opposite quay, modern and rather posh-looking apartment houses have been built.

Underneath the road bridge there is a lock that closes the moat behind and keeps the water level constant in there. The stronger and higher outward gate of the lock also serves as flood gate in case of storm surges.

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Fish and Fisherman Fountain – A Fairytale

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This fairytale is referred to in a fountain in Pferdemarkt square, the former horse market. This square is the entrance to the old town when you are coming from the train station. The lower part is occupied by the bus station and a taxi stand. Car traffic can enter this part and continue into a parking garage but not proceed any further. The rest of the square is for pedestrians only, as are the three shopping streets that begin here.

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The most prominent building is the former arsenal (Zeughaus). The large white building was built in the era of the Swedish occupation shortly before 1700. It served as arsenal for the troops in the fortress. The inscription on the portal contains the date 1698. The relief in the gable shows the monogram of the Swedish King Carl XII and the royal crown. The arsenal now contains a number of shops and some gastronomy. The Italian ice cream parlour on the front side towards the square deserves an honourable mentioning! Get yourself a sweet and cool treat between sightseeing, sit down by the fountain and read a fairytale...

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The fountain with the fish and the fisherman (unfortunately without water when I took the photos) refers to a fairy tale from the collection of the Brothers Grimm: The Fisherman and His Wife, De Fischer und sine Fru – originally told in North German dialect. Here is the tale in a summarizing translation by yours truly.

A poor fisherman lives in a shabby hut by the seashore together with his ambitious wife. Every day he goes fishing. One day he catches a large golden fish. The wish is bewitched, he can speak, and he begs the fisherman to set him free. The fisherman is a kind and gentle guy and lets the fish go.

When he returns home and tells his wife, she gets angry at him: “Didn’t you at least make a wish? He would surely have granted you a wish for his freedom!”
“Oh well, what should I wish for”, says the fisherman.
“Now look, husband, we are living in this shabby dirty shed – I want a nice house with a garden and a courtyard for chickens and ducks.”
The fisherman returns to the seashore and calls the fish:

“Buttje, Buttje, Timpetee, Buttje, Buttje in de See,
mine Fru, de Ilsebill will nich so, as ick wohl will.”
(My wife Ilsebill doesn’t want what I want.)

“So what does she want”, asks the fish. – “Well, since I set you free she keeps lamenting that I should have made a wish, she so much wants a nice little house…”
“All right”, says the fish, “go home and see.”
And indeed, he returns home and finds his wife in a pretty cottage surrounded by a blooming garden.

All is well and they live happily – for a fortnight or so. Then the wife suddenly finds the house too narrow and the garden too small. She wants a palace.
Unwillingly the fisherman goes back to the sea shore to speak to the fish again. This wish is granted, as are the further ones. She wants to be King, then Emperor, then even Pope – everything is fulfilled. But the wife still can’t get enough. In the end she wants to be like the Lord.

And poof – they are back in their poor shabby shed.

Posted by Kathrin_E 22:17 Archived in Germany Tagged north_sea stade niedersachsen lower_saxony Comments (0)

Dirty Coal Pot? Outdated Image of an Underrated Region

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Are we in the Coal Pot? Ruhr lake in Kettwig

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Monument to the coal miners in Essen

The Ruhr District, nicknamed the Kohlenpott (coal pot), is one of the most underestimated regions in Germany and beyond. The general image involves coal and steel industry, bad air, grey cities and no green at all in those few bits of landscape that are left between cities. This was valid three, four decades ago but is long outdated. Since the late 1980s the Ruhrgebiet underwent a profound change from an industrial zone to a region of culture and high tech.

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1950s postage stamp

The coal ressources were exploited by around 1985/1990. First the mines died, then the steel mills. There is some coal remaining along the northern edge of the area but it is deep down and accessible only with enormous efforts, costs and dangers. In 2010 only four mines were still working but with high state subventions. EU politicians have recently decided to close them down, despite protests – the very last is to be closed in 2018. The death of the heavy industries led to high unemployment and hopelessness at first. However, things and ideas have changed and the region is on the way into a new future.

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Landschaftspark Nord in Duisburg

Today's „Coal Pot“ is a green landscape with clear sky, lakes and rivers. The change started with the International Architecture Exhibition (IBA) and the ambitious project Emscher Park. The Emscher is a river that became a canalized drain through the worst part of the industrial zone. This underdevelopped area with its factory and mine ruins was to be turned into the „Route of Industrial Culture“, with technical monuments, attractions, new housing quarters and green nature. The planners' imagination found new uses for the huge, impressive buildings of mines, steel mills, factory halls, gas tanks, power plants. They became art exhibition halls, dance clubs, cinemas, freeclimbing centres, concert halls, museums, landscape parks... The flagship, Zollverein coal mine, achieved the status of UNESCO World Heritage in 2001.

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Green landscape in Essen

The Ruhrgebiet consists of 53 separate cities. Dortmund and Essen are the biggest with more than 500,000 inhabitants each. Each of them offers everything city life requires. The density of opera houses, first and second league soccer stadiums, museums, shopping centres, nightlife... is higher than anywhere else. Cultural life is as varied and vibrant as in a metropolis like Berlin, Paris, London. There is heaps to do and see within short distances. All cities are well interconnected by trains and S-Bahn so city hopping is easy. One would need a year to see them all and do them justice.

Ruhrpott Melting Pot: International Workers‘ Culture

5 million people live in „Germany's biggest village“. People are down-to-earth, open-minded, rough but hearty. Although there are the usual rivalries between neighbouring suburbs and cities, and of course between the fans of neighbouring soccer clubs, there is a general „Ruhrpott“ identity.

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The booming industry of the Ruhr district needed manpower from the beginning. In the late 19th century immigrants came from Poland, Silesia, rural Prussia and other regions in the East to work here. During the „economic miracle“ after the War again more workers were needed. The so-called „guest workers“ were invited first from Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Greece) and then from Turkey. Many families in the Ruhrpott have some kind of migration background (latest pc term for immigrants and their descendants) - the population is international and multi-culture but at the same time the region is a melting pot. Those who speak the purest Ruhrpott dialect may well be dark-haired, dark-eyed people with a mediterranean or middle-eastern appearance who were born in the Ruhrgebiet and spent their entire lives here.

Lots of symptoms of that cultural mix can be spotted. Like the latest invention of a kebap stall in Essen: the Pomm-Döner. It involves döner (Turkish), French Fries (Belgian/generally Western European) and Tzatziki (Greek), all served together in paper bag.

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Mural in Dortmund

Football, or soccer, is almost a religion. Football unites them all. This area has the highest density of stadiums and professional teams in the country.

In Bundesliga there are currently three teams: Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04, Borussia Mönchengladbach. Leverkusen and Köln are, strictly speaking, not part of the Ruhrgebiet, but close enough to be involved in fan culture and fan rivalry.

Then there are the Second League teams: Fortuna Düsseldorf (also, strictly speaking, just outside the Ruhrpott), VfL Bochum, MSV Duisburg – Fortuna being at the top and ready to make the jump to Bundesliga – other traditional clubs and teams like Rot-Weiß Essen, Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, Wattenscheid 09, and countless big and small amateur clubs.

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Borussia fan shop, a small part of their shop window

Posted by Kathrin_E 13:19 Archived in Germany Tagged nordrhein-westfalen ruhrgebiet Comments (1)

Zollverein: Coal Mine in Bauhaus Architecture

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The flagship of the Ruhr District's industrial heritage with the status of UNESCO World Heritage: Zollverein coal mine. The famous part is shaft XII, called „the world's most beautiful coal mine“ - designed in pure Bauhaus style by the architects Martin Kremmer and Fritz Schupp in 1927. When it went in operation in 1932 it was also considered the most efficient and modern coal mine in the world.

All buildings consist of steel framework with brick fillings. The head frame has become the landmark and logo not only of the Zollverein site but the entire industrial heritage trail through the Ruhr district.

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Historical photo of Zollverein mine in operation (from an information board)

To learn more about the history and the architecture, join a guided tour. The tours take you into the mine building next to the shaft where the coal first arrived - these buildings cannot be entered on your own. Details about tours and a contact email are on the website.

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Inside Kohlenwäsche

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Walking the grounds of the former mine can be done for free and on your own. The area covers a total of 100 hectares and includes shaft XII with its Bauhaus style buildings, shaft 1/2/8 further north, and the coking plants. All industrial activities have ceased. On rare occasions a tourist train runs along the outer track. Other former railway tracks have been turned into footpaths. A network of paths and trails takes you almost everywhere. Take your time, walking the entire area can occupy you for hours. Get hold of a leaflet with a plan of the grounds at one of the info points.

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Grab your camera and catch the impressive views of the giant industrial buildings. Also have a look at what is growing here. The soil in former mining areas is rich in nitrate. After the end of mining a secondary ecosystem has developped with a special vegetation.

When I first visited in 2005 some trails were still rough and strolling around on my own felt almost scary, especially in the coking plant area. In the meantime, due to the upcoming year 2010 as cultural capital of Europe, it has almost become too polished, too cleaned up and tidy.

The former Kohlenwäsche contains the visitors centre, the information portal with the movie theatre, and the Ruhrmuseum (see below about the latter, I highly recommend it). The huge building behind the head frame served for cleaning the coal that came out of the shaft from rock and soil, thus the name. In recent years the block underwent refurbishing measures and was turned into the present museum and exhibition building which has been opened in spring 2010.

Access to the visitor centre on the 4th floor, where you buy tickets and then continue to all other attractions, is via a long escalator. It has been coloured and lit in orange to recall glowing coal and hot steel. A cool sight.

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The orange escalator

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The Information Portal has some interactive information boards about places and topics connected with the Ruhr district and mining (sorry to admit I didn't really figure out how they work), and a small 360° movie theatre. The movie they show is about the Ruhrgebiet and its recent changes. It lasts about 20 minutes. The first part consists of just pictures without comment and a boring music - nice to look at but little to no information content. In the second part local people appear and give short statements about their personal view of the Ruhrgebiet (in German resp. local dialect, of course). The movie theatre has only 31 seats. In the morning it was half empty but later in the day, especially on weekends, lines can be expected. If you have to wait, skip it.

The (only) interesting bit of the information portal, which is worth the 1 € they charge as entrance fee, is the viewpoint on the roof at a height of 45 metres. The platform provides a bird's eye view of the entire mine and its surroundings and over to the skylines of downtown Essen and industrial complexes in the neighbouring cities. The landscape is amazingly green. The former grounds of mine, cokery, mining dumps and railway tracks is covered in trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

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The coal from the shafts of Zollverein was transformed into coke, as was needed in the steel mills, on the spot. The coking plant (Kokerei) is located next to the mines. It is probably the most impressive building complex on site due to its sheer size and the complicated maze of steel structures, ovens, chimneys, tubes and tanks.

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From Shaft XII the coking plant can be reached in a short walk - follow the signs to „Kokerei“. Visiting the coking plant is highly recommended to anyone who has a camera. The complex is full of pictures worth taking. You can walk the alleys on your own and for free. Guided tours take you inside the coking plant buildings if you want deeper insight. They start at the information desk next to the cafe.

Recent development lead to lots of changes within the former factory complex. A cafe has been established in the head building. The ferris wheel is currently out of operation. Behind it, there is a swimming pool among the steel giants. An event agency has moved into one of the side buildings. For the summer an open-air cinema has been established. And so on...

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Open-air cinema in Kokerei

Website: http://www.zollverein.de

Ruhrmuseum Essen in in Zollverein

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The newly installed exhibition halls of the Ruhrmuseum fill three floors of the coal washing plant below the visitors centre. They are based upon the collections of a much older museum. The Ruhrmuseum has been founded some 100 years ago as a museum of geology, culture and history with the purpose of „educating the workers“.

There is a lift but if you can, walk. The orange staircase downwards from the visitor centre is IMHO far more impressive than the orange escalator outside!

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After walking down you reach the first hall which is dedicated to the present situation of the Ruhrgebiet. It starts with a photo exhibition, sorted by many topics. At first the long rows of rather smallish photos appear boring and tiresome but as soon as you have a closer look at them they become more and more fascinating. They tell about the life of local people, their work and their leisure, the appearance of the cities, nature and environment, art projects and sports... Explanations are provided in both German and English. Religious items and sports trophies are also on display.

The back half of the upper floor is filled with glass columns, each with one item: minerals and fossils, old toys, household items and treasures that are unique and have a special menaning in the life of a special person. Full of discoveries and stories.

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Henkelmann: Miners' lunch pack

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The middle floor gives an overview of the history of the region before the industrialization. It also shows the museum's old collections of archeology and art.

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The bottom floor is dedicated to the topic of coal mining. It begins with the forming of coal millions of years ago, fossils found among the coal, and a geology display with many varieties of coal and ore. The history of industrialization is then presented in many details with a lot of background about the political changes in the late 19th and 20th century to the present.

Take your time. Four hours are easily spent in the coal washing plant with movie, viewpoint and Ruhrmuseum - or longer.
Website: http://www.ruhrmuseum.de/en/

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:04 Archived in Germany Tagged essen nordrhein-westfalen ruhrgebiet Comments (1)

Essen

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Cathedral and city hall

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A long weekend in Essen? Huh?? Yes I did, actually twice – once in summer, once in late November for the Christmas markets - and I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to go back. The Ruhr District is, to me, the most underrated region in Germany. Since the end of coal mining in the 1980s the region underwent a profound change. The old image of a dirty industrial zone simply isn't true any more.

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Essen's Christmas market

There is no coal mining in Essen any more. The last mine closed in 1986. The city has not forgotten the base of its development, though. Essen is proud of being a mining town. However, as happens often, the hard and dangerous work in the mines is sort of glorified. Miners' traditions are regarded in a romantic light now. Traces of these can be found in many places and many varieties. These traces influence the local souvenirs, for example chocolates in the shape of briquets or packed in little coal sacks which I saw in a cafe and pastry shop.

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"Coal" goodies in a pastry shop

Essen is not exactly what I'd call a beautiful city, at least the city centre isn't. However, Essen is what I call an interesting city with a rich cultural heritage and a long history back to the foundation of the convent in 852. It is a surprisingly green city. To me it's the most fascinating city in the Ruhr district and surroundings. I am inclined to rate Essen much higher than for example snobby Düsseldorf, I never understood the hype about the latter. Essen is down-to-Earth, well aware of its background as a mining and industrial city, and at the same time a vibrant cultural centre on a high level of quality. They weren‘t chosen as Cultural Capital of Europe 2010 for nothing.

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King Kong plays at Zollverein

Zollverein mine is the flagship since it has been promoted to the status of UNESCO World Heritage. But there is more, much more to see. Museums, worker settlements from the early industrialization, church treasures from the early middle ages, museums, art collections and theatre, the landscapes along the Ruhr river and the lakes - and 52 other cities in close vicinity, connected by a dense public transportation network.

Dom - Essen Cathedral

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Essen's history begins in the middle of the 9th century, 1000 years before the industrial revolution. Around 850 a convent of canonesses was founded here in a location by the Hellweg, an important trade route that leads along the Ruhr river. The convent owned the surrounding territory until 1803, the Prince Abbess was the head of state. This convent of aristocratic ladies, who were not nuns but canonesses, was one of the most exclusive and most influential in the Holy Roman Empire. Several abbesses were daughters or granddaughters of emperors and kings. The church we now call the Dom was the church of the convent.

Only in the 1950s it became the seat of a bishop when the new Bishopric of the Ruhr was founded, and thus a cathedral. „The Dom“ actually consists of two churches. The Romanesque and early gothic convent church is accompanied in the same axis by the slightly younger church of St Johann with the big steeple. The two churches are connected by a tiny atrium in between.

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The architecture of the western part includes an interesting reminiscence to the ambitions of the convent and the familiar ties of the foundress to the Emperors: it quotes the interior of Charlemagne's cathedral in Aachen, built one and a half centuries earlier but still of enormous to the Holy Roman Empire.

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An oasis of tranquility (unless there is a big tour group around...): the cloister behind the Dom. One wing is still Romanesque, the others were renewed in gothic style in the later middle ages. The graves in the courtyard are those of post-war canons, priests and members of the cathedral chapter. World War II air raids that destroyed 90% of Essen's centre did not spare the church complex. Access is from inside the Dom and also from the street behind.

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The oldest parts of the church are the early Romanesque Altfrid crypt, named after the bishop who founded the convent, underneath the choir and the western part of the nave, built in the 10th/11th century. The latter reveals a remarkable architecture and political intention to the trained eye: The nave ends in three sides of an octogon with two rows of arcades and a gallery - a copy of Charlemagne's cathedral in Aachen that was built 200 years earlier. The convent in Essen was closely related to and connected with the Ottonic dynasty who expressed their ambition as rightful successors of Charlemagne on the imperial throne.

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The convent and the town of Essen were founded in 852 by Altfrid, the fourth Bishop of Hildesheim. After his death in 874 he was buried in the crypt underneath the altar of the church, and later sainted. The grave of Saint Altfrid is a pilgrimage destination. The crypt is one of the oldest preserved parts of the church. It is open to visit but meant for prayer and silence, so please keep quiet. Access is down the staircases beside the choir; I only found the door on the right side open.

A modern bronze statue in the corner between church and treasure chamber shows Saint Altfrid in the ornate of a Bishop, holding a model of the church he founded.

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The crypt underneath the western end of the nave is a modern counterpart to the Altfrid crypt in the east. The so-called Adveniat crypt has been designed at the end of the 20th century. The structure must be much, much older, as it is underneath the Ottonic architecture that copies the cathedral of Aachen. The square room is turned into an octogon by the low vault and the benches. The altar in the middle is made from glass and almost entirely transparent. All surfaces of walls, vaults and pillars are covered in reliefs, made from a plaster/mortar-like material. They show scenes and symbold from the bible and lives of catholic saints, rich in number and details. The crypt contains the grave of Franz Cardinal Hengsbach, Bishop of Essen from 1958 to his death in 1991. Modern bishops still know about representation and burial places just like those in former eras. The entrance to the crypt is in the west of the nave behind the bronze chandelier down a few stairs.

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The colourful, life-size statue of Franz Kardinal Hengsbach is a recent addition to the front yard of the cathedral. I spotted it in December 2012, during my visit in 2010 it had not yet been there.

Franz Hengsbach became the first bishop of the newly founded diocese of Essen in 1958. He stayed in office until 1991. In 1988 Pope John Paul II appointed him cardinal. During his long term in office he had great influence on the church in the Ruhr district. He died in 1991, a few months after his retirement at the age of 80. Not everyone was happy about everything he did, but Hengsbach earned himself lots of respect and trust due to his down-to-earth style, his deep connection with the Ruhrgebiet (his bishop's ring held no precious stone but a bit of coal) and his interference in emergencies, like delivering the ransom to rescue Theo Albrecht, one of the Aldi brothers, from kidnappers. I am not sure how to explain the symbols of wolf and lamb by his feet.

Domschatzkammer - Treasure Chamber of Essen Cathedral

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The treasure chamber of the cathedral contains the precious art works and liturgical devices that are now owned by the bishopric and the cathedral chapter. The core of this collection is the medieval treasure of the convent of canonesses. Medieval church art of highest quality, with pieces that are more than 1000 years old. Amazing and well worth seeing.

The treasure chamber has always been located in a building by the southern transept of the church. After the destructions in World War II a new building has been erected in the same spot. The finest pieces of the treasure are on display in a modern museum architecture over three floors.
The finest is easily missed: the Ottonic crosses with their elaborate emamels are in the basement, and the staircase down is hidden behind the back wall of the entrance hall. Museum staff are aware of this problem, they show everyone the way.

The Angel

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The beautiful gilded angel on the roof of the bishop’s house is easily overlooked. The statue is standing on top of a side building just round the corner from the cathedral. A good zoom reveals its elegant curved shape. Does the outstretched hand mean a blessing for the city and its people, or is it pointing to heaven? Decide for yourself. The golden ball that the angel is standing on symbolizes the sun, so he appears as the messenger of light.

The angel was created in 1955/56 by the sculptor Ewald Mataré, who also designed the portal below. Thee building was erected at the same time, first as a parsonage. With the foundation of the Ruhr diocese in 1958 it became the residential house of the bishop.

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The angel is located on top of the front gable of the building on the right. The cathedral and treasure chamber are behind it on the right. The ferris wheel was only there for the Christmas market!

Marktkirche and the Blue Chapel

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The little church is ocated in the very heart of downtown Essen, a few steps further down Kettwiger Straße from the Dom. It almost disappears among the much larger post-war shop and office buildings.

In recent years it received a new chapel opposite the main altar which is a spectacular sight: It is entirely built from opaque blue glass. The colour and light are amazing: at daytime from inside, at night, when the light is on, from outside.

Museum Folkwang

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Museum Folkwang is one of the leading museums in Germany for late 19th and 20th century and contemporary art. Their new museum building has been opened in spring 2010. The halls and passages are wide, spatious and well lit, mostly with natural daylight. Paintings and sculptures have lots of room around them.

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The collection of late 19th/early 20th century paintings is what I enjoyed most. All the 'big names' of impressionism, expressionism, classical modern are there: van Gogh, Monet, Rodin, Marc, Kandinsky, Lehmbruck, Kirchner, Feininger... The Folkwang owns world famous art works. In almost every room my jaw dropped - ahhh, THIS is here - oooooh, they have THAT ONE, too... paintings and sculptures I knew from books, calendars, or even postage stamps like the one in honour of Franz Marc in the picture.

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Old Synagogue of Essen

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Essen's pre-war synagogue building is about 100 years old. In its times it was the largest synagogue within Germany. It was set on fire in the pogrom night of 1938 and was damaged but not deestroyed. Unlike most of Essen's city centre it was not smashed to ash and rubble in World War II but survived the war remarkably well. However, the small remaining Jewish community in the city established a new, much smaller synagogue after the war. Only recently the ruin has been fully repaired. The Old Synagogue serves as culture and exhibition centre now.

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The huge building with the green dome is located close to city hall and cathedral and hard to overlook. Its architecture is a mix of Wilhelminic and Jugendstil/art nouveau. Especially the decorum inside and the stained glass windows show art nouveau elements. When I visited (late August 2010) a new exhibition about Jewish holidays and Jewish life was in the making. The parts about the Jews in Essen were already accessible while many other showcases were still empty. It should be complete in the meantime.

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Alvar Aalto's Opera House

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Park side with RWE Tower

Essen's modern opera house is not only a top class theatre but also a masterpiece of architecture. The history of its design and construction begins in 1959 when the city of Essen ran a contest which was won by one of the best European architects of the 20th century, the Fin Alvar Aalto. The following decade was spent discussing, changing, redesigning and adapting the plans, but then the city council decided to give another project priority, namely the construction of the new city hall. (Now to be honest, which of the two would you consider the worthier piece of architecture?)

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Anyway, there was money for but one. Only after the city hall was finished, in 1979 the city council finally decided to build the theatre. Aalto had in the meantime died. Another architect took over but Aalto's wife had a say in the final planning. In 1983 construction works started, five years later the building was finished. In September 1988 the first performance took place.

Aalto's architecture is to resemble Finnish landscapes. The curved surfaces of the facade remind me of a coastline with rocks that have been eroded to smooth, rounded shapes by wind and waves. The opera house was built in a corner of the park (Stadtgarten), hence it has open space around, trees and lawns.

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Watching a performance is worthwhile, both for the quality of the show and for the architecture of the interior. Aalto designed his theatre after the model of Finnish landscapes. Organic forms are the base of the design. The colours of the hall are white and a dark blue. Walk the foyers and check the views from the different galleries during intermission.

Essen's opera house offers excellent opera and ballet (while plays are done at Grillo Theatre and concerts in the Philharmonie). Check what's on during the dates of your stay. Tickets can be obtained online through the website of Aalto theatre, too.

I saw a ballet performance of „Carmen“. The first part used Bizet's Carmen suite and told the story in dance. For the second part they invented a sequel to the opera plot: Carmen reawakens from death, and the figures from the opera also make an appearance in Beyond. For this second part they used a piece by Wolfgang Rihm and Ravel's Bolero. It was fantastic...

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Borbeck Water Castle and Park

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The little water palace in the suburb of Essen-Borbeck belonged to the convent of canonesses in Essen until 1803 and served as residence of the abbesses.

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Prince Abbess
Franziska Christina

Its origins are medieval but the present appearance was shaped in 1744, when Prince Abbess Franziska Christina von Pfalz-Sulzbach had it refurbished. The inscription above the portal shows her crest and her full titles. A portrait of her can be found in the Ruhrmuseum at Zollverein.

The front facade is framed by two towers. Otherwise the castle/palace is a rather plain rectangular building except for the simple baroque gable. The entire building is surrounded by a moat. The waters are populated by exotic ducks and black swans. A landscape park with beautiful old trees extends behind the palace and invites for a walk among the green.

The castle hosts a restaurant which looks a bit 'upscale' (though not too much) and romantic, especially the outdoor seating on the terrace by the water. I was alone so there was no romance, thus no romantic meal for me. (Sniff.) The menu looked good and I am keeping this in mind, just in case...

The City of Essen does civil weddings in the castle. Of course the restaurant offers matching arrangements, so the entire ceremony and festivity can conveniently be done in one place.

The park behind Borbeck water castle once belonged to the castle grounds. It was designed as an English landscape garden in the early modern age. Later on, nature has worked harder than the gardeners, so there isn't much „design“ left, but it is a pleasant park to go for a walk and relax. Nowadays it is again well kept. Three ponds are remains of the landscape garden. One has an artificial island in the middle which cannot be accessed, though. Another is overgrown with reeds and looks more like a nature reserve than an artificial pond.

The park is popular among the inhabitants of the adjacent quarters for walking, running, taking their dogs, so it is lively, but you will meet hardly any tourists. My walk took place in late November so nature wasn't in its most beautiful shape. It will be prettier in spring and summer, also in autumn when the leaves turn colour, and especially in May when the rhododendron bushes are in bloom.

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The Krupps and Essen

Villa Hügel and Park

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Villa Hügel, the „villa on the hill“ above Baldeney Lake, is the world of Hedwig Courths-Mahler's novels come true. It is hard to imagine how incredibly rich that Krupp family must have been. The home they had built for themselves is a palace.

The state rooms of the villa on the ground floor and first floor are accessible to the public. They are furnitured with all splendour money can buy.

I would love to have a desk like the one in Mr. Krupp's office... Approximately 3 metres long and 1,5 metres wide, that's a desk with enough space to work on.

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The villa is surrounded by a huge park with beautiful old trees and wide English lawns. Go for a walk. It seemed to me that most visitors just see the villa and don't venture further. The park was totally quiet.

An entrance fee of 3 € for the park, the villa, the exhibition and everything is to be paid at the park gate.

Margarethenhöhe

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Margarethenhöhe is a social housing project of the early 20th century, influenced by the garden city movement. The idea was providing healthy housing with fresh air and light and a patch of garden to grow some vegetables and fruit.

Again, the mighty Krupp family are behind it. Margarethe Krupp, the widow of Friedrich Alfred Krupp, took a large sum from her personal property and started a houseing foundation for poor families in 1906. She intended a settlement for 12,000 people, in the end it turned out about half the size. Construction works started in 1909. The last houses were only finished in 1938. Unlike other Krupp settlements (Altenhof, Brandenbusch) the Margarethenhöhe was not meant for Krupp workers only but open to all citizens of Essen.

In World War II 44% of the houses were destroyed but rebuilt in the following decade. After the war the settlement was extended, again on real estate donated by the Krupps.

The settlement covers a hill soutwest of the city centre. It is almost a small town of its own. There is a school, a catholic church, a market square and so on. The houses are built in a somehow uniform style and appearance but shapes and decorations differ. Each street and alley looks different. New street views open up round every corner. Walking Margarethenhöhe is pleasant. Zigzag the side streets and alleys. Spot the little paradises people have created for themselves: a cosy garden, a bench at the front door surrounded by flower pots... The dark grey colour of the walls is very „Ruhrpott“, though.

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Someone's favourite seat

Remember what the early industrial cities used to look like. Think about the working conditions in a mine or a factory. The architecture of Margarethenhöhe has been critizised as being too romantic. On the other hand, a pretty home can also be understood as a comfort and reward for an otherwise grim life.

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Market square and restaurant

How to get there: U 17 in direction - foolproof - „Margarethenhöhe“. Three options:
1. Get off at „Halbe Höhe“. Follow the street along the tram line across the big bridge overthe valley to approach the settlement from the bottom. This is the most impressive approach via the gatehouse and into the oldest part. Disadvantage: you have to walk uphill the whole way.
2. Get off at „Laubenweg“ and you are in the middle of the settlement close to the church.
3. My recommendation: Stay on the tram until „Margarethenhöhe“, impossible to miss as it is the terminus of the line, and explore in downhill direction. The tram passes through the main street of the settlement, so you will already have an idea of the style. Make sure you leave the main street and venture into the side alleys. No worries about losing your way. Any generally downhill direction will inevitably take you to the gatehouse in the end. The nearest tram stop for the return is „Halbe Höhe“ at the far end of the big bridge.

New ThyssenKrupp Headquarters

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I spotted this almost scary ensemble by coincidence from the tram on the way to Borbeck. In 2010 it was still a construction site but close to completion, the offices seemed to be already in use.

ThyssenKrupp is a fusion of the two mightiest coal and steel empires from the early times of industrialization. The group have extended their activities to other branches but these two names are forever connected with mining and steel and capitalism in the Ruhr District. They are building their new headquarters here in Essen.

The complex of office buildings surrounds a wide water basin. Dimensions are as huge as the enterprise, more intimidating than inviting.
The main building shows the most interesting architecture. The cubic block has a big square hole in the middle, only closed by transparent glass walls. Bridges connect the floors on both sides. There seem to be some groups of chairs and flower pots; I wonder if these are used for business meetings and such.

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An older, probably 1920s or 1930s office block of ThyssenKrupp is still standing on the other side of the road. Quite a difference in size and style.
Note the monument by the road. The bronze relief shows scenes from work in a steel mill, the work the company is based upon.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 14:55 Archived in Germany Tagged essen nordrhein-westfalen Comments (0)

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 Comments (1)

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