A Travellerspoint blog

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Cathedral and city hall


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.

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.

"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.

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


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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



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.

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



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


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.


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.


Old Synagogue of Essen



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.



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.


Alvar Aalto's Opera House


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?)


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.



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...


Borbeck Water Castle and Park



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.

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.


The Krupps and Essen

Villa Hügel and Park



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.


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 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.

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.

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


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.


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.


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

Old Towns Along Ruhr River: Kettwig and Werden


Essen-Kettwig in Timber and Slate


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Essen-Werden, the Abbey and Its Treasures



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.


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.

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.



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“.



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“.


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.


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.


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)

Dortmund: Germany’s Largest Christmas Market



My visit to Dortmund was short, a half-day hop from Essen, and limited to the city centre. Hence sightseeing was not really thorough, there is still a lot left for „next time“. The purpose was to get an idea of the city and - it was Advent season – to visit the Christmas market.

During Christmas market season, visitors to Dortmund will be greeted by Santa Claus. This tall figure (hard to estimate from my photos but 3 m at least) is standing on top of the stairs opposite the central station, on the way into the city centre. The sign in his hand announces the Christmas market.

The steeple in the background, by the way, belongs to the church of St Petri. Walk towards the steeple and then keep left for the shopping streets and the Christmas market. The pedestrian zone of Westenhellweg runs just behind the church.

Christmas Market



Dortmund's Christmas market is a destination for lovers of superlatives. It is listed in the rankings as the largest in Germany, with more than 300 stalls, and claims to have the largest Christmas tree in the world. It fills three squares and the streets in between. The market extends from Hansaplatz over Marktplatz to Willy-Brandt-Platz and around the two adjacent churches. There are also a few stalls around the church of St Petri along Westerhellweg.

The market begins already on Thursday during the week before Eternity Sunday, one week earlier than most other Christmas markets and one week earlier than tradition and the churches require, which has caused some discussions. On Eternity Sunday itself it will be closed, though. It then stays open until December 23.

The most impressive cityscape is found around the churches of St Reinoldi and St Mary. The other squares and streets are more or less completely accompanied by modern post-war architecture, so it lacks a bit of atmosphere. The goods on offer were mostly what you find in every large market, I missed local specials. The percentage of food and drink stalls and of fun fair stuff like roundabouts seemed rather high to me.

A small section by the steeple of St Reinoldi is a „fairytale forest“ with moving puppets and a strange „magical tree“ telling Grimm's fairytales.
Conclusion: not a market one would cross oceans for, but fine for a visit if you are in the area anyway.
Website: http://www.dortmunderweihnachtsmarkt.de/

Largest Christmas Tree in the World


The cup and the bowl

... or so they say! The Christmas tree in the middle of the market in Hansaplatz has the reputation of being a world record holder (which isn't really true - but in Dortmund no one cares). Of course this is not one single, naturally grown tree. It consists of a structure of metal scaffolding that carries lots and lots of little trees, 1,700 in total, which compose the shape. They are spruce trees from the Sauerland mountains.

The total altitude is 45 metres. It carries 20 giant candles, the angel on top and several larger decorations. It covers a ground of 14 x 14 metres and weighs 30 tons. I only saw it in bright sunshine; it must be even more impressive at night when it is illuminated with thousands and thousands of LED lights.

A close look at the decorations reveals that Dortmund's pride and joy is depicted on the tree: the double triumph of Borussia Dortmund at the end of the soccer season 2011/12 when they won both the German championship bowl and the DFB cup. (And aren't we glad any time it's not Bayern München!)


Hellweg - Medieval Trade Route and Shopping Mile


Hellweg is an ancient trade route that connected Rhine and Weser through the plains just North of the mountain ranges. The medieval Hellweg lead from Duisburg to Paderborn and Corvey and connected to other routes leading further East towards the Elbe. This route was one of the most important „highways“ for trade and travel. Along it, towns were founded which then developed into trade centres, imperial cities and proud members of the Hansa. Dortmund is one of these cities.

The Hellweg route is still clearly visible in Dortmund's town plan: the more or less straight street axis in East-Western direction that leads through the middle of the town centre inside the egg-shaped ring of „Wall“ streets, the line of the former city ramparts. The name is also still present: Divided into Westenhellweg and Ostenhellweg, it is the pedestrian zone and main shopping street in the city. If you intend to do shopping in Dortmund you will end up here. Between fashion and discounts, devote a thought to history...


Once upon a time Dortmund had a tram network. Public transport through the city centre has long been transferred underground, nowadays there are no more trams but subway trains. In Kampstraße, a stretch of tram tracks has been preserved, and there is a tram standing as if it was waiting for passengers at the end of line.

However, one should not fall for the trick. This tram will go nowhere. The tracks are blocked after some 50 metres. The entrance to the U-Bahn station was placed in its way. Since I like trams and appreciate cities that still have them, this forgotten streetcar evokes some nostalgic feelings.


“Churching” in Dortmund

Due to World War II the city centre consists, like in most cities in the Ruhr district, mostly of post-war architecture. In between there are a couple of old churches which tell of Dortmund's great past as imperial city and member of the Hansa.

Petrikirche is the first church you'll encounter if you arrive by public transport because it is located very close to the central station. The gothic church was built in the 14th century.



Two churches, both protestant, stand side by side in the very heart of the city: Reinoldikirche and Marienkirche. Reinoldikirche is the main church of the city. Its tall steeple with the onion-shaped baroque spire is a landmark, visible from many street corners and helpful to find your way. Its history dates back to the early middle ages when a first church was erected for the nearby royal palace (Pfalz); legends even connect it with Charlemagne. The present church has a gothic nave from the 13th century and a higher, late gothic choir that was added during the first half of the 14th century.


The „little sister“ of the large Reinoldikirche is Marienkirche, in former times the church of the city council. It is the more ancient of the two. The western front with the steeple and the nave, especially the side naves, are still Romanesque with thick and crooked pilars and walls. The gothic choir is a later addition.



The main catholic church of the city, called Propsteikirche, is not just a parish church but the central church of a Propstei (church district). From its foundation around 1300 until 1816 it was the abbey church of the Dominicans (Black Brethren, hence the street name „Schwarze-Brüder-Straße“). In the 19th century it then became the catholic parish church for the city.

World War II damaged the church badly. A closer look reveals modern elements that tell of the rebuilding in post-war times, like the shape of the spire. The cloister shows one old and one modern wing. The small square behind the church is surrounded by the modern buildings of the large parish centre.


Dortmunder U, and the Goldfish Bowl



„The Dortmunder U“ is a landmark of the city, not far and clearly visible from the station and from passing trains. It used to be the main building of a big and popular local brewery, Dortmunder Union. When the brewery closed down, the building was in danger of being demolished like the rest of the factory, but as it is a landmark it was saved and turned into a cultural centre, called „Zentrum für Kunst und Kreativität“. It now contains a museum of contemporary art and various artists' workshops, a cafe, and various other instalments around contemporary culture.
The windows at the top have been turned into a supersize goldfish aquarium with moving 'fish' that shine in bright orange.
At regular intervals they fade and disappear, and then return.

BVB Borussia - It's All About Soccer in Dortmund

Santa hats in team colours

In Dortmund it's all about soccer (football). Borussia Dortmund, or BVB 09, is one of the top teams in the Bundesliga. In the season of 2011/12 they won both the championship and the DFB cup, a rare double. About everyone in town, it seems, is raving about them. Fan scarves are worn not only at the time of matches but as everyday winter wear. The club's colours, yellow and black, are omnipresent. Soccer souvenirs are on sale at almost every street corner. They even have Santa hats in yellow and black (and a few in blue and white for the occasional Schalke 04 or VfL Bochum supporter who might venture over).


At the western end of the pedestrian zone of Westerhellweg there is a large BVB fan shop which sells a wide assortment of the weirdest fan articles. BVB garden gnomes... piggy banks that sing the fan song each time a coin is dropped into them... toasters that burn the BVB logo into your toast... rubber duckies in BVB jersey... and of course the usual stuff like t-shirts and socks, coffee mugs and keyrings. Here are some snapshots of the shop windows. The shop is quite entertaining to look at even if you are no soccer fan!


And here is the one song for real hardcore fans: Die zwei vonne Südtribüne - „Boah ey Borussia“.
Pure Dortmund intelligence… tee hee. Enjoy!

Posted by Kathrin_E 19:39 Archived in Germany Tagged dortmund nordrhein-westfalen ruhrgebiet Comments (0)

Saarburg: A Waterfall in Town


Saarburg is a small town in the Saar valley, closer to Trier than to Saarbrücken. This is the pretty part of the valley with forests and vineyards on the slopes of rather steep hills, as opposed to the industrial areas further upstream. The famous Saar bend near Mettlach is not far. While that part is not reachable by train and requires a car or bike or some hiking, the views from the train line along the river bank are already fine enough. It was spring, with fruit trees in bloom and the trees and bushes sprouting the first light green.



I had one hour between trains to play with in Saarburg. The station is located on the other side of the river. Reaching the old town requires a little walk, but the walker is rewarded with the best panoramic view of the town from the Saar bridge. Saarburg occupies the slopes and crests of two hills. The hill on the left is covered by the historical centre and the catholic parish church. The ridge on the right carries the ruins of the castle and the protestant church. Cars have to pass through a tunnel to reach the centre, while pedestrians can walk down a stairway to the river bank.


The most spectacular bit is, however, what lies between the two hills. The stream that runs through the town has created a deep cut into the rocks and forms a waterfall. Right in the middle of the town!

The falls create a constant deafening sound, but I suppose that the locals are used to their noisy neighbour and don't hear it any more.




The water powers have long been used to drive water mills. Quite daring constructions have been installed down there to lead the water where it is needed to drive the mill wheels. The mill is a museum now, but it was closed that day.


The squares along the canal above the waterfall are more or less one single outdoor cafe. Ice-cream places, restaurants, cafes all have their tables out. On this Monday morning it was quiet, but on weekends and in main season it is likely to be buzzing.


Saarburg must be a popular destination for day trips and bike tours along the Saar valley.


Since I had more plans for that day, I spared my painful feet the climb up to the castle and limited my visit to a walk round the old town and up to the catholic church.

Saarburg is tiny and explored in short time. The setting on the steep slope, its narrow lanes, and the historical architecture create plenty of photo options, though.



On the way back I found a narrow stairway that led me down to the promenade trail on the river bank.



I ended up at the boat landing, where a white river boat is waiting for the cruise season to start. A boat ride on the Saar through these charming landscapes must be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

A big blooming cherry tree on the river bank screamed for more photos to be taken…


Posted by Kathrin_E 01:31 Archived in Germany Tagged saarland Comments (2)

Trier: Germany's Oldest City?

Porta nigra - Trier's iconic landmark


City view from the Porta nigra
Photo taken during a visit in the 1980

My recent visit to Trier was just a stopover en route to Luxembourg. I had to change trains in Trier anyway, held a flexible ticket, so I dumped my luggage into a locker at the station and went for a walk. Including a coffee break, this visit summed up to three hours in total. Not enough to do this city justice.

However, this was not my first visit. I had covered most of the “tourist stuff” previously and planned this as a superficial re-visit, walking a bit and stopping at a couple of sights, in particular the cathedral and the Roman basilica, in relaxed pace.

Trier claims to be Germany’s oldest city. They have a competitor for this title, which is Kempten in the Allgäu. Both cities are proved to be older than 2000 years. No one can know exactly after such a long time.

Fact is that Trier already existed as a town before the Romans came. It was the central settlement of the celtic tribe of the Treveri, whom it owes its name to. The Latin Augusta Treverorum eventually became Trier. Legends date its foundation back to around 2050 B.C. but… these are legends. In 16 A.D. the Romans founded their city in its place. It soon grew into the largest city north of the Alps. Roman emperors used it as one of their residences.

Detail of Porta nigra

The Romans have left their marks. There are few places north of the Alps that have preserved such remarkable ancient Roman monuments. There are the spas (Kaiserthermen and Barbarathermen), there is Constantine’s basilica, the Roman bridge. Part of the imperial palace is visible underneath the cathedral and the adjacent Church of Our Lady. The monumental northern town gate, Porta nigra, the “black gate”, is Trier’s iconic landmark. It can be reached in 10 minutes’ walk from the central station.

The main street, practically the same as the main street of the Roman city, leads straight to the central market square (Hauptmarkt).

Along the way, the Romanesque Dreikönigshaus is worth a closer look. It is the rare example of a townhouse from the 13th century.


A baroque gate on the southern side of Hauptmarkt leads to the church of St Gangolf, the parish church of the city centre.




Already in the 3rd century A. D. Trier became the seat of a bishop, later archbishop. The Archbishops of Trier belonged to the most influential clerics as well as territorial rulers in the Holy Roman Empire. As one of the seven Electors they took part in the election of the Kings.

The cathedral certainly tells of their status and their ambition!

The cathedral’s most precious and most venerated relic is the so-called Holy Robe: It is said to be the very garment that Jesus wore before his crucifixion, the very one that the soldiers threw the dice for. (Again, well, who knows – but if you tell a legend often enough and long enough, it becomes truth.)

The relic is kept in a special chapel behind the main altar. At special occasions it is presented to pilgrims inside the church, the last time in 2012.




A short walk leads from the cathedral to the baroque palace of the Electors and Archbishops.

The palace is surrounded by gardens, nowadays a very popular public park.

It's a pity that I got no free table at the little cafe!

A much older and more interesting building, despite its plain looks, is attached to the palace: the so-called basilica of Constantine.



This building was erected in the 4th century A. D. Originally it served as the aula of the Roman palace and was used, for example, for audiences with the Roman emperors. Later centuries changed and finally almost destroyed it, until it was rebuilt in its allegedly original shape in the mid 19th century. Since then it has been the parish church of the protestant community of Trier (which came into existence in this ultra-catholic city only in the Prussian era, i.e. the 9th century). The present shape is a simplified rebuilding after severe damage in World War II.

All I wanted after this was a rest and a coffee, and then a supermarket to buy a supply of water and Apfelschorle. So I meandered back to the central station to catch my train to Luxembourg.

Posted by Kathrin_E 13:49 Archived in Germany Tagged mosel trier rheinland-pfalz Comments (1)

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