Essen is always worth a trip. The cultural and shopping capital in the heart of the Ruhr district was our destination for this day on a clear and sunny Saturday in November. Having lived in Essen myself for a while, I was able to show my travel group the most beautiful corners on this day. Essen and the Ruhr Valley may not seem like appealing destinations at first glance. But if you get to know the city properly, you will not only experience a part of German history up close, but also learn to appreciate what is special about the people there.
Coal, coal, coal
As is well known, mining is a thing of the past in the Ruhr region. Looking around, however, you can still see the signs of that era in the form of slag heaps peeking up. Many of these artificial hills are being converted. This is also the case with the Beckstraße slag heap in Bottrop, with its Tetrahedron sculpture that can be seen from afar. The summit and the sculpture can be reached via the Direttissima staircase with 350 steps or via a serpentine walkway. This steel work of art is 60 meters high and requires a head for heights. The brave visitor reaches three platforms via the partly free-floating construction. As a bonus, the top platform is also slightly inclined. Once at the top, we were rewarded with a great panoramic view of the Ruhr region.
During my time in Essen, I sometimes felt like I was in a Manta, Manta movie. Here an old GTI, there a mullet and certainly not to forget the perm on the cashier. The people do their thing and are authentic. Before diving into the heart of the city, we first visited the UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein. If you only pay homage to one thing in the Ruhr, then that’s the Zeche Zollverein (after a visit to the soccer temple in Dortmund – of course). It’s best compared to the Völklingen Ironworks – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The area is huge and cannot be visited in one day. It is divided into the coking plant and the colliery with the famous winding tower of shaft XII. Recommended for a scheduled visit is the Ruhr Museum in the old coal washing plant. For a fair entrance fee of 8,- €, you can learn everything about the region on four levels, the panorama roof and the portal of industrial culture. By the way, the entrance is reached via the largest free-standing escalator in Germany.
Essen? Pommes Schranke!
The city center in Essen makes the heart of every shopping queen beat faster. The No. 1 shopping address here is Limbecker Platz. On more than 70,000 square meters you will find everything you need (or don’t need). Leaving Limbecker Platz, you go onto Limbecker Straße and thus into the city center until you reach the intersecting Kettwiger Straße. Here stands the Essen Minster, which is well worth a look. Not only because of the oldest figure of the Virgin Mary in the world (the Golden Madonna) from the year 980.
On Kennedyplatz you can linger in summer in various cafes. On this Saturday we treated ourselves to the first mulled wine at the Essen Christmas market. The Christmas market has its main place on the spacious Kennedyplatz. But it also meanders through the pedestrian zone. Since about 90 percent of Essen’s city center was destroyed during World War II, few historic buildings can be found here. One of them is the Grillo Theater from 1892, and those who like it more digital can go a few meters further to the Lichtburg. The Lichtburg is Germany’s largest movie theater with 1250 seats. If you want to experience cinema in a classic and stylish way, you should go here when you get the chance. Every last Saturday of the month, there are guided tours of this historically listed movie palace.
Essen? Ruhrpott Romance!
Once through the main station and over the A40 and we are already in the hip southern district of Essen. Here you will not only find my old apartment, but also the best cocktail bar in the world – Daktari. Around Isenbergplatz there are more unique cafes and bars or both. The Goldbar is one such gem here (Paradies & das like that).
Continuing westward across the party mile (Rüttenscheider Straße), we arrive at the Museum Folkwang. Admission to the art collections is free and offers insights especially into modern art with its different styles of impressionism, expressionism and surrealism. The museum is located not far from the Grugapark. A visit here is an experience especially in summer.
In the south of the city you can find Lake Baldeney as a Ruhr reservoir. It offers swimming and water activities and is a nice change from city life. The 19th century Villa Hügel of the former industrialist Alfred Krupp towers over the lake. The villa and park can and should be visited as a symbol of the splendor of Germany’s industrialization.
This also marked the end of our day’s visit to the Ruhr metropolis and Essen, and we moved contentedly back toward Hesse. Fancy exploring more of Germany? Then read on here.