Essen - City of Culture
Industrial heritage and great art in the greet heart of the Ruhr Metropolis
Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site, Museum Folkwang, Villa Hügel & more – even after its year as European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010, Essen continues to be a cultural giant in the heart of the Ruhr Area.
Located in central North Rhine-Westphalia, the Ruhr Area is the largest metropolitan region in Germany and the fifth largest in Europe. All the towns here are historically dominated by the coal mining and steel industries and are nestled so close together that the boundaries between towns are often blurred. The “Ruhr Metropolis” is growing closer and closer together and proudly looks back on its common industrial past. Over the past few decades, impressive places of industrial heritage now stand on former industrial sites: old mines, gasometers and blast furnaces now serve as venues for artistic and cultural events and leave room for common identification and the development of new and creative ideas. The city of Essen plays a special role in this community of cities in the “Kulturgebiet” (“Region of Culture”), as travel magazine MERIAN called it in its NRW edition in 03/2015. It is not only one of the largest and most populous Ruhr Area cities, but also served as European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010 with its theme of “Essen for the Ruhr”.
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex: Symbol of Industrial Heritage
By 2010, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex’s double winding tower had become a landmark in city of Essen and the region as a whole. The colliery site was then named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the Zollverein is not only architecturally unique, but it also provides an excellent example of the Ruhr Area’s transformation. With its New Objectivity building complex, the colliery was an architectural pioneer even at the time of its construction and continues to fill that role today. Visitors can now follow the Zollverein Heritage Trail along the site, where coal was once mined and coked. Lead by experienced guides, the trail wends its way through the authentically preserved surface installations of the colliery, including the screening and coal washing plants and allows participants to gain an understanding of what people’s living and working conditions once were. Former miners are among the colliery guides and share their “pit stories” with tour participants, making the heritage trail less of a monument and more of a unique and authentic experience. The Ruhr Museum now has a new location at the Shaft XII coal washing plant. Visitors can learn all about the past and present of the Ruhr Area here through both the permanent collection and various temporary exhibitions.
Yet another museum is also located on the premises of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex: the former boiler house has been redesigned by star architect Norman Foster to become Design Zentrum NRW, which also houses the Red Dot Design Museum with the world's largest contemporary design exhibition. Another architectural highlight is the Sanaa-Kubus (“Sanaa Cube”), which is used by the Folkwang University of the Arts. But there’s even more to explore and there are many adventures to be had outside of just the museums: strictly speaking, the Werksschwimmbad (“Works Swimming Pool”) is a work of art, though it is also open to those looking for fun and relaxation in the cooling water during the summer. Those on foot can admire the Ulrich Rückriem sculptures surrounding the complex and the Ringpromenade is best suited for short bike trips around the colliery. Of course, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex always sets the scene for the Ruhr Area’s major cultural events, including the Extraschicht festival and the Ruhrtriennale film festival.
Arts and entertainment in the heart of Essen
In addition to the exceptional highlight the region’s industrial heritage provides, the city of Essen has a lot to offer in terms of culture at other locations as well. With the building’s extension designed by famous architect David Chipperfield, Museum Folkwang is one of the most renowned art museums in Germany. The Philharmonie Essen and the Aalto Theater are devoted to another genre of art: the Philharmonie hosts concerts by top-class musicians and culture lovers can take in an opera or ballet at the Aalto Theater. The Grillo Theater in downtown Essen rounds off the city’s cultural landscape – the city theatre features its own ensemble. Also located in the heart of Essen is the cathedral, whose treasury features world-class art, particularly from the period between 980 and 1060. And modern entertainment itself has historical ties in Essen: musicals are performed at the Colosseum, an historic factory building where forgings were produced until around 1900.
Visitors who prefer to stay in the present can simply enjoy modern pleasures. Essen not only features one of the Ruhr Area’s largest pedestrian zones, but also boasts a modern shopping centre. Visitors to Limbecker Platz can shop till they drop at the more than 200 shops located here. Cinema lovers have the chance to encounter famous film stars at the film premieres held at Germany’s largest cinema, Lichtburg Essen. Another insider tip for downtown is the Unperfekthaus, where visitors can enjoy the creative atmosphere and recover from their marathon shopping trips with a coffee or lunch.
Green oases south of the big city
Visitors can enjoy even more time for relaxation in the green southern part of the city. The Gruga Park’s gates are located not too far from the city centre. The park, originally created for the First Great Ruhr Landscape Garden Exhibition, or Gruga for short in German, in 1929 today still serves as a green oasis for worn out city dwellers, and is a favourite destination for families. Also worth seeing is the Margarethenhöhe in the south of Essen, which, in 1920, became the first garden city in Germany. Between its detached gabled houses, rows of Romantic façades and picturesque front gardens, visitors here escape to a village in the heart of the big city. Even further south is Baldeneysee, the largest of the six existing Ruhr reservoirs, and Essen’s most famous recreational area. The Weiße Flotte excursion boats invite visitors to partake in leisurely boat trips and lovers of water sports fans will find numerous opportunities to pursue their passion on the lake. Not far from the lake is Villa Hügel, the former residence family seat of the Krupp industrial family, whose park and buildings are open to visitors.
Tip: Exiting nightlife spots in the Ruhr Area for those who love unusual locations!