Monday, June 20, 2011

Tagestouristen ins Ruhrgebiet - 19 June 2011

Today we visited a number of interesting sites in the surrounding Ruhr region.  Today being Sonntag (Sunday), the Kanu-Club saw us off with a larger breakfast buffet than usual that even impressed Jörn and Malte.

Around 9:30 we piled into a rented touring van and drove 30-40 minutes to the neighboring city of Essen where we were to visit to Zweche Zollverein, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as "the world´s prettiest coal mine".  The Ruhr region has long been a coal-producing area but the area really hit it´s stride in the years between the Industrial Revolution and World War I. In the area around Essen, surface and later sub-surface mining has lowered the ground level to the point where water has to be pumped out of the area to avoid flooding. If pumping were to halt, some low-lying towns would be inundated with as much as 10m of water in one day!

Zweche Zollverein is still a working coal mine, but much of the outlying facilities have been absorbed into a museum.  The presentation is quite unique; rather than having installed bulky exhibits, most of the old equipment was left in place and important information and pictures are projected onto any available flat surface!  The mine once produced between 8,000-12,000 tonnes of coal per day (half in unhealthy coal dust) and to maintain this rate, the mine facilities were once three times bigger than the city.  Today many of the larger buildings are available as meeting spaces; BMW had a car show here for instance.  The grounds were well maintained, but the day´s grey weather and the utilitarian architecture reminded us of how difficult life must have been for the thousands who once worked here.
Zweche Zollverei. Elevator of the Year - 2006-07

Zweche Zollverei. Decorated staircase inside the old mine bunker.
The tour was very informative, and I would highly recommend a visit to Zweche Zollverein to anyone passing through the area.

Our next stop was the famous railroad bridge at Müngsten. Completed in 1897, Müngsten is the highest steel railroad bridge in Germany (107 meters) and connects the towns of Wuppertal and Solingen. Trains once traveled 50km around the Wuppertal (Wupper River Valley)  but the bridge reduced the distance to a mere 8km.  Currently the bridge is undergoing renovations, but will reopen to rail traffic later in the year.  While examining the bridge, we stopped at a food stall and bought coffee and gingerbread, and on the way back to the van, Jörn and I also tried to solve some German riddles from an art installation on the path.

In the afternoon, we drove to the town of Solingento visit its famous hill-top castle Schloss Berg.  The castle was the medieval stronghold for the rulers of the duchy of Berg and in later centuries became a fashionable vacation spot for German nobility.  Perhaps it´s most famous resident was Engelbert II of Berg (1186?-1225) who as Archbishop of Cologne was widely considered the second most powerful man in Europe and later canonized as a saint. Following his brother´s death in a crusade, Engelbert usurped the duchy from his relatives, causing friction among the other German nobles who were afraid to challenge the powerful archbishop.  As bad as this sounds, Engelbert is today widely regarded as a champion of civil liberties for the common people and his challenge to the established order led to his murder in 1225 at the hands of relatives.  His body was later exhumed and found to have 47 wounds.
  The entrance hall of the castle is decorated with a literal family tree mural tracing the lineage of every ruler of the castle back to Adam and Eve and  Engelbert is the only ruler depicted as a ghost.

The castle fell on hard times but has been renovated in recent years, becoming a leading tourist attraction in the region.  The interior murals offered a fascinating glimpse of medieval life, while a hunting society festival in the courtyard allowed us to see another facet of the local culture.  Men and women in leather hunting garb were strolling the castle grounds with their dogs, enjoying bratwurst, beer, and each other´s company.  After about 2 hours at the castle, we returned to the van via ski-lift to the bottom of the hill.

At 4:30 we arrived in the town of Wuppertal which gained fame during the Industrial Revolution both for its beautiful suspended railway (a kind of inverted monorail) and for being the birthplace of Friedrich Engels, Marx´s coauthor of the Communist Manifesto.  One the way into town, Dr. Cassel gleeful recounted the only two accidents in the railway´s 100 year history:  one involved a circus elephant which was placed in a rail car as a stunt and which broke out, falling into the river below.   We boarded the suspended train  and rode to the Wuppertal Hbf where Malte left us to attend his brother´s birthday party.  The rest of the group continued on to Friedrich Engels´ house and watched the city pass by nine meters below us.  

Engel´s house has been converted into a museum for the Industrial Revolution.  Inside visitors can enter a sensory theater to experience all the overpowering sights, sounds, and even vibrations of a 19th century factory.  The museum also contains a collection of working looms and spinning-jennies which have been programmed with wooden punch cards to weave souvenir labels for the tourists.  Dr. Cassel put on the charm and convinced the museum staff to give us some labels for free!

For dinner we headed to the quiet town of Neviges where Dr. Cassel lives.  It is a fair distance out from Duisburg, but being semi-retired, Dr. Cassel only needs to commute a few days a week.  We first stopped by his home where his wife greeted us with a basket of fresh bread, beers, and sodas.  I tried to read the book titles on his coffee table and we made sure to take a picture with the garden gnomes in the backyard!

After the snack we entered the Old Town area of Neviges where we made a brief stop at the Catholic cathedral Maria Königin des Frieden, a pilgrimage church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  The Csite has existed since the Counter Reformation in the 1600s as a means of encouraging Protestants to return to the Church. The current cathedral by architect Gottfried Böhm was finished in 1968.  It is an asymmetrical concrete structure lit mostly by skylights carved into the walls and roof. The interior is very dark with the only color coming from its red-tinted stained glass windows and some orange- and yellow-tinted votive candles in the back. We then walked around the Old Town filled with quaint half-timbered cottages and ate at an Italian restaurant near the city´s main Protestant church.  I took a gamble on the turkey salad with mango chutney and was pleasantly surprised by one of the best salads I´ve ever had.  Meanwhile, the waitress was visibly annoyed that Meru hadn´t finished her pasta and practically forced her to take the rest to go. "It would be a shame to waste good food."
Neviges Pilgrimage Church (Source:

After dinner, we said goodbye to Dr. Cassel and returned to Duisburg with a new appreciation of the culture of the Ruhr region.

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