The imposing Salvatorkirche
The Salvatorkirche is an uncompromisingly imposing piece of architecture that dominates the Duisburg skyline.
There has been a church on this site since at least 1316, but it was extensively extended and reworked over the centuries before being bombed to smithereens during World War II. The church took 15 years to rebuild in the neo Gothic style of its most recent 19th century remodelling, although the spire was never reconstructed.
The interior of the Salvatorkirche is surprisingly light and simply decorated. It apparently houses the tomb of Gerhard Mercator, although I sady didn't have time to verify this or pay my respects to the great man as I visited just before closing time.
The church hosts services and choral concerts, but is probably more famous as the venue for the memorial service for the Love Parade victims in 2010, to commemorate the 21 young people who were killed (and over 500 others who were injured) when the crowd stampeded in a tunnel.
Museum ships "Oscar Huber" and "Minden"
Close to the Museum of Inland Shipping, there are also two historical ships that can be visited. They are moored in a quieter corner of the harbour and for a small charge, you can come aboard and discover all the nooks and crannies of these ships.
The Oscar Huber is the bigger one, it is an impressive paddle steamer. It was built in the 1920s in Duisburg and has a length of 75m and a width of 9m. The boat was in use until 1966, it was a tug, pulling huge barges along the Rhine. Such tugs were common for many decades, but then were no longer profitable. The Oscar Huber is the only one from the Rhine that has been preserved. It has been a museum since 1974.
The steamer is very interesting because it is so big, the most impressive place were the engine rooms - the engines and machineries are so huge! No wonder that fifteen men were used to operate the steamer.
The other museum ship is the Minden, which is considerably smaller, but still interesting and also much older. It was built in 1882 and is 23,3m long and 6,2m wide. It was used as an excavator, digging a shipping channel in the river Weser. It was in use until 1979 and was acquired by the museum three years later.
It was fun to sneak around this smaller boat and to see the tiny space available for the people working and living here, such as the small bedrooms and the tiny bathroom!
Altogether, I even enjoyed the ships more than the museum itself, as history is much more lively here and you can try to imagine how it must have been to work and live on such a ship... How loud and dirty it must have been with all the engines, the steam and the hard work, and sharing such little space among a group of men! But maybe there were also some enjoyable aspects, like being on the river all day?
For more pictures and information, please see my travelogue!
Opening times: Tuesday to sunday 10.00 to 17.00, only from Easter to September!
Admission fee: 2,00€ adults, 1,50€ students, 4,00€ family
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Landscape Park Duisburg Nord
The name of this attraction is actually a little misleading - yes, it is a park, but it is not your average park of lawns, trees and flowers. On the contrary, it is a unique park created on the grounds of former ironworks. The huge pillars and remnants of the old ironworks have been left standing here, and nature is slowly reclaiming them, creating a unique mix of ugly and beautiful, nature and industry. You can walk around the area and even climb some of the huge factory buildings and ore bins to have a closer look and also a great view of the surroundings. It really is unique and something I had never seen before.
The iron works were founded in 1901 by August Thyssen who had previously acquired many coal fields of the area. From that year on, iron was produced here and then made to steel in other factories owned by Thyssen. Duisburg was an important centre of iron and steel production, but in 1985, the Thyssen works had to close down. This large area was just left barren and waited to be demolished, until a group of protesters developed a new idea: To create a large park for people to enjoy, and to be proud of their industrial heritage. The idea was realised, and the park opened in 1994.
I am actually not at all knowledgeable about this industry, so I will spare you further explanations - if you are interested, you can read all about it in the attached website. I don't know the differences between the several buildings and factories, but I enjoyed visiting here and climbing around. I must admit that it is kind of bizarre, because the ugliness and the roughness is certainly a part of the fascination. But in addition, I am enthusiastic about the idea to create a park in such an environment, to make use of the fascinating contrast, and in the end, give nature a new space where previously it has been destroyed and banned!
No admission fee!
Opening times: Visitor centre - Monday to friday 09.00am to 06.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 06.00pm. The park itself is open all the time.
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Museum of Inland Shipping - Art Nouveau style
Apart from the interesting displays in the Museum of Inland Shipping, the building itself is also worth a look! It is an Art Nouveau building that originally was a swimming bath, and you can still see many of the original features that are now incorporated into the museum, such as the big original pool where now a big boat is kept. You can also walk on the ground of the pool and see displays there.
What I liked very much were some of the art nouveau features visible in the railings of the balconies. They displayed various animals, but not only maritime animals as I imagined - there were also elephants and other exotic ones! I enjoyed looking at these railings from various angles and I think it is great that these original features were left in place for visitors to see.
Museum of Inland Shipping
As Duisburg has the largest inland harbour of Europe, and maybe even of the world, it is only fitting that it also has a Museum of Inland Shipping! This museum is located in an art nouveau building that was previously a swimming bath. On different levels, you can learn everything about the history of inland shipping in Duisburg, and more generally in the world. The displays range from stone age tree boats and Roman long boats over 19th century boats pulled by horses to Duisburg's present as a huge industrial harbour. There are many detailed explanations and pictures, but what I liked more were the many wooden scale models, and real exhibits like machinery and anchors or the huge freight container. In the middle of the ground floor, there is a real Friesian boat from 1913. At the bottom level, you can see things that were found on the ground of the harbour over the year, mainly remnants from World War Two, like bombs and grenades.
Altogether, I found this museum very interesting, but of course it is a special subject and because it is restricted to inland shipping, it is different to usual Maritime Museum.
There is also a small shop, and the restaurant "Schiffchen" is next door.
To see pictures of displays and more information, please see my travelogue
Admission fee: 3,00€ adults, 2,00€ concession, 6,50€ family
Opening times: Tuesday to sunday 10.00 to 17.00.
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The Rhine, Ruhr and harbour
The Rhine is usually more connected to places like Cologne, Bonn and Koblenz, castles and the Loreley... but it is also essential to Duisburg, and defines this city very much!
Duisburg is located where the rivers Rhine and Ruhr meet, which made it such an important place in history. During the 19th century, it became the main port of the Ruhr area, and therefore the place of transshipment of all the coal, iron and steel that was mined and produced in this area.
Today, the Rhine is still an important waterway, and walking along its shores, you will see mighty barges carrying their goods. But the Rhine is now also used as a place of entertainment and relaxation, and there are lovely promenade where one can stroll and enjoy the scenery.
At the shores of the two rivers and around the harbour, there are now many restaurants and cafés, several museums, boat trips, and events like exhibitions, fun fairs and street parties are organized. It is a very interesting area, especially as you can see how different branches of the rivers meet, and you have great views of the different waterways.
I have not been to the most prettiest places and my dad told me that there is another promenade (the main one) where it is much nicer than where we had a walk, so this is still on my must do list. We had a walk close to the Museum of Inland Shipping, in Ruhrort, but also here I liked the views very much and was surprised at how nice it really was.
Great base for day trips!
The main reason why my dad has not shown me more of Duisburg so far is that there are so many day trips possible from the city! Thus, we usually have chosen to go somewhere else instead of staying in the city. Being located in the centre of the Ruhr Area, there are literally hundreds of trips possible: Not only all the interesting, new awoken cities of the "Ruhrpott" are very close, but also the wonderful Rhineland, as well as the Dutch border and the Netherlands. It is hard to choose where to go, as so many great things are possible!
Some examples of places we have visited from Duisburg in the last years are Neandertal, Oberhausen, Zwillbrock, Solingen and Xanten. My dad prefers Off The Beaten Path places, so some of these are not well known.
More famous places that are close are Cologne and Düsseldorf, and, especially if you are into football, Dortmund.
We usually do our trips by car as Duisburg is close to the Autobahn and my dad prefers driving, but public transport in this part of Germany is excellent, so visiting other places by train is quick and not too expensive.
Picture 1: The Roman amphitheatre in Xanten - in the background you can see the cathedral
Picture 2: The large railway bridge in Solingen, which is the highest of its kinds in Germany (constructed 1894 - 1897)
Picture 3: The Gasometer in Oberhausen, largest of its kind in Europe and today used for fantastic exhibitions
Picture 4: Walking in Neandertal, where the Neanderthal Man was found
Picture 5: The bird sanctuary in Zwillbrock, a paradise for bird watchers
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Ruminate over the remains of the old city walls
I like a good set of city walls, even when they're in ruins: to me, they convey a sense of cosy security, which is probably totally misleading given how often most of these places were invaded and ransacked! In Duisburg's case, they are a reminder of the days before Bomber Harris when all you needed to defend a town was a stout wall, some well placed archers and maybe a vat or two of boiling oil to see off the would-be invaders.
Duisburg's city walls are some of the oldest in the Rheinland and date back to the 13th century, although archeologists have demonstrated that these were built on top of older fortifications that date back to the 10th century. The wall was successful in repelling an attack by the Archbishop of Koeln as early as 1445, and a city plan indicates that the city wall was still complete as late as 1850. By this time, most of the gates had been demolished to allow access to carriages.
Sections of this wall are still clearly visible throughout the city, probably the most accessible being located along the river bank just by the Salvatorkirche.
Who's this rather fey chap?
Meet Hans-Peter Feldmann's statue of David: a statue that may persuade you that Nikki de Saint-Phalle's 'Lifesaver' is in good taste after all!
I found this statue quite unnerving as I first saw it in twilight and thought that my eyes must be playing tricks on me. However, closer inspection confirmed that this beautifully proportioned, classically themed statue did in fact have buttercup yellow hair (not just on his head), staring sky blue eyes and surreal skin of that unnervingly peachy pink colour usually only seen on cheap polony. It is reminiscent of a prop left over after a Gay Pride procession, but hell, there's no question that it's memorable!
Feldmann is a local artist based in Dusseldorf, who appears to have quite a fixation with David, since a similar statue stands in Heinrich-Böll-Platz close to the Dom in Koeln. He's clearly a serious artist as he has been given at least one exhibition in the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, but I can't say that I'll be making a particular effort to seek out more of his work anytime soon ...
Always look up!
I forget which one of my fellow VTers has the motto 'Always look up', but every time I travel, I'm reminded of how right she is!
In this case, just opposite the Rathaus is the old Post Office building, featuring the old Imperial eagle on the gable. The 'curly' gable design echoes the Rathaus tower design and provides a reminder of how close the links between Duisburg and Holland have been over the years, doubtless aided by the river traffic on the Rhine.
Certainly bright and cheerful - but do I like it?
I think it's fair to say that you either love or hate Nikki de Saint-Phalle's sculptures, and 'The Livesaver', located smack bang in the middle of Duisburg's bustling pedestrian shopping precinct of Koenigstrasse (somewhat fancifully known as the 'Fountain Mile') is no exception!
It reminds me of the sort of character that might leap out of the pages of one of those action comics that my small son pesters me to buy him, and - call me an uncultured peasant - I struggle to recognise either its artistic merit or the relevance of its name. Having said that, the value of art is in the eye of the beholder, and I'm no expert, so who am I to judge?
On a positive note, it is bright and cheerful (if bonkers), especially on a grey March afternoon, and you're certainly unlikely to be ambivalent about it - after all, isn't art all about provoking a reaction? Mine just happens to be, "Yuk!"
Be guided by the bell tower of the lovely Rathaus
For me, the architectural highlight of Duisburg was the delightful Rathaus, an unexpectedly charming building.
The first mention of a Rathaus on this site dates back to 1361, although there is mention of city councillors dating back almost a century earlier. Over the centuries, the Rathaus has been extended and remodelled on several occasions to meet the changing needs of the city, and the current building dates back to 1902. In addition to accommodating the city's administrative functions, the new building was designed to house the municipal archives, museum, fire service and even the police station!
In hindsight, I wish that I had done my research on this building before I visited Duisburg, as I now discover that the figure on the left hand side of the main door is Charlemagne: given that the theme of my spare time on this trip was to walk in Charlemagne's footsteps (in Paris and Aachen), I seem to have unwittingly stumbled across the Great Man again in Duisburg!
The Rathaus is located adjacent to the Salvatorkirche and the Mercator fountain. Guided tours of the Rathaus can be organised using the e-mail addresswebsite below. If you are sufficiently illustrious, you may even be invited to sign Duisburg's "Golden Book' - even Queen Elizabeth II couldn't escape signing during her visit on 25 May 1965!
My favourite part of the Rathaus is its distinctive bell tower with characteristically curly Dutch-inspired gables, which is visible from across the city and an excellent point of reference for navigational purposes!
Step back/down through time
Just by the Salvatorkirche, archaeologists have dug down to expose the floor of a 16th century market building, about 2.5m below the current ground surface.
In a simple but effective display, the ground level at various points in time is indicated on the steps leading down to the excavated floor, indicating how the ground level has risen over the centuries. Given the proximity to the river, some of this rise is likely to be due to major flood events, which would have deposited alluvium over the adjacent flood plain, but the major contribution is likely to come from human activity, and particularly raising of the land surface to lift buildings and their foundations above the flood zone. And of course, we shouldn't forget the contribution made by debris from surrounding buildings as a result of Bomber Harris' repeated forays over the area in World War II, since the Salvatorkirche was decimated in a bombing raid.
I confess that the geologist in me particularly appreciated the cross sectional profile that has been preserved in one of the sidewalls!
Look up to Gerhard Mercator
Before I started to research my trip to Duisburg, I had no idea that it was the adopted home of Gerhard Mercator, the father of modern cartography, and by far the city's most illustrious son.
Mercator was born Gerardus de Kremer in Flanders, but subsequently Latinized his name ('Mercator' meaning 'merchant', the meaning of his Flemish surname). He started his career manufacturing mathematical equipment, and this provided him with an ongoing income throughout his career (especially once he found a method of 'mass producing' globes). He is, however, best know for his services to cartography, by developing a means of representing the spherical earth on a flat surface (the so called 'Mercator projection').
Fascinatingly he was imprisoned for heresy for over six months in 1544, due to his strongly held Protestant beliefs: this may have informed his later move to Duisburg in the more liberal duchy of Cleves a few years later, and once he established in the city, he didn't leave again for the remaining 40 years of his long life.
Mercator is commemorated in a lovely fountain outside the Rathaus which was commissioned to mark the 300th anniversary of his groundbreaking map's publication and depicts him as the epitome of 16th century prosperity . The base of the fountain is wittily decorated with stylised dolphins which spout water and closely resemble the illustrations on maps of this period.
For those interested in learning more about Mercator's life and work, the Mercator exhibit at the uncatchily titled Kultur- und Stadthistorisches Museum occupies a purpose built wing of the museum with a state-of-the-art audio visual presentation structured in several episodes.
My major quibble with this otherwise excellent facility is that this is only in German, and there appears to be no translation into other languages - even a laminated hard copy of the text would be better than nothing (and it seems particularly odd as other exhibits in the same museum had bilingual labels). I speak rudimentary German, and although the presentation was well put together, discussion of navigation and cartographic techniques was way beyond my language competence. Similarly, the gallery next door which houses some of Mercator's maps and equipment also has no English signage, which seems a strange oversight in such a well resourced exhibit that has such an obvious appeal for foreign visitors. A terrible pity and a missed opportunity which I hope that the museum will soon rectify.
Duisburg's unexpectedly excellent town museum
I must say that I wasn't expecting too much from the uncatchily titled Kultur- und Stadthistorisches Museum, and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a small but excellently presented resource that was well worth the time and effort.
The museum is effectively split into two parts: one section devoted to the history of the town from prehistoric times to present, and the other dedicated to the city's favourite son, cartographer Gerhard Mercator.
The Mercator exhibit is excellently presented in a purpose built wing of the museum with a state-of-the-art audio visual presentation structured in several episodes which details different aspects of his life and work. My major quibble is that this is only in German, and there appears to be no translation into other languages - even a laminated hard copy of the text would be better than nothing. I speak rudimentary German, and although the presentation was well put together, discussion of navigation and cartographic techniques was way beyond my language competence. Similarly, the gallery next door which houses some of Mercator's maps and equipment also has no English signage, which seems a strange oversight in such a well resourced exhibit that has such an obvious appeal for foreign visitors, and the website below has no English option. Even more confusingly, this is inconsistent with the rest of the museum as there are English captions for all the displays in the section of the museum that deals with the town's history.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the exhibits on the town's history, which were imaginatively presented, and gave an excellent overview of the town's development, particularly through the Industrial Revolution and Germany's troubled 20th century history. The displays work on several levels, and would be enjoyable for quite young kids, yet provide enough detail to satisfy adults.
There are also some temporary displays: when I visited, there was a moderately interesting exhibit of South American ceramics.
The museum is attractively located on the banks of the river, just by the Salvatorkirche and the Rathaus, adjacent to a section of the old city wall and the former market square, and just a short stroll from the pedestrian shopping precinct.
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