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Most Recent Things to Do in Essen

  • Kathrin_E's Profile Photo

    Alvar Aalto's Opera House

    by Kathrin_E Written Jan 28, 2013
    Front facade and main entrance
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    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.

    What does the architecture of the interior look like? See my "Visit a Performance" tip

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    Dom: Franz Cardinal Hengsbach

    by Kathrin_E Written Jan 28, 2013
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    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 had no precious stone but a but 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.

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  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The route of the coal

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Conveyor belts for transporting the coal
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    After the coal had been brought up out of the mines it was transported around the plant by these giant conveyor belts.

    Five huge "washing" machines with swiftly moving water separated the lighter coal from the heavier pieces of rock, but a lot of the sorting work still had to be done by hand. This was usually done by 14 to 17 year old boys, since by law they were too young to be sent down into the mines.

    Second photo: These long sorting machines separated the coal from any remaining pieces of rock, and sorted the chunks of coal into different sizes

    Third photo: Machinery in the Zollverein.

    Fourth photo: One of the workshops in the coal plant. Some of the tools are really large.

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    Route of the coal tubs

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Tour group looking at one of the coal tubs
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    In the year 1934 the Zollverein had 10,400 of these coal tubs, which were in constant motion from the mines to the shaft to the processing plant and back again. To meet the goal of bringing up 12,000 tons of coal per day, each tub had to make at least one and a half round trips every day.

    Down in the mines there was always a shortage of empty tubs, which was a catastrophe for the miners because they were paid by the tub-load, not the hour. A token identifying the exact point of loading was attached to each tub be means of a thin wire. These tokens were collected up in the plant by the payroll department, so they could figure out exactly how much coal had been produced by each of the 110 loading points down in the mines, and pay the men accordingly at the end of the week.

    Second photo: Within the plant the coal tubs were pulled around by cables in the floor.

    Third photo: A coal tub on its tracks.

    Fourth photo: A tub full of coal.

    Fifth photo: A text panel in German and English explaining the route of the coal tubs.

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    New life in the preserved buildings

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Art exhibition in Hall 5 of the Zollverein
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    After nearly 55 years of continuous operation, coal production at the Zollverein Shaft XII ceased on December 23, 1986. Even before this, plans were being made to preserve the entire facility and to find new uses for some of the buildings.

    Not only can you take a fascinating tour of the plant, there are also concerts, lectures, readings, panel discussions and special exhibitions nearly every day of the year. The photo shows part of a modern art exhibition in hall 5, with works by the painter Herbert Bardenheuer and the sculptor Oveis Saheb Djawaher.

    On December 14, 2001, the Zollverein shaft XII along with the nearby coking plant and one of the older mine shafts was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Unlike most German pre-war industrial plants, this facility is extremely well preserved. Despite its strategic importance it did not take a single direct hit by bombings during the entire Second World War. This remarkable restraint on the part of the Allied air forces no doubt has to do with the fact that the construction of the facility in the 1920s was largely financed by American capital, so it was in a sense American property, even though operations were entirely controlled by the Germans.

    Second photo: Part of our tour group at the art exhibit in Hall 5.

    Third photo: On my way back to Essen on my bicycle after seeing an opera in the nearby city of Gelsenkirchen, I stopped to take this photo of the Zollverein Shaft XII at night.

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  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Zollverein coal mine, shaft XII

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Front entrance to Zollverein Shaft XII
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    Designed and built in the 1920s, this shaft and processing plant went into operation on February 1, 1932. At that time it was considered the largest, most efficient, most modern and also most beautiful coal mining facility in Europe.

    The Zollverein was founded in 1847 by an industrialist named Franz Haniel (1799-1868). He gave his mine the name Zollverein in honor of the German Customs Union of 1844, which made it possible to do business in Germany without having to pay tolls every few miles at the borders of the many tiny German states.

    By 1920 the Zollverein had four shafts producing 8000 tons of coal per day, but at that point they decided there was no way to modernize those old shafts and increase the daily output, so the solution was to build a new shaft for the sole purpose of bringing up 12000 tons per day in a huge multi-storey elevator.

    Surrounding the new shaft they built a processing plant which by the standards of the times (recall that they had nothing resembling the computer technology we have today!) was highly automated. They were so obsessed with automation that the buildings originally didn't have any toilets, but they quickly had to add some when they realized that they still needed hundreds of workers to run the new machines, although not as many as before.

    The managers proudly announced that they had eliminated 500 jobs, which then as now was a dubious achievement, since unemployment was one of the many factors that enabled the Nazis to seize power in 1933.

    Second photo: Looking up at the elevator tower.

    Third photo: Beneath the plants there were railroad tracks so that after the coal had been sorted and processed it could be dumped directly into coal cars and transported to the end users, like the nearby steel mills.

    Fourth photo: Under one of the old conveyor belts that moved coal all around the plant they have recently built a pair of escalators to bring people up to the new visitors' center on the second floor. (Third floor to you.)

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  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Grillo Theater

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Grillo-Theater on a rainy morning
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    The Grillo Theater in downtown Essen is now the city's main venue for spoken drama, but for many years it served as the opera house while city officials were agonizing over whether to build Aalto's version.

    This theater was built from 1890 to 1892 with money bequeathed by a wealthy industrialist named Friedrich Grillo (1825-1888). It was in fact the first City Theater to be built in the Ruhr Valley area. (All the cities in this area are relatively new, since this was all sparsely settled farmland until the first railroads were built and coal mining started here in earnest around the middle of the nineteenth century.)

    The Grillo Theater was destroyed by bombings in 1944 and was rebuilt in a simplified form after the war. In 1950 it was reopened under the name "Opera House", which is what it remained until the opening of the Aalto-Theater in 1988.

    Second photo: This sign on the Grillo-Theater is entitled "Opera House".

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    Philharmonie

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Philharmonie concert hall in Essen
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    Right next to the Aalto-Theater there is a state-of-the-art concert hall called the Philharmonie, which is the home of the Essen Philharmonic Orchestra and also a venue for numerous visiting orchestras, chamber music ensembles and choirs.

    The current building is the third concert hall on this site. The first one was a wooden building that was built in 1864, at a time when the coal mines were quite new and were starting to bring prosperity to the new city of Essen, or at least to a small upper class of wealthy mine-owners and industrialists. A second, more substantial concert hall was built on the same site in 1904, but was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

    The current concert hall was inaugurated in 1950, and still looks the same now as it did then, but only from the outside. Since 2002 they have been completely rebuilding the inside to bring it up to 21st century standards, not only for concerts, but also for conventions and conferences.

    Second photo: The Philharmonie as seen from the terrace of the nearby Aalto-Theater.

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  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Aalto's wall sculptures

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Aalto
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    I keep reminding myself that Aalto designed these abstract wall sculptures in 1958, along with the rest of the building. I don't know if he had anything particular in mind, perhaps having curved forms that reach up towards the sky, or perhaps organ pipes.

    To me, though, they look like those famous photos of the remaining girders that were left over after the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed on 9/11. But since Aalto died in 1976 he couldn't have known what would happen a quarter century later in 2001.

    Second photo: The wall sculptures as seen from the third balcony.

    Third photo: The three balconies of the Aalto-Theater.

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    Operas in the Aalto-Theater

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Looking down at the orchestra pit
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    The Aalto-Theater is a quite busy opera house. In a typical week they might have up to five performances of three different operas, so whenever you go to Essen you have a good chance of seeing an opera or two.

    And if that isn't enough, the adjoining city of Gelsenkirchen also has a full-scale opera house that is a mere nine kilometers away as the crow flies -- and still only fifteen kilometers if you follow the tram tracks on your bicycle like I did.

    Second photo: Musicians tuning up before the performance of Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers at the Aalto-Theater.

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    Aalto-Theater

    by Nemorino Updated Dec 25, 2011

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    1. Aalto-Theater (with city bike)
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    In 1958 the city of Essen conducted an architects' competition to design a modern new opera house. The winner was the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976).

    Of course just winning a competition is no guarantee that your design will actually be built. The German cities of Leipzig and Kassel both held architects' competitions for new opera houses in the 1950s, and neither of them actually managed to build the winning design.

    For a long time it looked as though Aalto's design for Essen was going to have the same fate, but then in the 1980s they started getting their act together and began building Aalto's opera house under the artistic direction of his widow Elissa Aalto. In 1988, a mere thirty years after the original competition, the building was inaugurated with a performance of Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

    Additional photos: People in the lobby of the Aalto-Theater.

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  • BillNJ's Profile Photo

    See a performance at the Grillo Theater

    by BillNJ Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    In the early 1890's, an industrialist named Friedrich Grillo donated a theater to the city of Essen which bears his name. In World War II, the theater was destroyed by Allied bombing. After the war, it was rebuilt in a simplified form.

    Today, the Grillo Theater is the primary playhouse in Essen. With this tip, I have included the link to a website (in German) which provides information about current and upcoming peformances.

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    zollverein

    by dila Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    zollverein

    http://www.zollverein.de/
    Zollverein Touristik
    Essener Straße 11
    45141 Essen
    Tel. +49 (0)201 – 860 59 40
    Fax +49 (0)201 – 860 59 44
    info@zollverein-touristik.de

    Office Hours:
    Mon.-Wed. 9.00-16.00 Uhr
    Thu. 9.00-18.00 Uhr
    Fri. 9.00-14.00 Uhr

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    Red Dot Design Museum

    by Bigs Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Inside the old boiler house

    This Design Museum is situated in the old boiler house of the Zeche Zollverein. Fortunately the architects left some of the former design in here. I think they found a good mix with the old architecture and the new Design Exhibits in here.... I want to visit it on my next visit in Essen....

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  • Kathrin_E's Profile Photo

    Grillo Theatre

    by Kathrin_E Written Sep 14, 2010

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    Grillo-Theater, modern facade
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    Essen was the first city in the Ruhr District to have a theatre building. Compared to the old cultural centres, though, this happened rather late. In 1887 the local businessman Friedrich Grillo promised to donate the money to have the theatre built. He died soon after but his widow kept his promise. The best architect for theatres in Germany, Heinrich Seeling from Berlin, was hired to provide the design. The old theatre was a pompous building with a dome, a neoclassical facade and wide stairs.

    In World War II the theatre was almost completely destroyed but rebuilt soon. In 1950 the first performances after the war took place. The post-war theatre, now named after the founder, is simpler in its decorum. The side and back facades show the style of historism while the main facade is a plain, modern 1950s architecture. The Grillo-Theater is mostly used for spoken drama aka plays. Opera and ballet are performed in the Aalto-Theater.

    Photo 4: During the summer holidays, the front showed this witty advertisement for the next season. It is a pun about the name of the city: "Essen" = "food". It can be understood as: "Don't play with Essen (the city)" or "Don't play with food". The three photos underneath depict a guy with glasses and sholder covers made from bacon slices, a woman with tomatoes in her eyes and mouth, and a person with a wig of spaghetti.

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