Essen is the 2nd largest city in the Ruhr area (Germany’s largest urban area), 4th largest in North Rhine-Westphalia and Germany’s 9th largest. Essen is an important industrial city.
Since Essen was home to the Thyssen weapon factory in the 1940s, 90% of the city center was destroyed during 270 different bombings by the allied forces during WWII! The result is that most of the architecture today is modern. Essen has several modernist highrises and skyscrapers. Many of them are quite dull and grey but there are some examples of more cool architecture:
North of the tracks is RWE-Hochhaus, that currently changed name to Westenergie-Turm, at 120m (162) to the antenna, one of the more interesting skyscrapers and the tallest building in the city, built in 1997. Rathaus (The City Hall) is a from the above cross shaped 106m tall glas skyscraper from 1979. Postbank from 1968 is the 2nd tallest building, also right in the center, Essen Mitte. The large number of tall buildings is also because Essen is home to many companies headquarters or partial HQ, for example ThyssenKrupp, RWE, Schenker, EON and Hochtief. Essen is home to the old Folkwang University of the Arts. When you enter Essen from the modernist railway station, Essen Hauptbahnhof, that is elevated one floor above the ground, you see a large retro billboard with the sign “Essen –die Folkwangstadt”. This place in front of the station is called Willy-Brandt-Platz. The station divides the city in two, the city center is on the South side. Immediately when you leave the city center, Essen feels like a small city. Essen has two TV towers Fernmeldeturm Essen and Fernmeldeturm Eisenberg.
Old Synagogue (Alte Synagogue) is almost intact and one of Germany’s largest. It was consecrated in 1913 and is in Byzantine style. As with most other synagogues in Europe, police cars are guarding ithe building constantly. It is situated North of the tracks. Rathaus Galerie Essen is a large shopping mall built in 1979 that goes underneath the City Hall, with 80 stores. Elevators takes you down to the road underneath, thas has several bus stops. The city plan of Essen is more American then European.
Kettwiger Strasse is the main pedestrian street that goes through the city center and has brand stores and restaurant. The cathedral, Essener Dom, is very beautiful and situated along this street. It is the seat of the roman catholic bishop and was built in gothic style in 1275, but rebuilt after the WWII bombings. It contains the Golden Madonna, the oldest fully sculptural figure of Mary north of the Alps. Gothic impressive arches leads to a beautiful courtyard, part of a cloiser. Marktkirche (Market Church) is another church, it is situated in the end of Kettwiger Strasse. Kennedyplatz is a busy square with outdoor seatings and a small mini beach summertime. Grillo-Teater is a pink theater building. In the West end of the city center is the large, modern shopping mall Limbecker Platz that opened in 2008 and has over 200 stores.
Essen has a high percent born in foreign countries. Essen means “eating” in German, but that is not the meaning of the name.
In the South part, Werden and Kettwig are two beautiful districts that once were towns of their own. They have many old buildings and look completely different then central Essen.
Grugapark is a park and botanical garden in the Southern outskirts where you find a very colourful and special Ronald McDonald House by the famous Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, as well as waterfalls, a mini train, a concert hall and music pavilions. Near the park is Messe Essen, Germany’s 9th largest exhibition center.
Essen isn’t pretty. It’s industrial character, it’s lack of old buildings due to bombings and problems with crime and unemployment make the city not exactly popular among tourists, or as a place to live.
But with less then an hour to other large cities like Cologne, Düsseldorf, Duisburg and Dortmund it is easy to visit Essen. The day I visited Essen it was sunny and extremely hot, about 38 degrees C and on top of that the air is very thick due to the many industries!
Many homeless people, people taking drugs, and even in broad daylight the police caught or chased criminals. Part of the Autobahn also partially goes right through the city, partly underground.
But the pedestrian street is nice, the city has a nice skyline due to it’s many tall buildings, Germany’s most beautiful synagogue and one of the most impressive churches. Essen also has nice yellow trams (and yellow buses), it has hilly streets and a mini beach right at a square in the city center! And it still has Woolwoorth’s (this was the first time I visited this cheap department store chain, that has left the US since many years ago).
So despite all that, I like Essen. But only the city center, the part North of the tracks is completely abandoned. Some suburbs and outskrits are also completely different with villas and parks, and there is a nice hilly townhouse quarter just behind the City Hall. Essen is the “Detroit of Germany”. Essen has just like Detroit risen from ashes several times.
I vistited Essen for a couple of hours as a part of the 9 euro train trip, a stop between Dortmund and Bonn.
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