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Essen: Well worth a visit!

Statue for Mining in Essen I spent last weekend in Essen with a friend.

The raison d’être for the trip was the Zollverein, a coal mine that has been turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m that kind of weird.

Last October I visited the Völklinger Hütte near Saarbrücken, a steel mill turned UNESCO World Heritage Site. I never blogged about it (it happened during one of my non-blogging moods) – but it was hugely disappointing. Perhaps I will post my thoughts about it soon. Saarbrücken rocked, I would happily go back, I just wouldn’t bother to go near the Völklinger Hütte again.

Saturday morning we started by visiting the Museum Folkwang, which is a free and excellent art museum located in the heart of Essen. There were some excellent bits and bobs in the museum, and we managed to arrive on the opening day of “Expressionisten am Folkwang” – which showcased some of the museum’s best bits from the collections (and, to be fair, some completely and totally forgettable pieces of crap – in my humble opinion).

Slides at Museum Folkwang

After that we made our way to the Zollverein, where we wandered around much of the grounds.

We’d originally planned to visit the Red Dot Design Museum, but when the cashier started providing a lecture about the rules of the museum that took more than five minutes (in German), saying things like, “this is not a playground” and then itemizing several things you couldn’t touch, etc…, I had enough: if a design museum has to provide lengthy, detailed instructions on how to visit the museum, then its design has completely and utterly failed. One would hope that a design museum would be, largely, intuitively designed. After all, good design is 99% invisible.

Zollverein

The wander around the grounds turned out to be a good introduction to the facility: it allowed us to wander past most of the coking facility – a ginormous building/structure behind the mining facilities. Most of the questions we had about this facility were subsequently answered when we took the guided tour (in English) later in the afternoon.

Zollverein - Coking Plant

For a coal mine, by the way, its buildings were very pretty – steel framed construction with a curtain of bricks.

The guided tour lasted about an hour and was given by a retired school teacher whose father had worked in the mines.

This was not my first coal mine: I’ve actually visited two area mines in back in Wyoming, where the earth is stripped off the top of the coal, then a very thick seam of coal is blasted to smithereens and then transported off for processing and onward shipment.

Unlike my first coal mines, this mine was down a shaft and the seam of coal was, as I recall, only 1.5 meters thick, which is tiny compared to the ones in Wyoming.

The tour was comprehensive: our guide talked about the community surrounding the coal mine, then we climbed to the top, saw where coal was initially processed, sorted, and (if of the right quality) sent on a conveyor belt to the coking facility.

Patron Saint of Mining

When it was all said and done, on Saturday I walked 24,500 steps – I slept like a baby.

But before I close, I must note that the Essen in Essen was excellent: we ate at a French bistro on Friday evening and had a lovely Vietnamese meal on Saturday.

I would go back to Essen.

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