North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Planes and trams and trains
14 people found this review helpful
My visit to Essen in Germany actually took place 7 years ago but I’d like to share my experience of the area, the different modes of travel and also to review in more detail the nearby Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex and Ruhr Museum, which I have done separately. I don’t think anything will have changed much since my visit, apart from the hotel (see below).
Essen in the Ruhr valley in North Rhine-Westphalia may seem a strange destination for a short break but I went there with my adult son, who was attending a Star Wars convention and needed some help putting on the costume he was going to wear for a competition of Star Wars characters’ costumes. We flew from London Gatwick to Dusseldorf on easyJet and then transferred very easily by train from the airport to Essen’s main railway station (Hauptbahnhof). Our hotel was directly opposite the station so we were ideally located for travelling around the city using the Stadtbahn, the local transport system, which is a mix of full underground and trams. I had read up about the transport before we arrived and learned that the U-Stadtbahn (underground) apparently partly runs on used London Docklands Light Railway stock (there’s lots more information online for railway enthusiasts). We each bought a 3 day travel pass from the nearby tourist office; each time we boarded a train or bus we had to swipe the card; there are no station staff making checks and no barriers but if you are caught by an inspector and you haven’t swiped your card then the fines can be heavy. I was very impressed with the cleanliness of the stations and the trains and felt safe and confident travelling alone. Our hotel was in the Mövenpick chain and was excellent but it has since changed hands and is now the Select Hotel Handeshof; obviously I don’t know what it is like now apart from its excellent location right opposite the station and on the corner of quiet, mainly pedestrianised streets. I hadn’t realised how hot it would be in Essen in July and was really glad to have booked a hotel with air conditioning.
We had good breakfasts there but at the time the hotel only had a fairly expensive steak restaurant on site so we decided to eat elsewhere in the evening. We mostly ate outside – there’s a thriving continental cafe culture – but all the menus were in German and we had a bit of difficulty working out what to order. However, when a young lady heard us speaking English she kindly helped us: we found throughout the time there that anybody young who heard us speak English were really friendly and asked us why we were visiting their city, as it is not really a holiday destination. We asked at hotel reception where we could find a restaurant that served German dishes and they recommended Pfefferkorn, which was nearby, and it turned out to have a good menu. They gave us a wine list with all the typical European wines on it but when I asked if I could have German wine a different list was found and I had really good Reisling with my fish, which was from the Frisian islands.
It is hard to tell where Essen starts and finishes as it’s in the centre of the Ruhr megalopolis. It’s home to the headquarters of several large companies due to its origins as a coal and steel producing area and trade fairs are regularly held in the Messe Essen, which is where the Star Wars convention was held. It was European City of Culture in 2010 (on behalf of the whole Ruhr area) and European Green Capital for 2017. It is also twinned with the city of Sunderland! It has several theatres, major concert halls and art galleries. On one day I spent a couple of hours in the Museum Folkwang, a modern gallery with collections of 19th and 20th century art and sculpture, and had coffee and cake in the small cafe there. On the first day the Star Wars convention opened I went along to see where it was being held; the journey on the underground with groups of Storm Troopers, Darth Vaders, Princess Leias and many other weird and wonderful characters was unforgettable. Next door to Messe Essen is the main entrance to Grugapark, a large area of municipal parkland that has picnic and barbecue areas, sports facilities, aviaries, important sculptures, a mini railway and lots more. It also houses a botanic garden affiliated to the University of Duisburg-Essen, so I spent most of the day exploring the gardens and tropical houses and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There are cafes and a pavilion for outdoor performances. There is an entry charge to Grugapark.
I wish I’d had time to visit more – the Essen Minster with its golden Madonna, the Cathedral Treasury, Margarethenhöhe (German’s first garden city) and Werden Old Town.
The city centre is not beautiful and most of the shops are typical high street names; all of them are closed on Sundays, the day I saw older people out and about in their traditional costume. We got up early on our last day, caught a train to Cologne, where we spent a couple of hours in and around the Cathedral before catching a Thalys high speed train to Brussels. We left our luggage at the station and spent several hours exploring, eating and drinking, before catching the last Eurostar train back to Ashford. My goodness, we were tired, but we’d had a wonderful travel experience.
14 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.