Essen is a city with spectacular architecture and strong urban development. As the ninth largest city in Germany, there are plenty of things to do. Here we’ve highlighted some of the best ways to discover the secrets and successes of the ‘black gold’ Ruhr Region.
Zollverein XII is a former industrial coal mine, established in 1846 and operational for a further 140 years. Often referred to as ‘the most beautiful coal mine in the world,’ it represents a time of prosperity and architectural evolution and it is recognized as a World Heritage Site. Considered a masterpiece of Bauhaus architecture, designed by architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, it was the last remaining active coal mine to close in Essen and, supported by various organizations, is now open to the public with tours, events and exhibitions suitable for the whole family.
Part of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, the Ruhr Museum investigates how Essen’s heavily industrial way of life came to pass. Housed in the old coal washing plant is a permanent exhibition examining the industrial journey of the Ruhr region, presenting the myths, pictures and phenomena of the Ruhr Area, the enormity of the geological history, the long history of industrialization, and considers its consequences and the perspectives for the future.
The third activity centre to be found in the Zollverein Complex, The Red Dot Design Museum celebrates the greatest in design breakthroughs of the industrial age. Winners of the Red Dot Design Award will find their products housed in the museum, in exhibitions celebrating the greatest achievements in industrial design. Housing over 1,000 products from designers and manufacturers all around the world, the products that reach Red Dot are united by excellence in design, functionality and innovation. In the permanent exhibition, visitors can learn about the development of Apple’s award winning products, and there are dozens of temporary exhibitions exploring the development of cars, furniture, bicycles, light and sound installation and much more.
Grugapark and the Botanic Garden are an oasis of tranquillity and natural beauty right in the heart of Essen. The Botanical Garden was established as a scientific planting experiment in 1927 and is now home to hundreds of plants and flowers, including the largest collection of conifers in Europe. Highlights include a medieval-style herb garden, a Mediterranean orangery and Rose Garden complete with picturesque water lily pond. It is also home to the fantastical Ronald McDonald House, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 2005 and part of the Ronald McDonald House Charity.
Despite losing over 1200 pieces of art following the Nazi purge of ‘degenerate art’ in 1937, Museum Folkwang still holds one of the world’s major collections of 19th and 20th century artwork, including internationally renowned pieces from romanticism, late classicism, realism and impressionism. The gallery has its own photography wing, and a rather impressive extension designed by David Chipperfield Architects, as winners of the Essen 2007 International Architecture Competition. With a café/restaurant, library, bookshop, and educational workshops for children and young adults, Museum Folkwang is a full day of culture and inspiration in the heart of Essen.
What’s the only thing that could improve a lovely, quaint café, already serving a large selection of teas, coffees, wines, beers and homemade snacks? Why, books of course! And that’s exactly what earns Café Livres a coveted spot on this top 10 list. The décor is French, the food is German, and the large collection of books come from all over the world. Truly, this is an international sanctuary of culture, inspiration, and ideas. Even the menus are books!
Opening hours: Tue to Thu 9am – 9pm, Fri 9am – 10 pm, Sat 10am – 10pm, Sun 10am – 8 pm
The exquisite curved and asymmetric architecture of the Aalto Theater was born from the imagination of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, who conceptualized the theater in 1959. Building only began 30 years later, 7 years after his death. The theater is characterized by its non-geometric forms and curved shapes that showcase a flowing structure, inspired by nature and exquisite to behold. Considered the largest opera house in all German speaking countries, the 1750 square meter stage area contains one main stage and two additional smaller ones. It can accommodate 100 musicians on an impressive six orchestra platform.
Paradise for water sports enthusiasts and trail wanderers, Baldeneysee is used for leisure activities all year long. Standing at the intersection of manmade and nature, Baldeneysee was once a weir for water purification of the Ruhr River, and today it boasts a large bird sanctuary, and is a shelter for red-eared sliders.
An important part of Essen’s architectural masterpieces trail, Villa Hügel is a symbol of the successful industrialization of the Ruhr region. Designed in the late 19th century by the owner himself, Alfred Krupp dedicated three years to the construction of the Villa and more than 20 years of his life to design it, focusing on the grandeur of the 269 rooms and the 8,100 square meters of floor space. Apart from the magnificent location and the glamorous interiors, the Villa offers international exhibitions, including the historical Krupp Archive, which showcases impressive documents, photographs and films documenting the lives of that famous industrialist family.
A Spanish restaurant with an insatiable taste and passion for life and food, Viva-la-Vida is a petite but charming place to meet for gatherings and Mediterranean delights. The staff is all family, accustomed to both regulars and the curious. The atmosphere is as warm as the sun in July, bringing the Spanish soul all the way to Essen. The menu is as colorful as it gets and the taste is always fresh. The tapas are a definite highlight, made in the traditional Spanish manner and costing only three euros!
Opening hours: Tue to Sat 5pm – 11pm, Sun (Closed) to Monday 5pm – 11pm