The center of Essen has few building worth of interest, being mostly a shopping/drinking multi-culti area. As you exist the train station to visit the Dom, you can see this building on your right.
On your left, an interesting example of constructivist-expressionist facade. This building covers a whole block, check the back also. Inside, a contemporary shopping arcade allows you to to see the courtyard, through the glass roof.
Right accross, Deutschland Haus – a stark modernism. And you thought the Lipstick Building in NY was groundbreaking….
I started walking in the opposite direction from the center, towards the Folkwang museum. There is a cultural piazza with the theater, the Philarmonie, along Huyssen Alee.
The GlückaufHaus, 1923, was a building housing city offices. Now, beautifully restored, shows the particular manner of rendering details in the Neue Sachlichkeit. On the door you can see renderings of coal fragments, the wealth of the Ruhr region.
More info on the building here.The old, elegant area of Essen is south-west of the train station. As you walk further south, away from the Folkwang museum, a paved street with cafes and Art Nouveau houses awaits you, Alfred strasse.
But, let’s talk about the main attraction in Essen, the mining complex at Zeche Zollverein. the tram 107 drops you there from the GlückaufHaus or from the Hauptbahnhof. Perfectly restored, this huge area of industrial buildings was converted into a cultural mine. Two buildings are open to the public: the big Ruhr Museum and the Red Dot Design Museum. The rest are performance venues, residencies, studios etc that you can visit only with a guided tour. The reconversion of these spaces took place when Essen was European capital of Culture in 2010. It’s part of the strategy to shift the development of the Ruhr from coal extraction and exploitation, to tertiary industry. If you can take the political and administrative empty talking, read this document.
This building makes Tate Modern look like a summer pavilion. Orientation is not very easy because you are surrounded by buildings. A tired guy with relative English in an Information booth is not very helpful to help you find your way in this cluster. He just answers your questions, nothing more.
You must take the escalator to access this museum, that can keep you busy for hours (open till 8 pm, which helps). Once you enter, another puzzle to solve. There are many circuits in this huge building, not easy to understand. Only after 2 hours spent there, I could get a global image of it. Most visitors go right, attracted by the huge coal-washing plant. Once you cross it, you have two options : to go on the Panorama circuit, above the engines and conveyors, then to the roof, or to go downstairs into the temporary exhibitions. Alternatively, from the entrance, go left and down, to visit the museum.
The temporary exhibitions are designed with the latest trends in museum studies in mind. Nature is culture, so fossils and rocks are shown along objects of the people who lived there, objects that tell a story. An interdisciplinary exhibition shows you the peculiarities of the Ruhr region : demographics, architecture, hobbies…in a very interesting way, which is quite rare in society museums.
The museum is huge and required a lot of motivation. It starts with the dynosaurus skeletons found in the area, with the formation of the coal reserves, then continues with the first coal extraction, telling the stories of the mining communities and their life accross the centuries. You can see objects, photos, letters, furniture, train compartments…
Name dropping : Renzo Piano is mentioned as a consultant for this museum. I was planning to visit it from 7 to 8h, but it closed at 6h. After what I saw on the web, I don’t think I missed too much.