Campina is halfway between a resort and a town. An ideal day trip, one hour by train from Bucharest. Although rich urban people built the usual redundant ugly residence with balconies and satellite dish, the old center retains most of the old constructions. The town was very cosmopolitan at the beginning of the XXth century : Germans, Austrians, Italians, Jews lived here, some of them brought by the oil drills. People have kept their houses and their taste up to now. The courtyards are not paved, but covered in grass. Of course, that old Romanian passion – the hysterically barking dog – resurfaces here, too, behind the fences. Some other people had the decency to leave their house as it was and play low on the garden.
A 15 min walk in Campina is like a reading concise history of early XXth century architecture. The streets are well kept (for Romanian standards) and not too busy. Contemporary builders should learn from their modernist predecessors that a good house is not a big house, but one where you can find your way, where you can relate to its volume by being inside.
Hardcore modernism was short-lived, even here. The late 30s and early 40s witnessed a vast array of byzantine, tuscan, florentine and venetian reinterpretations. After so much artificial beauty, finish your day with some good quality nature. No, this is not England, it’s a small neighborhood above the Campina train station.
I am not talking about Paris intra-muros, which keeps its haussmanian character untouched, with no buildings higher than 10 floors, but about the “villes nouvelles” the suburbs built from scratch following the corbusian separation of car and pedestrian traffic, eliminating one thing the French can manage perfectly : the street ! These sites are usualyy the terminus of subway lines, hard to reach if visiting Paris is for you walking from Notre Dame to Concorde.
Creteil was an urban experiment which benefited from almost unlimited budget, because the Prefet was a war comorade with de Gaulle. The town is composed by five islands, separated by highways. Wach architect enjoyed some degree of freedom in playing with high and low rises, designing the public facilities.
I shouldn’t be unfair with Paris. One “ville sur dalle”, a town built on a concrete slab is Beaugrenelle. Luckily, it did not fall into dissaray, becoming a social housing suburb like Bobigny. The towers have expensive apartments and offices. Still, in winter, some people break a few hips sliding on the beautiful vintage tiles of the terraces.
I am not sure I would like to spend my life in Düsseldorf, but, so far, it’s the most enjoyable place I’ve been in Germany. The old town, along the Rhine, has an unmistakable Dutch character. A splendid position on the Rhine offers magnificent sunsets and the gas light extends the Flemmish painting charm late into the night. Intelligent urbanism made the river promenade an airy and pleasant urban space. The interesting area i am talking about stretches along the Rhine, for a few blocks inwards, up to Beliner Alee. The rest is mostly 60s and 80s concrete boxes clad in glass. The narrow streets bordered by shiny facades along Kö made me think of Milan. The legendary Warenhaus Tietz (now Kaufhof) by Olbrich was under renovation, so you have to rely on your books for pictures.
Going north along the Rhine I discovered a homogeneous area of brick expressionist-modernist buildings, on Kaiserwerther, Uerdinger, Orsoyer streets, built by William Dunkel in 1928. Modernism doesn’t mean always flat white walls… Going a bit further north on the river, a garden city Siedlung shows the housing ideals of the 20s. English-style cottages with front and back gardens. Notice the curving of the streets and the slightly rounded corners of the garden walls.
Continuing the trip, you reach the Nortdpark, designed according the indications of the Nazi regime. Statues of German peasants, workers etc. were displayed along the fountain as an example. Four of them still survive. As you walk, there is a note in German only explaining the whole story.
The Tonhalle/Ehrenhof area is my favourite spot in Düsseldorf. There you can really feel the influence that architecture on your mood. Straight lines, beautiful proportions with an inspiration from Assirian palaces give you clarity of mind.
No nouveau riche could miss Königs Allee, the shopping street with the well-known international brands, from Zara to Chanel. Just like the Champs-Elysees, on the shady side you have the banks, on the other side – shops and cafes. And the same shoppers, eager to acquire social status by showing a golden buckle on their shoes. I prefer going there at night, to admire in silence the reflection of the maple trees in the canal. Then, you fell connected to the XIXth century, to the bourgeoisie traveling from Karlsbad to Budapest, from Merano to Lago di Garda. Interesting zoomorphic wrought iron balustrades.
The city has an rich ceramic museum, open late on Wed, but the lighting is problematic. Interesting Art Nouveau French vases, some contemporary ‘tongue-in-cheek’ reproductions of daily objects and a vast array of aristocratic tableware coming from local princesses and duchesses.
Bonn always resonated in my mind with spy exchange, Cold War scenarios sen at the War Museum in Ottawa when Warsaw Pact tanks were taking over Western Europe in 24 hours.
I experienced quite the opposite : immense sadness. Not misery, poverty, decay, just dull sadness. Uninteresting faces, uninteresting buildings, hibernation in august. Not a recommended stop on your itinerary.
A romanesque Munster Dom with a cloister, 5 min from the Bahnhof deserve your attention.
A bit further, you can find the Hofgarten with its alleys worth of Last Year in Marienbad. As I left the Munster Dom, a pseudo-gothic church draw my attention, across the Hofgarten. The actual building was a 1954 reconstruction. Outside it has a gothic allure, but inside it’s a bit more daring.
As you walk from the Hofgarten to Juridicum and Adenauer Alee you might notice a few interesting buildings.
On Konrad Adenauer Alee were the important buildings of the former West Germany. Nothing to write home about. More of a suburban atmosphere. The administration must feel traumatised after moving to Berlin, which seem busy as New Delhi, in comparison.
Another worthy stop in Bonn is the Kunst museum. Good collection of modern and contemporary German art: Beys, Fichly & Weiss…. But, in this museum you feel the Cold War is not over. Museum security tends to be rather paranoid in Germany ( a guy with wooden heels followed me 3 meters behind in Stadtmuseum Dusseldorf, banging his beet like a woodpecker). Not to mention the arrogance of the cloakroom attendants in the National Gallery in Berlin or the coldness of the cashiers in the Pinakothek der Moderne Munich. In the Bonn Kunstmuseum you are at fault all the time: my small shoulder bag was not in the right position (in fron, bitte ! not on the side). In another room, a lady saw me writing with a pen and she came to me saying I am not allowed to hold a pen in my hand, just a pencil.
In the juxtaposed Kunsthalle (2 minor exhibitions not worth mentioning) I wanted to see the famous biodiversity plain transfered on the roof by Helen & Newton Harrison, two artists that were part of my MA research. No, you can’t go without a ticket ! I go again to the ticket booth : No, kein Ticket mehr, no more ticket, finished ! (two hours before closing time). I decided to face the adversities and take the elevator to the roof. No, stop ! No ticket, no access ! They started to look for someone who understood English and my request for access as a journalist. Finally, someone handed me an extra ticket and things went back to normal, I mean the personnel didn’t have to think and make a decision in a unexpected situation. No risk here, just human programmed to do tasks.
People go to visit churches in remote places because a saint was there and some bones are displayed, because miracles happened, or because you go to heaven if you do so…I went to Gelsenkirchen to visit Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche by Josef Franke, a landmark for expressionist architecture. Gelsenkirchen appears now as a not-so-prosperous town with unsafe suburbs, but, between the wars, it was a rich dynamic place.
Of course, this church was closed, too. Nobody answered the number shown outside. I chatted with a lady from the community center that gave me some information about other brick buildings in the town. She didn’t know when th ebuilding will b eopen, since it is not in use anymore. Ironically, she said it might be converted into a mosque, taking into account the neighborhood. I wouldn’t mind, as long as the muslims will keep the building open to the public, endeavour at which the christians failed.
The church is surrounded by a kindergarden.
The brochure I got a t the community centre at the left of the church indicated some other buildings in the brick expressionist style.
There are two reasons to visit Bochum : you are a fan of coal mining or you do a Ph. D. in Hans Scharoun.
Johanneskirche by Scharoun, like many churches in Germany, was closed when I tried to visit it. On their website, they were whining and asking for donations..well, if you ask for money to maintain this building, at least keep it open. I called the diocese number, but, as always, I got an answering machine. People are too busy with heavenly duties to take care of the terrestrial ones. Read more about the building here.
I was luckier with a church in the center Christuskirche, An der Christuskirche 1, but you will find it easier where the Westring 18 meets the broad pedestrian street in the center. I rang a bell at the municipal office next to the church and people helped me get in. Read this useful site about the architecture in Ruhr.
I never thought I would enjoy the Bergbau Museum in Bochum so much. I just went there because of my tyrannic SupraEgo which doesn’t allow me to miss anything. It was very close to the precedent church, so I biked a few minutes. What a treat ! The entrance looks lik efrom a 50s museum in eastern Europe. But inside, an abundance of machines explaining how to pump out the coal, how to dig galleries, to reinforce pits…Of course, the explanations are only in German, as always. The museum is a bit old and dusty, but feels even more authentic.
This museum offers the most imersive experience : a visit in a mine gallery.
From hell to heaven….
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.