A city in the heart of the Ruhr region of North Rhine-Westphalia, Essen is one of the largest cities in Germany and the 2010 European Capital of Culture.
Founded in the 9th century, Essen grew as an industrial town focused on the iron works of the Krupp family. The town swiftly developed into a city, becoming one of Germany’s most important centers for coal and steel all the way until the second half of the 20th century.
Visit Zeche Zollverein, one of the shining beacons of the city’s industrial heritage, described as the most beautiful coal mine in the world and now established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the building, famed for its Bauhaus style, plays host to cultural and artistic institutions from museums to a design center. Elsewhere you can explore the Villa Hügel, which was once the family chateau of the city’s Krupp family, a 269-room mansion which now serves as an art history museum and concert venue.
Elsewhere, the Folkwang Museum provides a great day out, with exhibits spanning the long history of photography and with a gallery bringing together paintings from many different periods. The Aalto Theater and opera house is another fine venue and an architectural marvel not to be missed.
Take a trip to Essen Minster and enjoy this great piece of Gothic architecture made from light sandstone. Inside you’ll find precious exhibits such as the Golden Madonna of Essen which is over a thousand years old and the oldest known free-standing Madonna sculpture north of the Alps.
A rather more modern religious building, constructed in 1913 as the New Synagogue (now known as the Old Synagogue), was the central place of worship for the Jewish community in Essen before the war. It is still renowned as one of the finest examples of Jewish culture and architecture to be found from pre-1930s Germany.
Head to the south of the city to explore the boroughs of Kettwig and Werden which have preserved their traditional and iconic local character, with buildings dating back thousands of years, including the church of Werden Abbey, St. Ludgerus, which was designated a papal basilica minor two decades ago.
Though undoubtedly an old industrial city, Essen has been rejuvenated with thriving modern culture.