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Germany's Undiscovered Alternative to Berlin

Updated on June 3, 2014

Breaking the Mold

Yes Berlin is hip and should still be on most visitors itinerary for a visit to Germany. But if you have done Berlin and are looking a place a little bit more authentically German, then you should consider the Ruhrgebiet, or Ruhr for short. The Ruhr is conveniently located close to the Netherlands, Dusseldorf and Cologne, so it is easy to add a couple of days to another destination.

I am currently an American living in Essen a city in the Ruhr. When I first met my husband and he told me that he was from the Ruhr, I had no idea what he was talking about. Don't get me wrong, I had lived and studied in London and done the obligatory trips around the continent, but I had no idea what the Ruhr even was. Fast forward five years and I can now say that I am a proud member of the Ruhr community and I love to share this part of Germany with others.

If you are interested in getting a greater understanding of what helps to make modern Germany tick, then the Ruhr is a great place to visit. Sometimes referred to as the industrial heartland of Germany the Ruhr has changed and shifted over time. For example after World War 2, the Ruhr with mining and the steel industry helped to modernize Germany into the industrial powerhouse that it still is today. Today the Ruhr has diversified into a number of different industries, but has still managed to maintain some of its roots.

The Ruhr area has over 12 million people and is actually the 5th largest urban area in all of Europe. The great thing about the Ruhr is that it is made up of different cities, with each city having its own character. The Ruhr has a little something for everyone to discover.


Downtown Essen



Essen is my current hometown and always close to my heart, It is a city of approximately 575,000 people that is located at the heart of the Ruhr region. In many ways it sums up the region.

The name Essen literally translates as Food in German, which can make for interesting conversations, so make sure that you specify Stadt Essen or city Essen. The history of mining in Essen dates back to the 14th century. As this coal and other minerals where brought on the market, Essen also became known for steel and weapons. The biggest imprint on the city was by the famous Krupp family, who founded Germany's first cast steel mill in 1811 and helped to lead the industrialization of the city.

Because Essen was an industrial center, it is no surprise that during World War II, the city was heavily bombed by the allied forces. During this time approximately 90% of the city center and 60% of the suburbs were destroyed. Even today in Essen it is not unusual for the remnants of exploded bombs to be found when there is a new construction project going on. Recently we had a few in my neighborhood and it definitely helps you to remember that you are living in a place with a lot of history.

Top Essen Attractions

The Zollverein Pit
UNESCO World Heritage Site that explores the history of mining in Essen
The Folkwang Museum
Largest cutting edge museum in the area with great rotating exihibits
Gruga Park/Ruttenscheid
One the largest inner city parks in Germany. Located near the hipster neighborhood of Ruttenscheid.
Huge lake located in the south of the city. Great outdoor and water activities.

Essen Attractions

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen:
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, Essen, Germany

get directions

Museum Folkwang, Essen:
Museum Folkwang, Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen, Germany

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Baldeneysee, Essen:
Baldeneysee, Essen, Germany

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Gruga Park, Essen:
Grugapark, Virchowstr. 167 a, 45147 Essen, Germany

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Getting to and from Essen

Fortunately Essen is easy to get both to and from with multiple public transportation options. The city is connected to the German Autobahn network; however, I would advice against a car in Essen due to traffic. Unless you really just have to get in your German Autobahn driving.

Public Transit within Essen is run by the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR). Good news is that their website as well as all of the ticket dispensers are available in English as well as a variety of other languages. Within the city there are buses, trams, and a subway system. All are run by the same company which makes for easy transfers between them. Additionally, if you know the name of your stop, it is usually announced or displayed, which makes it easy to know when to hop off. Just remember that you need to stamp your ticket when you enter the bus/tram/subway and that there are fare collectors who do occasional ticket checks.

The closest major airport to Essen is Dusseldorf International, which is about 30 minutes drive away. Additionally, the airport can be reached by using the S-Bahn network. Dusseldorf has a large number of flights from all of Europe and some non-stop flights to the USA. Personal travel tip, is to try to get a non-stop flight from the US to Dusseldorf, the airport is much easier to navigate than Frankfurt or Munich and can have some great deals.

Finally, and my favorite option is to take the train. The Essen Haupbahnhof or main train station is conveniently located in the middle of the city and makes it easy to hit the ground running. The train station is well connected to the German rail network as well as offers connections to the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

History of Coal Mining in Essen


More Information and Links

Essen Tourism :

Deutsch Bahn:

Museum Folkwang:

Essen Zollverein :

Gruga Park:

Essen City Center


© 2014 Carolyn Allebrodt


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