First-time visitors expecting vistas of belching chimneys are likely to be surprised by Essen, for the Ruhr’s “secret capital” is a modern, unashamedly commercial city with a modest forest of office towers and a vast central shopping zone. Though it contests with Dortmund the status of biggest city in the Ruhr, Essen is the one with the unmistakable big-city feel, and it’s this, as much as its central position in the region, that gives it an edge over its rival. It’s an enjoyable place to spend a day or two, with plenty of high culture, a smattering of interesting sights including one UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a lively nightlife scene.
Basic orientation is straightforward: the city centre is immediately north of the Hauptbahnhof, with the main cultural zone to the south; further south still is some of the most enticing eating, drinking and sightseeing, while the gritty north preserves reminders of the city’s industrial greatness.Read More
The superb Museum Folkwang is reason enough for a visit to Essen. David Chipperfield’s coolly understated modernist extension – which opened in 2010 – has created a series of spacious galleries grouped around serene internal gardens; the new building seamlessly incorporates the old, with separate areas devoted to nineteenth-and twentieth-century art, contemporary art, graphic art and temporary exhibitions.
The collection’s undoubted highlight is the nineteenth- and twentieth-century section, kicking off with the Romantic period and works by Caspar David Friedrich and Karl Friedrich Schinkel before romping through a treasure-trove of French Impressionists and post-Impressionists: paintings include some wonderful late Van Goghs, Cézanne’s Le Carré de Bibémus and Signac’s pointilliste Le Pont des Arts. German Expressionist works include Schmidt-Rottluff’s spiky Leipziger Strasse with Electric Tram from 1914 and the near-abstract Forms at Play by Franz Marc, painted the same year. The roll call of modernist greats continues with works by Braque, Léger, Picasso, Beckmann and Kandinsky; post-1945 highlights include work by Mark Rothko, Yves Klein and Gerhard Richter.
From comedy to Krupp
From comedy to Krupp
For many Germans, Essen’s best-known son is Heinz Rühmann (1902–94), Germany’s greatest screen comic, whose extraordinary film career spanned the Weimar Republic, Third Reich, Cold War and post-reunification eras and whose best-loved film – the school comedy Die Feuerzangenbowle – still enjoys Rocky Horror-style cult status more than sixty years after it was first shown. For the rest of the world, however, the city’s name is synonymous with that of the Krupp family, the powerful steel-to-armaments dynasty whose rise mirrored the city’s own ascent to industrial greatness during the nineteenth century, and whose commercial genius and questionable political judgement accurately reflect the experience of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century.