Our Short Sweet Walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor

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There is, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, a time and a season for everything: a season for exhausting hikes through mountainous territory (spring, let’s say), a season for coastal walks with swimming wear in the backpack (that would be summer, of course), and a season for themed town walks in two halves with a boozy lunch in the middle (those lazy, hazy days of autumn).

But what about winter, specifically those couple of weeks either side of Christmas? This is the season for short, sweet trips with a bit of historical interest, to chase away festive stupor. Or for a walk in the park. Or for both, if you can manage to combine the two. Here is a suggestion of how to do exactly that.

"In Bugapark to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

The Ruhrgebiet, Germany’s old industrial heartland, still suffers from popular prejudice. Everybody expects it to be sooty and dark, full of smoking chimneys and abandoned red-brick factories. Almost everybody who risks a visit despite the bad PR, however, is then surprised to see how green the Ruhrgebiet actually is.

If you look a little deeper into the region’s history, you will find that its green spaces fall broadly into two categories: on the one hand, you have spaces that have always been green, fortresses of the bucolic or pastoral that were successfully defended against the tide of industrialization. While on the other hand, there are the spaces that have recently been re-greened because the old industries have no more need for them. In today’s walk, we shall see good examples for both types.

Our Walk in the Ruhr to Chase Away Festive Stupor

The walk begins at Schloss Horst in Gelsenkirchen. (Take the U11 tram from Essen or the SB 36 bus from Gelsenkirchen central station.) The castle of the same name, dating in parts from the 16th century, is one of the oldest buildings in the area and serves as a reminder that people have lived here long before the dawn of the industrial age. The castle and its surrounding park, however, represent local history only in a wider sense – as something that happened here long ago but not as something from which the present has grown in an organic fashion.

"Castle in Gelsenkirchen on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

To find that type of “history”, we have to cross the park and continue our walk down Schlossstrasse.

This is a typical working man’s area – lower middle class in flavour rather than hard-core working class, but then again, these lines have always been somewhat blurrier in Germany than elsewhere. If you cast a glimpse into the side streets, you will agree that this is by no means a pretty area, but also not entirely without charm. The town centres of the Ruhrgebiet are awful, but the region is full of little neighbourhoods such as this one that give you a much better idea of why so many local people are so attached to their home towns.

You can see the outstanding feature of the Nordsternpark – the Hercules statue that was erected by the artist Markus Lüpertz on top of the central building complex – from a considerable distance.

"view of Hercules statue of Nordsternpark on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

Resist the temptation of walking towards it, though, and access the park through the underpass on the far side of the roundabout. This way, you will walk straight into the administrative centre of what was once a proper little mining village: on your left hand side is the old payment office, on your right hand side the Knappschaft, the cooperative insurance company for coal miners, while straight ahead, you can see the pit head of the colliery where 3300 miners went down to work every day as recently as 1980.

"old colliery on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

The Nordstern colliery, once the northernmost in all of Germany (hence its name which means “Northern Star”), closed for good in 1993. As soon as the plans to shut down the coal mining operation were approved, an application to host a Federal Flower Show on its terrain was filed – successfully, as it turned out against all odds, and by 1997, the grounds had been completely converted into a garden (for the short term of the Show) and into a park for the long-term use by the city’s residents.

If you walk a little further towards your right hand side, you will find the area where the flower beds would once have stood.

"park for a Flower Show on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor""

To get the best views of this space, climb the Pyramid, itself a former feature of the industrial complex (a slagheap mountain).

"going up a slagheap mountain on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

You will also able to see that, while much of the old industrial infrastructure has been removed, the coal storage facility and a mixing plant (required for the production of coke) are still there and have been successfully integrated into the post-industrial “scenescape”.

"old colliery scenescape on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

Some of the colliery village’s old residential buildings have also been preserved. You can still spot them from the footbridge, together with their vegetable gardens in the back that never hosted fancy flower shows.

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Walk deeper into the park and cross the Emscher, once Germany’s (and perhaps the world’s) dirtiest river, a stinking cesspit full of human and industrial waste, but today cleaned up, spruced up and even re-natured along many a stretch.

"crossing the Emscher on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor"

The Rhein-Herne Canal, a few steps further, is still in use as a commercial and industrial waterway, although these days it serves mainly as a local recreation and leisure area. It is quite incredible how much the Ruhrgebiet has changed in just a few decades.

"crossing the Rhein-Herne Canal on a walk to Chase Away Festive Stupor""

Continue down the main foot path for another 15 minutes or so until you reach Lehrhovebruch street.

For your return, take bus SB 36 to Gelsenkirchen and then U11 to Essen which takes you through Essen-Katernberg (one of the area’s more charming colliery towns) and past the Zeche Zollverein, formerly the world’s largest coal mine. Today, it is a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But this is probably best left as a trip for another day.

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