"Opera and cycling (and coal-mining) in Essen" Top 5 Page for this destination Essen by Nemorino

Essen Travel Guide: 217 reviews and 773 photos

Touring the Zollverein World Heritage site

The UNESCO World Heritage site Zollverein Shaft XII is an easy bicycle ride from the center of Essen -- only about five kilometers from the Aalto-Theater, for example. It's best to reserve a tour in advance, but I was lucky because I arrived at the Visitors' Center without a reservation a few minutes before eleven on a Sunday morning and found that there was exactly one place free on a tour that was leaving on the hour.

The tour was like a crash course in coal-mining, led by a man who obviously knew the colliery like the back of his hand, but he couldn't have been a miner because he was over sixty, and miners didn't live that long. Also no miner ever set foot in this compound, known locally as the Forbidden City, because Shaft XII was designed exclusively for the purpose of bringing up huge amounts of coal in wheeled tubs, and sending the empty tubs back down again. Nearby there were four older shafts that were used for transporting the miners and their equipment.

Long before I ever toured the Zollverein colliery in Essen, there was another phase of my life in which I was very interested in coal mining, and that was during the United Mine Workers strike of 1948. I was eight years old at the time and was just starting to realize that there were other pages in the newspaper besides the funnies.

We didn't subscribe to a newspaper, but my father bought the Chicago Daily News every day after work at the C&NW station and read it on the train. When he got home I eagerly snatched the paper from his hand, threw it and myself down on the living room rug and of course read the funnies first, but then turned to the front page to see if that awful John L. Lewis, the glowering union leader, was still blocking our coal supply.

I knew about coal because we had a big pile of it in a bin next to the furnace in our basement. My father assured me we had enough to keep us warm all winter, but I was dubious. Also I was worried that he might get stuck in downtown Chicago some day if the C&NW didn't have enough coal to run its steam locomotives.

A few years later we switched to gas heating, around the same time the railroad started phasing out its steam locomotives in favor of diesels.

Thus far I have seen two operas at the Aalto-Theater in Essen. The first, several years ago, was a blatantly anti-war staging of Verdi's Aida, which I of course liked very much, though some people thought they were overdoing it by having crippled war veterans hobble by to salute the king during the Triumph March.

More recently I went to the premiere of a new production of Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers, a very funny opera which in this case was set in an ultra-modern airport in an Arab country. The stage set was designed by Hermann Feuchter, who lives near Frankfurt am Main and has designed several sets for the Frankfurt Opera. (And yes, he was once a featured guest at one of my opera appreciation courses.)


Update: In June 2010 Essen was one of ten cities in the Ruhr District that started Metropolradruhr (“Metropolitan Bicycle Ruhr”), which they say is “the biggest bike sharing system in Germany”. The other nine participating cities are Bochum, Bottrop, Dortmund, Duisburg, Gelsenkirchen, Hamm, Herne, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Oberhausen.

  • Last visit to Essen: May 2007
  • Intro Updated Dec 25, 2011
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Reviews (13)

Comments (30)

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    Aug 23, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    Interesting coal mine tour. Thanks Don!

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Jan 9, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    Interesting reading about the Coal mine and how they forget about the necessities! When I read your page, I think Germany must have the most Opera House's in Europe, there seems to be so many, and so close together! I can't say I like the Blue architecture [sculpture], your older Opera House's leave that style for dead! Hotel sounds good to me!

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Jan 6, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Coalminers had such a terrible hard life, but proud people. The musuem looks wonderful and what a great way to teach our youth our past. The opera houses you visit are sculptures of art themselves. Excellent page Don!

  • mtncorg's Profile Photo
    Dec 22, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    Revisiting Essen via your pages. A good friend works here with Ruhr Kohl - his father an old Bergewerker from the other side of the Rhein.

  • fietslogies's Profile Photo
    Jul 17, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    Bicycle friendly accomodation in Essen with 'Vrienden op de Fiets': maps.google.be/maps/ms?hl=nl...

  • hopang's Profile Photo
    Jan 16, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    Touring the coal plant certainly sounds interesting in Essen. Philharmonie concert hall, Aalto and Grillo theaters certainly look remarkable as tourist attractions. ~ho & pang

  • vinc_bilb's Profile Photo
    Oct 5, 2009 at 12:57 PM

    Rich and interesting pages, as usual with you, genau (Ich habe nicht mehr Deutsh gesprochen durch 25 jahren). Bravo, simply

  • evaanna's Profile Photo
    Mar 13, 2009 at 5:40 AM

    That was an interesting visit to the mine. Never been to one before. Don't quite understand why the youngest child was bathed as last. I am sure a Polish mother would bathe her youngest first, while the water was still clean.

  • LoriPori's Profile Photo
    Jul 2, 2008 at 10:55 AM

    Rich in culture. Also the production of coal information was very interesting.

  • BillNJ's Profile Photo
    Apr 5, 2008 at 4:42 PM

    Great page -- especially the tip about the inexpensive, centrally located hotel. Best from New Jersey, Bill

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