Another thing about me and travelling: map-reading. I’m pretty shocking at it. I have a tendency to send us off a junction or road too early, can’t seem to orientate the map and find it really difficult to follow where we are on our route. This hasn’t helped us being able to find Trödelmarkts which are usually down some side street – especially when I’m using a fairly zoomed out map to do the bulk of the journey. Fortunately, Aidan has done a hell of a lot of research before our trip, resulting in some zoomed in maps of the areas we need.
However, a zoomed in Multimap printout still wasn’t enough to stop us driving up and down Berliner Straße approximately four times when trying to find our hotel in Wettensheidt. For some reason, one of the roads was marked in a slightly different place which meant I just couldn’t understand which way we were supposed to be travelling. I made us turn around about three times before Aidan finally took over and logically figured out which way we were supposed to go. Naturally, this was the way we were headed in the first place…
It turns out that Essen and the Ruhr in general is about the equivalent of Yorkshire. It’s a very industrial area – known as the Ruhrgebeit – full of former coal-mines and coking plants. Our hotel was situated right next to part of the Industrial Route. This is part of the regeneration of the area, where the former collieries and factories have been converted into art spaces and museums. We found a running route into and around a park and a ‘fake’ hill made from a spoil tip next to our hotel; more impressive than that sounds! It was really interesting to see how the area has started to be regenerated, and it did make us think about whether something similar could be done in parts of Yorkshire such as Barnsley.
On our second day there we took a trip to Zollverein, a massive former colliery and coking plant built in the Bauhaus era and now a UNESCO heritage site. It is an extremely impressive area covering several kilometres squared and a definite must-see for anyone interested in Industrialist architecture. The main buildings house the Ruhr Museum and the Red Dot Design Museum. We visited the Ruhr Museum, which was extremely informative about the Ruhr area and regeneration, but we wanted to know more about the site and buildings themselves. Unfortunately, this information appeared to be lacking unless you were willing to pay for a guided or audio tour. Skinflints that we are, we did neither and just made our own way around. There was a section in the museum that talked about the local people and the way of life, describing the stereotypical person from Ruhr as being a ‘pigeon-fancier’. This only confirmed our thoughts that it was the German version of Yorkshire! (Note: I’d never heard of this phrase before, but being a Yorkshireman, Aidan says that it’s commonly known. Obviously not in Stafford.)
The next day we really hit the Trödelmarkts hard. And Tina paid for it! We found many of the markets through some websites recommended to us by Stuart (of Bygone Times fame!), and without his tipoffs and help we wouldn’t have found many of them. I had visions before we came to Germany of streets paved with pottery, and it seems I wasn’t far wrong! We picked up so many that morning that it was hard to imagine how we could fit any more pottery in to the car. The business side of this trip is really starting to become a reality.
We definitely need to improve our German, though we are making fairly good progress with the small amount that we know. I’ve no doubt that some stall-holders are adding a couple of Euro onto prices when they hear our accents, but they seem fairly willing to barter. Most of the time, people don’t seem to realise that we’re not locals, or at least fairly fluent, as they launch into streams of German whilst Aidan and I either look blankly at each other, or nod along as if we understand. We’ve taken it as a compliment so far that we’re passing for locals!