Archive for the ‘Tour: Western Contrasts’ Category


As early as 793 AD Münster played an important role in the region and Charlemagne had sent the missionary Ludger to evangelise the Münsterland region. He became the first ordained bishop of Münster and the first cathedral was completed in 850.

Due to its location at the river Aa and near the river Ems it was an important ford and crossroads for traders between North and South. In the Middle Ages it was a leading member of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (13th–17th centuries).

map HansaIn the treaty ending the Thirty Years’ War one article declared the region to be exclusively Roman Catholic which had dire consequences in modern times: during the 1940’s Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen was one of the most prominent and outspoken critic of the Nazi regime. In retaliation for his international fame and success the city was heavily garrisoned during the war. It became the home of a large number of corps, infantry and tank divisions and controlled military operations in the northern part of Germany at that time.

This in turn meant that it was heavily bombed and attacked in ground assaults by the Allies. About 91% of the Old City and 63% of the entire city was destroyed by Allied air raids. In the 1950s the Old City was rebuilt to match its pre-war state, though many of the surrounding buildings were replaced with cheaper modern structures. It was also for several decades a garrison town for the British forces stationed in West Germany.

car bus bikeIn 1780 the University of Münster was established and now as the Westphalian Wilhelms University determines the character of the town: a student town if there ever has been one! Its bicycle friendliness is well known and adds another special touch to the atmosphere. According to the city’s web site Münster is home to 500,000 bikes, which means theoretically each inhabitant owns at least two push bikes!!!

Enjoy your stay with your local guide showing you all the special hideaways and treats on your Western Contrasts – Border hopping and Industrial Heritage tour, giving you a taste of relaxed living in northern Germany.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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MUSEUM FOLWANG am 9.3.2010The private museum was founded in 1902 by Karl Ernst Osthaus and in 1922 merged with the Essener Kunstmuseum (1906) to become one of the most significant museums for modern art in Germany.

The name “Folkwang” is derived from the name of the afterlife meadow of the dead presided over by the Norse goddess Freyja.

A meadow for modern dead artists and their art!

During the Nazi regime about 1200 pieces of art were removed under the purge of degenerate art. Most of them were sold to overseas bidders to raise cash. Those they couldn’t sell were ultimately burned. The Museum Folkwang and the other museums affected have generally not tried to reclaim these works because at the time, the removal and sale of the works of art were legal under German law. The works of art were ultimately the property of the German government, which had the legal right to dispose of them as it saw fit.

In 2006 the Krupp foundation solely provided the funds for building an extension and in 2007 David Chipperfield won the contest. The new buildings were opened in 2010 and provide a modern addition to the original spaces.

Nowadays the museum maintains a leading role in Germany’s art scene by awarding scholarships and offering a variety of exhibitions and activities aimed at curating modern art and inspiring future artists. The museum’s English web page has more details regarding future and past exhibitions.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Datteln - Henrichenburg - HalternTo understand the significance of this particular boat lift, you need to know that at the end of the 19th century the Ruhr region was such a major manufacturer of products, that the railway system could not handle the loads anymore. Where natural rivers fell short of the requirements they either got modified or bypassed with canals. For ships to be able to travel these waterways in both directions they needed boat lifts capable of operating with these large transport ships.

One of these canals, Dortmund-Ems Kanal, connects the sea port Emden with the inland port of Dortmund. And the Henrichenburg lift is the last one before Dortmund port. The lift bridges a height difference of 14 metres. The canal and the lift were opened in 1899 and despite heavy attacks during WWII it was operated until 1962. See here for more technical details regarding the innovative lifting techniques.

To be competitive a new lock and lift was built and used until 1989. By then ship building technology had again advanced to such a degree that the lock and lift were too small to cater for the ever increasing cargo ships. Another lock and lift was built, but it had to stop work in 2005 due to technical problems.

In 1979 Henrichenburg lift became part of the Westphalian industrial museum and now houses exhibitions and ships detailing its history and relevance to the development of the region’s economy.

Today the canal region has become quite recreational. Bicycle routes and walking tracks along the banks of the canal make it easy to explore the industrial heritage of the region.

This is just one of many interesting industrial heritage sites we visit on our Western Contrasts – Border Hopping and Industrial Heritage tour.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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vischering castleThis particular bike tour circles the whole Münsterland region and is divided into four individual trips – North, South, East and West route. Each route covers between 210 and 310 kilometers. As these can be a bit too long for a casual day trip, the regional bike path system offers short cuts around the circuit. The tracks are off the beaten path, offering safety and tranquillity to enjoy the landscape and castles. The ADFC (General German Bicycle Club) gives ratings of tours and this particular one has a 4/5 star rating!

The tour might be called 100 castles, but in reality you can see more than that. Due to the abundance of historical castles, palaces and monuments, the tour guide books / pamphlets limit their descriptions to the minimum of must-see landmarks.

Below map shows the four routes and also which of the sights are absolute-must-see (in red), must-see (in dark green) or just plain interesting (light green)!


Your bicycle trip on the Western Contrasts – Border Hopping and Industrial Heritage tour will take you to some of the most beautiful moated castles of the region, such as Schloss Vischering (top photo) and Schloss Nordkirchen (photo below) for example:

nordkirchen castle

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Luedinghausen 2Even though the city was first mentioned in the 9th century it was just a conglomeration of farms. It took another five centuries before it became a city. By then it had become a major trading town and had its own judiciary and government. Up to the 13th century there had been constantly conflicts between the bishops and the local knights, where the bishops tried to incorporate their lands. During one of these conflicts, 1308/9, while the bishop’s seat was not occupied, the knights declared the region a city. This declaration though was not officially accepted and the city’s representatives were not allowed to go and vote in the Landtag, state parliament. For how long this unofficial state continued is unsure, but in 1804 the city was finally declared county seat for the Lüdinghausen district!

Luedinghausen 1The city is situated in the Münster region and can boast a range of castles in its vicinity: ranging from earliest defensive estate (Castle Kakesbeck) to Middle Ages design (Castle Vischering) to Renaissance castle (Castle Lüdinghausen).

As befitting a region dominated by waterways and not mountains: cycling is BIG here! The city has devised an extensive sign and numbering system that lets you easily plan your day trips. Pick a sight to see and just follow the number! As the signs and the descriptions are in German though, it pays to consult with / follow your guide on your Western Contrasts – Border Hopping and Industrial Heritage tour.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Until Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009, they were a couple creating some of the most controversial art to be seen in modern times by wrapping important landmarks in enormous amounts of fabric.

Bulgarian Christo (Christo Vladimirov Javacheff) and French Jeanne-Claude (Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon) were born on the same day in the same year (13.6.1935) and first met in 1958 in Paris. Until 1994 all their works were solely credited to “Christo”. As of 1994 their outdoor and large indoor installations were retroactively credited to “Christo and Jeanne-Claude”. Their commitment and united approach to their art meant that they travelled on separate airplanes: in case one crashed, the other could continue the work! In 2009 Jeanne-Claude died from the complications of a brain aneurysm.

Although their work is visually impressive and often controversial as a result of its scale (see the photo above of the wrapped up ‘Reichstag’ in Berlin), the artists have repeatedly denied that their projects contain any deeper meaning than their immediate aesthetic impact. The purpose of their art, they contend, is simply to create works of art or joy and beauty and to create new ways of seeing familiar landscapes. Art critic David Bourdon has described Christo’s wrappings as a “revelation through concealment.” To his critics Christo replies, “I am an artist, and I have to have courage … Do you know that I don’t have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they’re finished. Only the preparatory drawings, and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain.”

In 2013 the Oberhausen Gasometer, which we visit on our Sidetracks Western Contrasts Tour will host Christo and his “Big Air Package” and showcase some of the most important Christo and Jeanne-Claude projects.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Gas holders, also known as gasometers or gas bells, are a common sight in areas of gas production or use. The Wikipedia entry has a lot of technical details for those wanting more information, but suffice it to say that some gas holders are still in use today. Not so much for storing gas as having gas online, city mains supply, always at the right pressure. For those structures that have been decommissioned, the issue of contaminated grounds has been critical for any conversions. Those that are deemed safe are turned into exhibition spaces – such as the one you’re about to visit on your Western Contrasts Tour in Oberhausen – event centres, living quarters and even a shopping mall!

Oberhausen is home to the tallest one in Europe at 117.5m high and has been open for exhibitions since 1994. Even though the exhibition space is restricted to the bottom 4.5 meters of the building, the rest of the structure can be explored via a glass panorama lift, lifts and stairs leading to the top. From up there a unique panoramic view of the whole of the western river Ruhr can be enjoyed which, during clear weather, extends over 35 kilometres.


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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The beginnings of the museum can be traced back to 1860 when a regional mining company set up a permanent exhibition mainly for training purposes. At the end of the 1920’s this concept was further developed to become a public exhibition. Due to major bombings in WWII the unfinished buildings needed to be rebuilt and extended in the second half of the 20th century.

The 12,000 sqm large exhibition space offers a chronological display of the technological and sociological development of mining from prehistoric to modern times. In addition to exhibits and models it features a 2.5 km long visitors mine. Even though it had never been used for mining it demonstrates a lot of technical aspects, which would not always be accessible in a real mine.

As the permanent exhibitions focus more on the general developments, the temporary ones offer detailed insights into regional and international  mining histories and events. For example mining disasters, painters depicting mining culture, tunnel projects and copper mining in Chile.

Enjoy your guided tour underground on our Western Contrasts Tour in the knowledge of a safe return to daylight!


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Tetraeder Halde

The Tetraeder Halde, or the official names ‘Halde Beckstrasse’ or ‘Haldenereignis Emscherblick’ (mine dump event with view of the Emscher region), is a fascinating example of the changes occurring in the Ruhr Gebiet (region): abandoned coal mines are being converted into landmarks, activity centres and historical monuments documenting the region’s industrial background.

It is a beam construction in the shape of a three sided pyramid made out of steel beams sitting on top of concrete pillars. As this is a classic gem only known to regional guides, all info about it is in German. But this site has some stunning photos to give you an idea what’s in store and what to look out for. On your Sidetracks Western Contrasts Tour your bilingual guide will be of assistance.

The whole construction can be explored – for those not suffering from vertigo or fears of heights or swaying platforms that is. The top of the mount has been designed as a lens shaped hollow. As one moves into it, the surrounding landscape disappears and one is alone under the sky, with the construction and the black rocks, from deep down the mountain (1200m), reminding us of the mount’s history.


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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The city is situated along the river Ruhr in the largest urban agglomeration in Germany called the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr region), or more colloquial Ruhrpott, Pott or Revier, which all refer to its history of coal mining and steel production.

Even though the origin of the name Essen is disputed (it definitely has nothing to do with the modern word for food or eating, which is spelled the same), its existence in one form or another can be traced back 280 – 250,000 years back. A few artefacts from the Stone Age have been found as well, but as the land was heavily utilised during the Industrial Age, and archaeological practices were not observed at that time yet, most evidence would have been destroyed during the mining for coal.

As time passed, buildings got more substantial and therefore had more of a chance of remains surviving. For example the Alteburg castle in the south of Essen can be dated back to the 1st or 2nd century BC.

Up to the 17th century Essen’s historical relevance was of religious nature, which started to change in the middle of the 14th century when the reigning abbess was granted silver mining rights. Coal mining existed already as well, but began in earnest around 1450. By the end of the 16th century Essen had many coal mines and had established itself as a centre for the weapons industry. The Krupp dynasty had lived in the region since the 16th century. Their and the city’s efforts shaped each others history.

In 1811, Friedrich Krupp founded Germany’s first cast-steel factory in Essen and laid the cornerstone for what was to be the largest enterprise in Europe for a couple of decades. The weapon factories in Essen became so important that a sign facing the main railway station welcomed visitor Benito Mussolini to the “Armoury of the Reich” in 1937. The Krupp Works also were the main reason for the large population growth beginning in the mid-19th century.

After WWII, during which Essen was heavily bombarded and destroyed, the manufacture of weapons ceased. But some of the larger old industrial enterprises continue to be the main employers in the region. Due to economic changes in the 1970’s, the city has developed a strong tertiary sector of the economy. As with all major economic changes, it took a while and a lot of hardship to establish and foster new industries. Nowadays Essen is a vibrant city with lots of businesses located there and the Arts alive and well in the region. On the Sidetracks Western Contrasts Tour we visit two impressive landmarks of the Essen region, the Tetraeder Halde Monument and the Zollverein Coal Mine Complex, both offering amazing insights into Germany’s Industrial Heritage.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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