Because I’ve been staying in Essen and it would be too long of a post to run from the Rhine all the way to Unna, I’ve split up my pictures by what’s located west of Essen and what’s located east. So this post is basically between Gelsenkirchen and Unna, but the Metchtenberg landscape park runs between Gelsenkirchen and the east of Essen so I’ve also inlcuded a couple other Essen things.
Essen (Passing Through) Carbon Obelisk
A couple posts ago I mentioned that in addition to the Emscherpark bikeway and the Emscher Weg, there is also an Emscher Insel Tour bikeway. Insel translates to island, and in this case refers to the green strip of land running between the Emscher River and the RheinHerne Shipping Canal. The strip is also peppered with EmscherArt peices, many of them are from the EmscherKunst exhibitions. The carbon obelisk is about 45 feet tall, so its large, but somehow almost unnoticeable in the midst of everything else. It’s located in between Gelsenkirchen’s Nordsternpark and Essen’s Schurenbachhalde, and is nestled snugly in a little patch of grass next to the renatured Emscher River. Interestingly enough, Richard Serra’s steel ‘Slab for the Ruhr’ which lies on top of the Schurenbachhalde is only 50 feet tall, but somehow it feels much bigger than the 45 foot obelisk. Perhaps the fact that everything is completely flat around it, you have a view of the entire city, and its already on a massive heap of mining waste contributes to the effect. Also it’s a bit wider than its carbon counterpart.
The carbon obelisk above, and Serra’s slab for the Ruhr below; a mere 5 foot height difference.
Emscherkunst.de states that McBride is the artist behind the obelisk, with the intent to mark a ‘non-place’. During the Renaissance and Baroque era, obelisks were often imported in order to serve as landmarks, but McBride has placed his sculpture with the idea of it having been left there ‘almost by accident’.
Now that I think of it, I actually never touched Serra’s steel slab; I only stood real close and took pictures even though it was heavily coated in grafitti. But something just triggered my ‘art museum’ response I guess, maybe from all the people walking up to it but only around it. However, when I passed the carbon obelisk I immediately approached and knocked on the statue with my fist to feel the material. I actually thought it felt rather cheap, maybe because it was obviously hollow, but McBride’s obelisk is made from coal based carbon fibers (in reference to the mining history of the region) and is a quite expensive and unusual material.
Weird how the frame makes the art.
Essen (Passing Through) Bismarkturm/Metchtenberg
The Metchtenberg is a nature preserve that reaches through Essen and Gelsenkirchen as well as a bit through Bochum. The park was redesigned in 1999 by the RegionalVerbandRuhr for the IBA Emscherpark and is characterized by two hills. The Essen ‘witness mountain,’ where the Bismarckturm sits, is the only natural landform that tall and large in the city (the others are waste heaps). The Bismarkturm was built in 1900, and used to sit at an elevation of about 325 feet, but has since sunk to 275 from land subsidence due to mining. The term witness mountain (not sure if this is really the best translation for it but the original word was Zeugenberg) refers to a single mountain that was isolated by erosion processes from the rock formation it originally belonged to.
The Essen Metchtenberg preserves the Magerstandort or ‘lean grass’ biotope. This is defined by a nutrient poor or ‘lean’ soil with herbaceous and semi-shrub plants. Meager grasslands shaped by grazing animals such as goats and sheep which would feed on young trees and bushes, leaving the low nutrient grasses. However, low nutrient should not be mistaken with low habitat provision. The Metchtenberg serves as an important link in the biotope network and is recognized by the ICUN as a protected area.
These landscapes or heaths were common prior to industrialization, and were shared as common space among villagers. They developed congruently with extensive farming, as large sheep farms often needed large areas for grazing. The Bismarckturm honors Germany’s first chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Many similar monuments exist in Germany in the name of Bismark.
a diagrammatic viewfinder
Gelsenkirchen Halde Rheinelbe/Mechtenberg
I’d actually been to the Halde Rheinelbe last summer because I’d wanted to see the lego-like structure I’d seen in pictures. And I hadn’t noticed the difference when I first approached this summer, but looking back over old pictures I realized the stones have since been scrubbed – and not just in the areas with grafitti, but the entire structure has now been given a teeth whitening. Whereas the stones previously matched the tone of the dirt mound they sat on, the structure now lies in stark contrast with pile, boasting a glistening white sheen. I wonder if it was a new coating of enamel or a heavy scrape-job.
The Gelsenkirchen counterpart of the Metchtenberg was made distinct from the Essen portion due to different conservation goals. While Essen supported more grassland, Gelsenkirchen sports a large succession forest. Sculptural works can be found hidden within the forest, such as in the first picture below, and on the halde Rheinelbe one can find the Himmelstreppe or staircase to heaven. That was the Jenga-Block tumble tower structure made of stone that got wiped this year. I have to admit, I think its more striking without the grafitti, but its a lot more inviting to climb with it on.
Gelsenkirchen’s Nordsternpark lies on the banks of the Emscher and RheinHerne Canal, a few meters throw from the Carbon Obelisk structure I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The enormous red arches over the canal bridge make the park stand out from the distance, and the Hercules statue is another well known feature of the park. The ‘North Star’ park is located on the site of the North Star mine, and was the site of a 1997 BUGA.
The Hercules sculpture was designed to represent a symbol of structural change for the ‘young ambitious Ruhr’. With an enormous head and only one small arm, the Hercules cuts an unconventional character. The artist Lupertz called him (Hercules) a ‘problem solver’ and a hero. He stands at the top of one of the former mining towers, within a modern business park.
Two small grassy hills allow for a view over the park, where it’s formal structure can be seen from above. But rather than pointing towards a large and expensive manor, as many formal baroque gardens did, the axis of the nordsternpark points to a large and expensive (now abandoned) colliery complex.
Another interesting point of the Nordsternpark; its often used for concerts and festivals, such as the annual Hard Rock Festival. I just happened to be wandering by one weekend when I realized the festival was happening, apparantly it is held on the weekend of the Pentecost. Here, rows of little tents can be seen camping along the canal.
The Nordsternpark has the reputation of a ‘forbidden city’, or rather, the Nordstern colliery did back when it seperated the districts of Horst and Hessler. Now its unifies the neighborhoods through its use as a large public park and event space.
Also, here’s a picture of hercules butt.
Gelsenkirchen Halde Rungenberg
The Halde Rugenberg was created from the waste of the mine Hugo, and is also a ‘Burning Heap’. That means there’s a bit of combustion going on from gases inside the heap, but the Halde Norddeutschland in Neukirchen Vluyn and the Rheinelbe were both burning heaps as well. Some pilot projects for geothermal energy are being conducted using these burning heaps, similar to research conducted in the FreshKills landfill on Staten Island.
From afar, two mounted lights can be seen sitting atop a green and forested hill. However, as one rounds the bends of the winding trails (as opposed to shooting straight up the steps), a panorama of yellows and purples unfold. Approaching the sculpted gray peak, EsRichter and Noculak’s 3-part concept piece of: light, matter, and nature comes into view. They sit facing each other atop two little mounds in between which sits a small valley. Supposedly at night, they lights criss-cross when lit up (they shoot diagonally into the sky rather than pointed straight at each other) to form the final peak of the pyramid in the sky – a modern manmade earthform of light, matter, and nature. Pretty cool concept.
This was one of the sites I had visited on my night trip (as well as the Halde Lorraine in Bochum) when the lights mysteriously did not light up despite all informations online telling me otherwise. Unfortunately again, my plans were foiled. My boyfriend and I sat waiting on one tiny mound sitting directly under a light as the sun went down, while another group of people sat on the other. But just as the sun began to creep down, we noticed a flying insect land on his lower leg. He swatted it away, accidentally killing it, and when it fell we noticed that a formerly beetle-like insect had unfolded into a grey bee-like insect with a stinger.
I’ve no idea what kind of insect it was; I tried googling beetle-bees online and a bunch of results come up actually. But either way we suddenly noticed that there was actually not just one, but two of the insects, and then there were four, and five, and ten, and twenty (I think, I didn’t really count) and then actually we noticed that all of them were coming out of the hole in the light. We had never looked directly inside of it, maybe there was some sort of hive there, but it was too late to check now because they were everywhere flying all about. We headed down off the hill, and noticed the group across from us was doing the same. A few more people were still coming up the staircase that led to the top of the hill and where they were, we could see a more flying insects buzzing around some of the trees near the summit. Actually, when we descended the hill, the air was much cooler and none of the bee-beetle insects were present anymore. But I still didn’t wait to see if the lights would turn on again; maybe the secret hives were the reason they didn’t light up the first time around. Alas, I didn’t snap a picture of the any of the flying monsters (just kidding, insects are important), but if you’d like to see you can try googling beetle-bee.
Herten Halde Hoheward (& Hoppenbruch)
The Halde Hoheward in Herten is the largest (and around 500 feet tall), and one of my favorite, haldes in the Ruhrgebiet. I don’t really have a specific reason why, but its partly for the pink flowers that look like some sort of wild field orchids (the ones in my hand as well as the couple pictures after it) as well as the view looking down the hill when you’re at the top. There’s something about the colors I just really like; particularly the dry browns against the dark rich forest greens on a baby blue backdrop spilling puffy white stuffing. Prior to this trip, I hadn’t really had much of a taste for ‘dry-looking’ landscapes. But after touring a lot of grassy areas and hilltops, I actually really like the aesthetic of the nearly barren looking peak atop the much more lush and watered forest at the bottom. Green doesn’t always mean better, and brown-lands (not brownfields cause thats a different thing, but also brownfields too) can serve as important habitats as well. Also I like the single windmill, which is on the Hoppenbruch.
The Hoheward consists of dumpings from three seperate mines. At the top, a Horizon Observatory (the one with two large hoops) and a Sundial have been placed. I can’t make heads or tails of how to read them, but they sure as heck look cool. The Observatory can be thought of a ‘modern stonehenge’ ; apparantly if you’re located in the center then you can observe a nice solstice or an equinox. Our you could just look at the stars. Or the trees. Or the windmill.
Castrop Rauxel Halde Schwerin
The Hadle Schwerin was named after the Graf Schwerin mine, but just a 5 minute bikeride away from the hill lies the Erin Shaft 3, which is what is below.
The sundial, composed of 24 stainless steel poles, is visible through an opening in the forest of birch trees. After passing through, a series of windmills is visible behind the grass and over the trees.
A little diamond shaped steel slab points out landmarks in the distance.
Castrop Rauxel Wasserkruez
The Wasserkruez in Castrop Rauxel is actually a developing park, but the nuts and bolts are all still there. The attention is directed towards the crossing the Rhein Herne Canal over the Emscher River, a feat of water engineering in the midst of a landscape formerly riddled with flooding problems (before the pumps came in). At the far end of the park, a wooden tower looks out of the agricultural land. It’s actually not that tall, and I also broke my stone ring (it was a cheap stone) by sliding it on one of the railings somehow, but it has a very charming atmosphere to it. The fields, which I believe alternate between wheat and corn, or maybe they’re part wheat and part corn, have pathways carved into them.
Dortmund Westfalen Park TV Tower Florian
The Westfalen park was opened up for the 1959 federal garden show, as a part of BUGA or Bundesgartenschau which occurs every two years and began in 1951. At this time, the TV Tower Florian was the tallest building in Germany, and is preserved in its 50’s style today. While garden exhibitions in Germany date back to 1869 (in Hamburg), federal garden shows began in 1951 in Hannover in order to incorporate parks with Germany’s reconstruction and urban development process. In addition to bi-annual BUGAs, there are also 10 IGAs, or International Garden Exhibitions. Since the late 90s, more attention has been given to landscape conversion projects and ecological appreciation within cities (particularly around water), and the projected goals for 2031 are called ‘Green in the City’. These are decade long projects in the landscape scale, such as the IBA Emscher Park project.
From the top of the TV tower Florian you can see preserved industrial infrastructure in the midst of the a sea of newly constructed buildings. Also in the distance is the Phoenix See. The River Emscher forms the southern boundary of the park.
Westfalen park also hosts a rose garden, with over 3000 varieties of rose.
Dortmund Phoenix See
The Dortmund Phoenix See is an example of a very ‘classy’ method of converting a former industrial site into a park. Where the glistening lake now resides, a steelworks factory used to be. The remains were excavated and replaced by the lake (not just with water, but also with a little cap and some topsoil) , which also serves as a rainwater retention basin to protect properties located on the banks of the Emscher (runs by the lake) from flooding. In order to maintain good water quality, a phosphate elimination station filters the entire body of water in around a year. The lake is also regularly detected for heavy metal contaminent leakages (so far, so good).
Much of the excavated soil was molded into an artificial hill (also with a cap), which provides a lookout over the lake and surrounding real estate. The homes and offices here are wildly expensive, and its rumored that many football (soccer) stars lives here. In addition to the new found real estate value, the park has also become very popular for boating.
Unna Emscher Spring Holzwickende
Far to the east, in the land called Unna, the spring of the Emscher River can be found in the district Holzwickende. As in the NeiderRhein, the land here is markedly more ‘farm-y’, and feels far away from the big cities. Many buildings actually, like seen at the Emscherquellhof, retain the German Timber-Frame look. The water pools quietly and softly in a little green spring.
Unna Seseke Weg & Ostpol
The farthest point on my journey, my train ticket barely covered the distance to the Ostpol. I actually took the train to Kamen to get here, and then from Kamen I biked to Bonen before turning around back towards Essen. Also, I was following a completely different river trail – the Seseke Weg. The Emschergenossenschaft LippeVerband group also renatured the Seseke, a tributary of the Lippe, which is why the trail markers look similar. On the way, two little white houses caught me off guard. I took pictures and looked them up later; a work called “Here Comes the Rain Again” by Kobberling and Kaltwasser, the sculptures are crafted at 1:10 scale along the banks of the river. The houses symbolize the ideal of living by the water, despite the danger of flooding.
Upon reaching the Ostpol, I was one: glad that there was no giant hole in front of it that was casually cropped out of the pictures online as with the Westpol, and two: interested, but only for about ten minutes. I rode around the sides of the Ostpol, and made sure to snap a picture of the yellow ribbon that would light up and point towards the Westpol.
But aside from the pictures, what was far more memorable about the Ostpol was not the structure itself, but the journey towards it. While the moments of artwork are what draws attention to the region, it is the landscape itself that holds the main focus.
Also, I feel like I should end with another picture, so I chose this one.
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