Sunday, July 09, 2006

Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Herne and Dortmund

St. Liudger Abbey Essen-Werden
Abbey of Saint Ludger, in Essen-Werden, which today is the Folkwang School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

This post was originally written in Portuguese.

The Play-off/06 theatre festival plays were staged in four cities of the Ruhr area: Essen, Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen and Herne.

Essen is one of the largest cities of the Ruhr, with slightly less than 600 thousand inhabitants. It was born around a monastery built in the year 852 and grew together with the rise of the Krupp family and the mining companies (I have written a post about the Krupps and I will translate it in the next days). The Krupps became prosperous in the steel business and their estate, Villa Hügel, in Essen, is now a museum and hotel.

During most of the 20th century, Essen alternated periods of intense industrial activity with economic crises and destruction caused by the two World Wars. Today, all the coal mines and steel factories in Essen have been closed, but the largest steel and mining corporations in Europe still keep their headquarters in the town. One of the main attractions in Essen is the Zollverein coal mine, which is a symbol of the rise and fall of the region's industry. When it was build it was considered the most beautiful and efficient coal plant when it was built. I'm not a fan of Bauhaus architecture (it seems spooky and lifeless to me) but Zollverein is awesome. The stage where we performed our play: Studio-Bühne Essen, is located inside one of the Zollverein buildings.

An old building in downtown Gelsenkirchen.

Gelsenkirchen is a nice quiet town (except when there is a World Cup match in the local stadium). With 280 thousand inhabitants it is the fifth city in the Ruhr area (after Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg and Bochum). Like the other Ruhrgebiet towns, Gelsenkirchen has large parks, many houses and low buildings. Most of the buildings are recent (less than 60 years old) and many residential areas are former mining colonies. The city was heavily bombed during World War II due to its great amount of steel plants and mines, and by the end of the war, one third of all public buildings and houses were destroyed. It's a great town to walk and there are trains, buses and subways to all parts of the city and neighbouring towns. It's very easy to leave Gelsenkirchen and drop off at any other town in the area by subway, or get a train to any large city in Europe. The festival's camping site was set up beside an old mining plant (Bergwerk Consolidation) that gave its place to the Consol Theater.

The transport system in the Ruhrgebiet is very efficient. There are U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (surface urban train) stations everywhere. The one nearest to our camp had the name of the mine: Bergwerk Consolidation. You buy the tickets using an electronic panel which includes instructions in English (I still took a while to understand the whole thing), and then you stamp your ticket at the station or in the train. There are schedules printed in several places in the station and the trains usually arrive right on time. A subway ticket from the Consol Theater to Gelsenkirchen Hauptbahnhof (central station) cost €2,00.

Flottmann-Hallen Herne
Flottmann-Hallen, in Herne

We didn't see much in Herne, a town that is home to 170 thousand people located between Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund. We usually went straight to the theatre where our play and other Play-off/06 plays were performed: the Flottmann-Hallen. Like most other cultural installations in the Ruhr area, the Flottmann-Hallen is located at in a building which used to be a factory. The building's architecture is slightly inspired in the Art Noveau school.

Dortmund is the largest and one of the most important cities of the Ruhr. It's practically the same size as Essen. A few months ago, the city was invaded by several coloured winged rhinos. Fortunately someone turned them into statues and now they are harmless. Dortmund is also the home town of the crazy Borussia-Dortmund football fans. Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to get to know Dortmund neither did I see any play at the Theater im Depot, which was one of the four theatres which hosted the Play-off/06 festival. I expect to visit the city during my next trip.

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