With circa 580,000 inhabitants, Essen is one of Germany’s ten biggest cities. In the last century, the city gained fame as the centre of the coal and steel industries in Germany, but viewed historically, the period in which these industries held sway was only relatively short. In the year 2002, Essen celebrated the 1150th anniversary of the convent and of the city of Essen. For around 1000 years, Essen was an ecclesiastical principality and was governed by abbesses.
Today, three-quarters of the working population of what was once the biggest coal mining city in Europe are employed in administration, the service industries and commerce. Some of the German companies with the highest turnovers have their administrative headquarters in Essen, including RWE AG, Evonik Industries (formerly RAG-Aktiengesellschaft), EON Ruhrgas AG, Karstadt Warenhaus GmbH and Hochtief AG. Thyssen-Krupp AG has its new headquarters on the historical site of the Krupp steel casting factory, including an academy, which will welcome up to 2,500 managers from all over the world. At international trade fairs and public shows and exhibitions, Essen Fair welcomes over 10,000 exhibitors and up to 2 million visitors each year.
Monuments of former industry stand as symbols for the city’s successful structural transformation. The most famous landmark of the Ruhr region, the Zollverein Colliery, along with the adjacent area of the coking plant, has been listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. But the colliery and coking plant are not museum-like, forbidden and forbidding places. PACT Zollverein, with its emphasis on dance, the North Rhine-Westphalian Design Centre with its internationally renowned "red dot design museum", and the Zollverein School of Management and Design have their offices at Zollverein XII. The RuhrMuseum will soon be moving into the historical coal washing plant.
A further imposing relic of the industrial era is the Colosseum at Berliner Platz. The historical factory building from around 1900, which formerly belonged to Krupp and where forgings and castings were once produced, is now one of Germany’s most impressive musical stages.
"Change through culture - culture through change": the theme that palpably characterises the entire region and the city of Essen has also convinced Brussels. Essen, along with the Ruhr District, has been nominated by the European Commission as the European Capital of Culture of 2010. A title that acts as recognition of the work that has been done here over the years.
The Aalto Opera House has a name that extends far beyond the region - not only for its music, but also for the architecture of the building. The music theatre in Essen, under the leadership of its director and conductor-in-chief Stefan Soltesz, enjoys a reputation among critics that places it right among the leaders in the whole of Germany. As a concert hall with radiance - and resonance, even amongst international music stars - the new philharmonia in historic Saalbau has quickly played its way into the consciousness of music lovers. The "aalto ballett theater" is the best in the region, and the "Essener Sprechtheater" has twice been distinguished as the North Rhine-Westphalian Theatre of the Year: artistic director Anselm Weber convinces audiences with productions of classics, new works, performances and projects.
A collection of international renown can be found in Essen's Folkwang Museum.
"Villa Hügel", the former residence of the industrial Krupp family is a regular venue for world-class exhibitions of cultural history. And even apart from these special and exceptional exhibitions, the visit is worthwhile, for the beautiful park alone.
And generally, people who come to Essen for the first time are nearly always surprised: over 50 percent of the area of the city is green! Favourite places for the Esseners and their guests to relax are the banks of the River Ruhr and Baldeney Lake - or the "Gruga" - one of Germany’s biggest and most beautiful city gardens.
For evening entertainment, there is plenty to choose from: the various Essen theatres, the GOP-Varieté or the cabaret - e.g. in Stratmann's Europahaus. But a tour of the restaurant scene and the various pubs and clubs in Rüttenscheid, Borbeck, Werden, Kettwig, Steele or in the city centre is also well worthwhile. The legendary Lichtburg movie palace and CinemaxX at Berliner Platz - still Germany’s biggest multiplex cinema - not only show all the latest films, but with a variety of bars and bistros also offer their guests the ideal opportunity to conclude an enjoyable evening in style.
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