This is a beautiful country with a fascinating history and we enjoy every day we are here. We have already been to most of the major cities and places tourists would normally visit. So, it’s natural that we keep venturing out to see cities and towns that are not usually listed in guidebooks. We love uncovering hidden gems. Very few guidebooks mention Essen as a place to visit so we thought we’d give it a try. What we realized quickly was that there was a reason Essen is not on the tourist trail. Essentially, it’s a pretty dismal place. Normally, we’re not critical of the cities we visit here in Germany but with Essen we’ve made an exception.
Of course, there are reasons Essen is not what you would describe as charming. From the middle ages, it has been an industrial town and has long been dependent upon coal and steel production. It was heavily bombed in WWII, primarily because it was the home of the Krupp industrial complex, makers of much of the heavy weaponry used by the Third Reich. Over 90% of the city was destroyed. Unfortunately, even though the center of town, located north of the railroad tracks has a pretty good retail base, we found it very depressing. Graffiti everywhere, even on the sides of the cathedral. Lots of beggars, downtrodden souls and groups of punks hang around drinking beer in the middle of the day, trash everywhere. It is as if Essen has become a magnet for everyone who doesn’t necessarily fit in anywhere else.
To its credit however, the re-built part of town south of the tracks was more inviting. Lots of restaurants and neighborhood shops line the main street and we found a nice little Italian place for dinner. So, we may give Essen another try to give it a chance to redeem itself in our eyes.
The beauty that we did see though was primarily centered around Villa Hügel, the 269 room, 87,000 square foot mansion built by the Krupp family in 1873. It was in front of the mansion that Alfried Krupp, was unceremoniously arrested in 1945 by the Allies and then stood trial in Nuremberg for war crimes. It was estimated that over 100,000 forced laborers were used by Krupp during the Nazi regime.