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Essen: Culture and shopping in a heart of green

The metropolitan city of Essen is located at the heart of the Ruhr region conurbation. This former industrial powerhouse has increasingly become a centre of culture and shopping. Despite its size, the city is surprisingly green with numerous parks and lakes which offer opportunity for relaxation and recreation.

by Bastian Rothe

Zeche Zollverein © Zairon/wikicommons
Zeche Zollverein . © Zairon/wikicommons

Facts & Figures

Inhabitants:
566,000
Students:
87,339
Universities:
4
Monthly rent:
347 €
Tip:
Have a delicious burger at "Why So Serious?"!
Website:
www.essen.de

Welcome to Essen

If you come to Essen on a Saturday, don’t be surprised to find the streets filled with thousands of people. Many people like going downtown to shop, visit museums or spend the evening at one of the many theatres. Essen, a city in the middle of the Ruhr region conurbation, is a shopping paradise and cultural centre.

Panorama of Essen © Reiner Klute/flickr
Panorama of Essen . © Reiner Klute/flickr

But it hasn’t always been that way. Like the entire region, Essen still bears the traces of its heavy industrial past. You can still see the old collieries on the outskirts of town. The "Zeche Zollverein", a former coalmine at the north end of the city, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws many tourists to the city every year. Essen (along with the entire Ruhr region) was the European Capital of Culture in 2010 and impressed visitors with an interesting mix of history, art and lifestyle.

Villa Hügel © Alex.Ch/flickr
Villa Hügel . © Alex.Ch/flickr

The steel manufacturing conglomerate “ThyssenKrupp” has left its imprint on the entire city. The family-run company, founded in the 19th century, has significantly shaped the history of Essen and all of Germany for that matter. You can learn more about the impressive history of the Krupp family and their company at the Villa Hügel, which exemplifies the power and wealth the family amassed.

If you want to gain a good first impression of Essen’s cultural diversity, hop aboard tram line 107. This is Essen’s “cultural line” which takes you to all the interesting sights in Essen, such as the Zeche Zollverein, Aalto Theatre and the Folkwang Museum.

Living in Essen

The university in Essen is one of the two locations ot the University of Duisburg-Essen. The campus in Essen is located north of downtown. In some cases, you might have to attend lectures and seminars in both Essen and Duisburg. Most students don’t mind the commute because there’s the university shuttle which commutes every hour between both campuses.

Zeche Zollverein © Michael.Doering/flickr
Zeche Zollverein . © Michael.Doering/flickr

Many students like living in the northern districts around the university. Lots of young people live in the south district and the Rüttenscheid quarter on the opposite side of downtown. The Margarethenhöhe settlement is definitely worth seeing. Considered to be Germany’s first garden city, it represents the human-friendly living standards at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the immediate vicinity of Margarethenhöhe, you’ll find the Gruga Park, the largest park in the city. This is where the city’s inhabitants go to relax, play sports or meet with friends. The park also offers something to art enthusiasts as well; sculptures and installations are situated throughout the park grounds. If you head further south, you will reach the Baldeney and Kettwiger Lake where you can go inline skating, cycling, surfing and canoeing.

We recommend taking a tour of the Zeche Zollverein or seeing an exhibition at the Folkwang Museum. Newly rebuilt in 2010, the museum has made a name for itself with a number of fascinating exhibitions of classical and modern art. If you are interested in watching movies at the cinema, you should pay a visit to the "Lichtburg" downtown. The cinema holds Germany’s largest movie auditorium which is remarkable for its classical, clear architectural style.

My tip

 “Why so serious” is one of the best burger joints in Essen. The owner of the restaurant came up with a new burger recipe every week for an entire year. They offer a wide range of delicious hamburgers – even a vegan version.

Because Essen is home to people from so many different countries and cultures, the city has a colourful range of cuisine to choose from. Around the Rüttenscheider Stern, you’ll find a wide array of small and interesting dining locales which cater to every kind of taste. A culinary festival, "Essen…verwöhnt", takes place in Essen every summer. Numerous restaurants around the city present their cuisine at the festival on Kettwiger Strasse where you can try out a wide variety of dishes. If you need more inspiration, take a look at the “Ruhr-Menü” page – an interactive map which helps you find trendy, classy and nice restaurants. The recommendations by locals and tourists are what make this online site especially useful.

Interview with Yingqian from China

Yingqian Zhang comes from China, is 25 years old and earned her master’s degree in “Technical Logistics”.

Picture of Yingqian from China © Brothe
Yingqian from China . © Brothe

Why did you decide to study in Essen?

I had heard about the Ruhr region when I was in primary school. I learned about the history of the Ruhr region, coal mining and the steel industry. That’s how I got my first impression of Germany. Later I looked at the universities via Internet. I chose to go to Essen because of the central location of the university.

How did you prepare for your stay in Germany?

I had been learning German at my university in Shanghai. I also participated in workshops offered by the DAAD in which I learned something about the culture and the traditions, for example, how to make “Glühwein” (mulled wine).

Grugapark © DAAD
Grugapark . © DAAD

What should foreign students take care of before coming to study in Germany?

The language is especially important. Though I’d taken language courses in China, I hardly understood a thing when I first came to Germany because everyone was talking so fast. And to get my visa prolonged, I had to pass a language test here within one year. It can help to know something about the culture as well.

What was the hardest thing for you in Germany at the beginning?

I had to get used to the fact that people here are not reserved. They’ll tell you straight out, “No, that’s not right!” In China we express such things a bit more discreetly.

Margarethenhöhe  © Denis Barthel/wikicommons
Margarethenhöhe . © Denis Barthel/wikicommons

How did you find an accommodation?

I looked for a flat-share and found one on the Internet.

Why is Essen a good place to study?

I like that the university is so centrally located. After lectures, you can go into town and shop or grab a coffee. I like that there are so many programmes and events targeted at foreign students, offered by AStA [editor’s note: short for “Allgemeiner Studierendenausschuss” (General Student Committee)] or the International Office. They frequently offer workshops and excursions at a very low cost.

What is the easiest way to get to know other students?

You meet people very quickly at workshops. I also went to the student committee in my department (Fachschaft), because they arrange excursions to companies with the help of professors.