A while back, I had the pleasure of taking a 3-week trip through North Rhine-Westphalia. North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state. It is primarily an industrial state and 4 of the 10 largest cities in Germany i.e. Cologne, Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Essen, are located there. Without further ado, here are the highlights of my trip.
Planning the trip.
Proper planning is key to a successful trip. You have to know where you’re going, whether or not you’ll need a visa, how you’ll get there and back, what you’re going there to do, where you’ll be staying, how you’ll get around, how much the trip is going to cost you, and how you’ll get the money to afford it.
As a Kenyan citizen, I needed a visa to get into Germany, and I got one at the German Embassy in Kenya. I find that it’s easier to get a visa if you have already figured out the logistics of the trip. I was going to be staying with a friend, Leonie, in Recklinghausen, and I confirmed that before applying for the visa. I also confirmed beforehand that my passport, health insurance and finances were in order and I wrote down my itinerary for the trip. After that, I booked my plane ticket. It is important to do these things beforehand because you need to present them as requirements in your visa application, as well as a filled visa application form. I had all my documents in order, which made the process quite smooth.
I flew into Dusseldorf Airport and drove the rest of the way to Recklinghausen. It was a pleasant trip and I did not encounter any problems at the immigration desk.
Cars, buses, trams, trains and bicycles are all available for usage in many German cities. Take note, however, that you will need a bus pass to take the bus. The bus passes are renewable and you can get one to last you the duration of your trip, but you made to get several if you’ll be staying for quite a while, renewing each bus pass as it expires. Most people uses buses to get around town and trains and trams to go to other cities. I found that most people in Recklinghausen prefer to cycle or to take the bus, rather than to drive. N.B. Public transport in Germany runs on a strict schedule and being even a single minute late can result in you missing your bus/train/tram. Time-keeping is very important there.
Places I visited
I started the first leg of my tour in Recklinghausen. I visited the Recklinghausen City Hall and spent some time in Gesamtschule Recklinghausen-Suderwich where I learnt some basic German. I also attended a history lesson in the school so as to get a brief overview of German history. Although there was a little bit of a language barrier – most locals didn’t speak fluent English and I didn’t speak fluent German – I loved interacting with the people I met and we got along swimmingly. On the third day, Leonie and I went to Copa Ca Backum, a waterpark in Herten, for a swim.
On the fourth day, Leonie accompanied me on a trip to Münster. We got there by means of train. We almost missed our train because we were about a few minutes late. Luckily, there was a hold-up somewhere in the train station and we ended up not missing our ride after all. The first place we visited in Münster was the City Hall of Münster (visiting city halls provides a great way to learn about the history of a city). The city hall of Münster used to be one of the locales in which negotiations were held for a series of peace treaties whose signing resulted in the ending of the European wars of religion. Although it was destroyed in World War II, it was rebuilt to its original state. The city hall is now a landmark of Münster. After the city hall, we visited the Münster Botanical Gardens and later went back to the Prinzipalmarkt for some shopping.
My next stop was Cologne. I took a train from Recklinghausen to Cologne. I got to visit Cologne’s most famous and most loved landmark, the Cologne Cathedral. The Cologne cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It features Gothic architecture. The cathedral is the largest twin-spiralled church in the world at its towering 157m (515ft) in height. Its construction commenced in 1248, paused in 1473, commenced again in the 19th Century and finally finished in 1880. It was declared a world heritage site in 1996. The Shrine of the Three Kings, the medieval statue of St. Christopher and the crucifix of Bishop Gero are all found inside the cathedral. The cathedral also features beautiful stained windows and gold decor in the interior. During World War II, the twin spires of the cathedral were used by the Allied forces as a navigational landmark for their aircraft. When the city was bombed in World War II, the cathedral remained standing, even though it took 14 hits itself, while the rest of the city was completely flattened. I loved that there were street artists and performers just outside of the cathedral. Their contemporary work provided a wonderful contrast to the gothic work of art that is the cathedral.
I spent the first weekend of my trip in Bonn, mostly walking around the city and admiring its architecture. I travelled from Cologne to Bonn by train and checked into a small hotel. As soon as I had settled into my hotel room, I took a stroll to the Rhine river where I boarded a boat to cruise the Rhine. The boat ride lasted 30 minutes and it gave us a spectacular view of the city and its surrounding areas. After the boat ride, I went out for some ice cream before heading back to the hotel. Point to note: while ordering food in Germany, remember to ask for the non-alcoholic version, that is, if you don’t drink. Many foods, including ice cream, are prepared with alcohol, and I’m not talking about the kind of alcohol that burns off during food preparation, but the kind that actually remains in the food and is consumed within the food as part of the meal. Also while in Bonn, I took the chance to visit the Konrad Adenauer House in nearby town Bad Honnef.
Although not in North Rhine-Westphalia, I got to visit Ahrweiler for a tour of the Cold-War-nuclear-bunker-turned-museum located there. The bunker is reminiscent of the nuclear threats present during the Cold War and it was built for the purpose of holding government officials in case the threat became a reality. I took a train from Bad Honnef to Ahrweiler, which took about 50 minutes but only takes about 30 minutes if you drive instead. To get from the town to the bunker, you’ll need to climb the gentle slopes of the vineyard that surrounds it, which provided for great views of the town below. The bunker itself is in great shape and most of the exhibits are just as they were at the time of occupancy. The exhibits include decontamination equipment, the Chancellor’s bedroom and technical equipment, among others.
After Ahrweiler, I went back to Recklinghausen, after which Leonie’s family suggested that we take a trip to Oberhausen. Given the adventurous person that I am, I went along with it. We drove to Oberhausen and started off with a tour of the Gasometer. The Gasometer used to be a gas holder but it was converted to an exhibition centre. In addition to that, the roof of the Gasometer was converted to a viewing floor which gives excellent views of the city below. After the Gasometer, we visited Oberhausen’s Hollywood Walk of Fame and had lunch at the Restaurant Pagoda. If you’re ever in Oberhausen, make sure to check out Restaurant Pagoda; they have the best buffet deals in town.
My next destination was Essen. I visited the Zollverein Coal Mine industrial Complex. The complex is part of Germany’s national heritage because Germany largely built its economy on coal. Mining in the Zollverein coal mine took place from 1851 to 1986 and when the mines were closed, instead of letting Zollverein go through a period of decay, North Rhine-Westphalia bought the complex and declared shaft 12, the central mining facility, a heritage site. In 2001, UNESCO declared the complex a word heritage site. Additionally, the Ruhr Museum is located in the complex. The museum has over 6000 exhibits of the geological, archaeological, industrial and social history of the area.
After the coal mine, I visited Grugapark. Due to its beauty and the wide range of leisure activities it offers, it’s always peak season in Grugapark. In fact, the park is named amongst Germany’s most beautiful parks. It features a botanical garden, large bird enclosures, a petting zoo, a spa, numerous sculptures, a miniature railway exhibition, a high rope course and a maze. I mostly loved the fact that the park is wheelchair accessible and accessible to visually-impaired persons as well. N.B. Grugapark is open daily from 9 am to dusk. An admission fee is charged.
I travelled to Bottrop-Kirchhellen to visit Movie Park. Movie Park is a theme park and it contains real movie studios, 4D movie theatres, themed rides, roller coasters, a make-your-own-ice-cream-parlour, a shopping street, numerous eateries and a gyro drop by the name The High Fall. If you are afraid of heights or of falling and/or you don’t have a strong stomach, then you should avoid The High Fall at all costs.
I spent the last week of my stay in Bochum. While there, I visited the Opel Car Factory to learn how automobiles are made. I also visited Ruhrpark for a shopping spree and attended a football match in Rewirpowerstadion. If you’re looking to get better acquainted with the people of West Rhine-Westphalia, attending a football match is definitely one way to go about it. This is because the most famous region for football in Germany, the Ruhr district, is located in North Rhine-Westphalia. The region has more regular football players than any other region in Germany. In fact, the largest football teams in Germany, Schalke and Dortmund BVB are based in the Ruhr.
I spent the last day of my trip in Dusseldorf. I visited the Rhine Tower and had lunch at the revolving restaurant atop the tower. The tower provides excellent panoramic views of the city. After lunch, I took a thirty-minute walk to Hofgarten where I spent the rest fo my afternoon.