This year it was the turn of our friends at Meerbusch Rotary to host our annual Link Meeting, and they chose their industrial heritage as the theme of the visit. With Pinner and Brügge-West Rotarians based at the Rheinhotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Meerbusch, we travelled by coach each day to various destinations along the Ruhr Industrial Heritage Trail.
After welcoming drinks and lunch on Friday, Markus gave us a brief introduction to the Ruhr region, explaining how the geology of the area led to the development of coal mining and the steel industry, and the role Düsseldorf played as the financial centre.
Our first visit was to Duisburg Harbour and the Museum Küppersmühle, a centre for modern and contemporary art housed in a former warehouse. The works of art varied from massive immersive canvasses by Anselm Kiefer, some more accessible works by artists whose names I cannot remember, wonderful photographic portraits, and the totally obscure broom mounted on a pedestal. No amount of explanation by our guide would convince us that was art!
By the end of Friday it was obvious the weather was going to be wonderful all weekend, blue skies throughout the daytime, but a bit chilly at night. With this in mind, some of us were scrambling around for extra clothing when we discovered that our home visit for the Friday evening meal involved sitting outside to eat. No problem though as wonderful wood braziers kept the chill at bay, and we enjoyed a delicious meal, good conversation, and the company of our host's enormous dog.
Saturday was the ‘coal and steel’ day, it didn’t sound very inspiring on paper but there was a lot for us to discover about the rise and fall of the coal and steel industries from our very informative guides. First stop was Zeche Zollverein, a coal mine complex near Essen founded in 1847 and still functioning until December 1986. Since 2001 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Outside, the Bauhaus style red-coloured cubical buildings and the winding tower of one of the mine shafts were impressive, but it was inside that the vast scale of the operations and the appalling working conditions became clear. We were able to handle some of the implements used by the miners, or at least we tried to, pick-axes and sledge hammers so heavy it was impossible to imagine wielding them through an 8 hour shift underground. At its peak, between the two World Wars, up to 8,000 miners worked day and night down in the mines and on the endless conveyor belts above ground.
For the afternoon visit we headed to Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, the site of a disused iron and steel works. Here the buildings have been preserved and put to various uses whilst the surroundings are a landscaped park for the public to remember the industrial history of the area. An old gasometer has been turned into a diving centre for scuba divers, the old coke bunkers turned into gardens and their concrete walls used by rock climbers, and an outdoor performance area has been created alongside the smelting plants. A decommissioned blast furnace is now a 70-metre-high observation tower which we chose not to climb, as by this time we were all pretty tired and the thought of an ice cream or cold beer was much more appealing!
The President’s Dinner on Saturday evening was a buffet held in the main restaurant of the hotel. Before the meal Meerbusch President, Gregor König, gave a presentation on their club’s Global Grant project concerning screening for eye cancer in children in Nepal and Bangladesh. Brugge West had already made a donation to the project, and subsequently we have made our own contribution from Pinner.
After the speeches and the meal, Tom Cryan stood up to announce the destination for next year’s Link Meeting which we are hosting. His description of the area around Chichester was probably new to most people, but interest was piqued, particularly when a castle (Arundel) was mentioned.
Sunday morning’s visit proved to be the most popular of the weekend. A gasometer may not sound very attractive, but the Gasometer Oberhausen is something special. Inside is a multi-floored exhibition space, below and above the original pressure disc, where the then current exhibition ‘Call of the Mountains’ was taking place. A central enclosed stage area had a gigantic replica of the Matterhorn floating above the seating, it was a bit like the Planetarium, where you lay back and watched the changing seasons on the famous peak. After the guided tour, those with a head for heights took a lift to a walkway round the top of the gasometer with views of the whole Ruhr region. And still the sun was shining!
The farewell lunch took place back at the hotel with everyone promising to meet again next year. I’m sure our Pinner team of Tom and Brian will produce an interesting programme for our visitors, but will we be able to match that weather?!
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