As we leave our first stop in this region of Germany we leave knowing that Gelsenkirchen, Cologne and Oberhausen are all beautiful cities with very unique and distinctive qualities and a day in each city could never do that city justice.
It is interesting to know that once not too long ago 150-200 coal mines existed in Germany (with the region we are leaving having one of the higher percentages of these facilities) and that only over the last 50 years this industry has diminished to only 5 remaining coal mines. Once close to 1 million people were employed by this industry and that has diminished to about 20 thousand today. The plan is to close the remaining coal mines by the year 2018. With nuclear plants in heavy discussions as well, the goal is to establish wind and solar energy as the standard in Germany. While some embrace its possibilities others question it.
What I found most amazing and impressive is that with so many large unused coalmine campuses scattered throughout this region they did not demolish them and build new buildings; instead they reused the facilities and put in universities, museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. These facilities were not poorly maintained places but very nice, high-end, clean facilities. One of the coolest museums we visited was the Oberhausen Theater; it was in a massive silo that once was used for storage of coal through the refining process; just incredible. In fact, our last night we went to a very trendy and hip beer-garden, this building was a part of a large coal mining facility that was once used for holding people that had been seriously injured (or worse) in the mine. Back many, many years ago; this happened more often than people like to remember. Across the way from the beer-garden was another large building that was used to house the Executives of this particular coal mining campus; that is now a beautiful hotel.
When all the coal mining facilities in this region were in operation they had many railroad tracks in place that they needed for the transportation of goods. Since most of these routes are not used in that fashion anymore the tracks have been removed and they have been turned into beautiful biking and running paths. We were lucky enough to be able to utilize these paths for both hiking and biking a couple times in our short stay.
A special thank you to our incredible hosts that showed us around their beautiful region. We enjoyed every minute of our stay and of their company –none of us wanted our days to end. We could never have imagined the amazing treatment we received. We know that one day our paths will cross again with Werner and Annette and we look forward with anticipation to that time. As our train left the station heading to Berlin, we were all very sad to leave these great people but happy that we were given the opportunity to be a part of their lives even if only for a few days.