After packing all of our stuff, cleaning our rooms, and saying our last goodbyes to Berlin, we took the train to Essen. I really enjoyed the train ride because for one, the train was extremely comfortable, and for two, it was really interesting to watch how the landscape changed as we made our way to Essen. We started out in the denser, urban landscape of Berlin, and ended up in the fairly dense and urban landscape of Essen, but on our way there, we passed several farms, villages, places of historic importance, and several other landscapes that we had not seen before.
So far, some observations that I have about Essen are that its greener than Berlin, has less people, and has more cars. I enjoyed the layout and energy of Berlin more than Essen, but I am still excited to experience a new environment. The place we are staying in, UnPerfektHaus, is really cool and has an interesting backstory. The hostel/hotel business is owned by a family that enjoys the arts a lot. Therefore, artists will sometimes get to stay at UnPerfektHaus free of charge, given that they promise to practice their art and let the public view it. Our living situation is cool because our group takes up two whole floors of the hostel. We have several rooms and bathrooms, but we also have a sauna, kitchen, and access to everything in UnPerfektHaus, such as live performances and events.
After settling into our apartment, we went out for dinner at a Greek restaurant. We then came back to UnPerfektHaus and explored the building and the surrounding area.
Our first official stop in Essen was Phoenix See. Phoenix See is a site that used to be heavily polluted due to an existing coal mine. After the mine was taken down, the area was reconverted into a lake that is now almost clean enough to drink! The area around the mine used to be surrounded by the homes of working class families, but today the surrounding housing is becoming more varied, as more expensive homes and high-rises are being built in the area. I really enjoyed visiting Phoenix See because it shows you that reconversion and remediation of polluted places is possible. It also shows you that a place can be sustainable but also beautiful and engaging. The chosen plant-life and various lookout points in Phoenix See created some beautiful views, and interactive play equipment and other structures made the experience of walking through Phoenix See very interesting.
Day 19 was spent primarily in Dusseldorf, which is considered one of the most expensive cities in Germany. We visited a building here that, within the next few years, is expected to be completely covered with a green roof. We watched a video that showed renderings of what the site will look like, and walked around the current site to see the work that was being done and the materials they were using to make this possible. It was really fascinating; I’ve seen green roofs before but never one done in such a large scale.
After visiting this building, we walked through the heart of Dusseldorf. We visited an exhibit in a subway station that discussed some artifacts that had been found underground while the subway station was being created. It revealed a lot about what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, because many brick buildings and structures were discovered. We also walked down the main road in Dusseldorf, which is home to many designer boutiques. There is also a canal flowing down the center of this main road, which is very beautiful. It was really interesting to compare the expensive streets of Dusseldorf to a street such as the one we were staying on in Berlin, which did not have a single designer boutique in sight.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting sites that focus on ecological restoration and sustainable communities. I’m excited to visit these sites and analyze them with an environmental planning perspective, because at least while we were in Berlin, we focused a lot more on designs and aesthetics than sustainability.