Essen is fifteen miles north of Düsseldorf in the heavily populated Ruhr River Valley with 11 cities and more than 5 million people. Essen was he 2010 European Capitol of Culture in 2010.The history of the Ruhr Valley dates back to 250,000 B.C. and many Iron Age artifacts have been found in the area which has extensive coal and iron resources.
The history of Essen is closely linked with the Krupp family which built an industrial empire in the Ruhr Valley during the beginning of the 19th century Industrial Age. The Krupp Patriarch was Frederich Krupp (1778 – 1826), who built steel mills, foundries, weapons manufacturing, and owned coal and iron mines to supply his factories. The Krupp’s were responsible for many inventions in steel making, heavy machinery, tools, and arms manufacturing, making steel cannons for the Russian, Turkish, and Prussian armies in the 1840’s.
When Friedrich died in 1826, his son, Alfred (1812 – 1887) inherited the family empire at the age of 14. In addition to managing the families factories, Alfred began constructing a baronial estate, Villa Hugel, in the Essen suburb of Baldeney. The Villa was constructed in 1870 – 1873 with lavish gardens, sanctuaries for game animals, and a 40 room villa, far from the blast furnaces and foundries of the family industrial empire.
Alfred moved his family, wife Berta and son Friedrich Alfred, into Villa Hugel in 1873 and continued a meticulous oversight of the continuing modifications. Alfred was a task master, employing teams of architects, contractors, and art historians to fulfill his dream. Heating and ventilation were continuing problems at the spacious Villa and the family had to leave their home during times of extreme temperatures in the summer and winter.
Alfred only lived at the Villa for 14 years. When he died in 1887, his son, Friedrich, and his wife, Margarethe, made interior modifications and added tennis courts, riding stables, a bowling alley and an impressive art collection including elaborate Flemish tapestries which still hang on the walls. The household staff which was 66 servants when Alfred died, ballooned to 570 by the time Friedrich committed suicide in 1902. Margarethe lived there until she died in 1931.
Friedrich and Margarethe’s daughter, Bertha, took over the Krupp empire at the age of 16. Four years later, she married Gustav von Bohlen und Holbach and they had seven children who lived at the estate. Bertha continued interior modifications and hired Kaiser Wilhelm II’s architect to continue with design projects.
Three generations of the Krupp family lived at the 269 room, 8000 square meters, Villa Hugel. Monarchs, generals, state ministers, bankers, businessmen and the politically connected from Europe met at Villa Hugel in the late 19th century and early 20th century to relax and discuss world politics, economics, business, and national security affairs.
When Bertha died, her son and heir, Alfred, disinherited himself and the estate was turned into a foundation, Alfred Krupp von Bohlen und Holbach-Stifung. The foundation supports international projects in health care, education, science, the arts, and sports
Most of heavy industry has left Essen. It is now home to high-tech and service industries, including the public company, ThyssenKrupp, with 200,000 employees world-wide and the six largest steel producer in the world.
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We visited Villa Hugel on an overcast Saturday afternoon, walking the grounds, and touring the wood-paneled library, sitting rooms, offices, reception rooms, art gallery, ball room, and lecture hall with a large fireplace and elaborate tapestries.
The estate has the feeling of an Old European aristocracy which the Krupp’s certainly were. The wooden floors and stairs creaked when you walked over them, making for an eerie feeling. The effect supposedly was so that the family would know when one of the hundreds of servants or butlers were approaching.
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While in Essen, we got together with good friends, Thorsten and Diana Lelgemann and their children, Robin, Paul and Lilly. They hosted us for dinner and a lovely place to stay.
On a Saturday afternoon, we went to Robin’s soccer game, and had a lovely meal with all the extended family at a biergarten in an Essen park. Our visit with them was an early highlight of our summer travels.
Breakfast (Fruhstuck) Feasts
One of the major treats about travel in Europe are the incredible breakfasts offered by hotels. Our Essen hotel offered self-service lattes, cappuccino, and coffee Americano and teas from a dozen tins. Spoon your choice into a small tea-pot, add hot water from a samovar, and let it steep at your table while you return to the buffet table to make your food selections.
Our buffet table offered soft cheeses, meats, pates, sliced fruits and vegetables, and fruit juices; blinis, baskets of fresh rolls, pretzels, bagels, and toast; bowls of fresh yoghurt, cereals, jams, butter, cream cheese, boiled eggs, sausages, bacon, and freshly cooked omelette.
My favorite breakfast was one or two cheese slices, prosciutto slices, pickle, tomato, greens on a fresh bun with dash of spicy mustard, a bowl of plum yoghurt, a small portion of granola, tomato and apple juice, a soft-boiled egg, and a steaming pot of Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea.
Delicious and very filling to begin another day of sight-seeing and exploring.
Next destination: Aachen
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In addition to writing this travel blog, I write fiction — thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. I’m currently writing a thriller series based in Milan featuring the anti-terrorism police, DIGOS, as they track down domestic and international terrorists.
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