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Ana Ho Chen Sheyna Lotun
Chinese-Peruvian engineering apprentice living and working in La Rochelle, France. Graduate student in Mechatronics Engineering from Mauritius, the jewel of the Indian Ocean.
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The closing ceremony

The reward time! Indeed, the last day of this fascinating programme was dedicated to us. We were all well-dressed for this very important event; Greg and Alnardo even followed their country’s custom of wearing the traditional Batik shirt on Fridays. Ahmad accompanied us from the hotel to the university guest house, where the closing ceremony was held. Arriving there, we were greeted by Professor Jeromin, Professor Zahout-Heil and Jessica who were fixing up each of our poster presentations at the entrance of the building for the eminent guests to see; the mayor of Darmstadt, Jochen Partsch and the h_da President, Prof. Dr.rer.nat. Ralph Stengler. Two journalists and Dr. Hein were also present to celebrate with us.

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We appeared in the Darmstadter Echo the next day!

The ceremony started by a video presentation made by Jessica who managed to capture some fun memories of our journey in Germany and successfully conveyed our excitement throughout this programme. Sheyna and Ana were asked to give a short presentation of our impressions on this programme but they actually called the whole group on stage to say a few words on their experience in Germany: each of us shared our feelings and all the words gathered were fixed on the white board.

We were 19 students from 10 different countries with 1 goal and we unanimously agreed that the 28 days spent in Germany will remain as some of the best days of our life.

Our impressions

Our impressions of Germany

To give a glimpse of the difference between the culture in Germany and that in our countries, Greg and Alnardo gave a power-point presentation on life in Indonesia. We were then addressed by the Mayor, who was really moved by our presentation. His speech was deeply touching as he even said that we now form part of the h_da family. The h_da president also made us feel special by assuring us that he shall remember us if ever he visits our universities or if we ever come back. Professor Jeromin proudly explained how we worked hard on our poster presentations and how we actively participated in all the activities during the programme. Last but not least, we were each finally awarded our certificates by the Mayor and we were congratulated personally by each of the guests present. That was a great honour! We were all satisfied and happy with what we have achieved.

In the evening, the originally planned barbecue party to be held at the guesthouse was cancelled due to the bad weather. However, the professors and Jessica invited us to the Grohe Brauerei where we had a sumptuous dinner and some final Maß!

We felt heart broken to think that it was our last day together but we know that we have made lifetime friends. What is more, we actually did achieve what we came here looking for; we discovered new techniques regarding renewable energies, because we want to make a meaningful change as future professionals, and we got to live the German culture in a friendly environment. As the Mayor of Darmstadt pointed out earlier in the closing ceremony, ISU Darmstadt 2017 has thus been summarized by ourselves in two words: Energiewende and Prost.

 

 

Last week at h_da

We’ve arrived to our fourth and final week in Darmstadt. We still had three days on campus, with academic and German courses. Even if we finished the modules of Energy Efficiency and Smart Infrastructures, we still had classes that were considered as a complement to our courses, such as Energy Economics and Light Architecture.

Monday

We started the day with a lecture on energy economics. We already had Professor Sebastian Herold on our Energy Distribution lecture earlier in the programme, but his real core study is Energy Economics. The purpose of this class was to make us aware of all the economics mechanics behind the Energiewende. Certainly, most of the challenges in the deployment of Energiewende are technical, but they also include economical and political ones.

After a short introduction on the power markets, which are mostly unknown to a large part of the public, we set off to understand the impact of renewable energies on the energy prices. The issue is that in order to develop renewable energies, governments have to subsidize them, and the funds come from taxes in our electricity and gas bills. At the same time, the production of electricity through renewable sources is not regular, which means that we need backup sources that can instantly satisfy the need of energy (such as fossil fuels). Surprise, the marginal cost of fossil fuels is very high compared to that of renewable energies! Therefore, governments have to invest more money than expected, which increases the taxes. And the loop is thus closed.

This was better explained with an exercise. Professor Herold handed in an article from The Economist, that detailed this “death spiral”. We analysed it in groups of four and then discussed the article all together following some guide questions. As a final conclusion of this lecture, we realised that in order to change things for the best, we have to suggest solutions not only from a technical point of view, but also from an economical point of view. And thus, collaboration between different background professionals is necessary in order to change things.

On a lighter note, in the evening, the ISU team had organised for us a German movie night, which was part of the German course, at the cinema of Luisenplatz. When we arrived there, we found out that Jessica had actually booked the entire cinema room for us, meaning that she bought 80 tickets so that we could have the room all to ourselves! We were also given pop corn and soda, all for free!

We watched Willkommen bei den Hartmann (Welcome to the Hartmann’s), a German comedy about a Nigerian refugee who is taken in by a German family and tries to adapt to a German lifestyle while waiting for the results of his political asylum petition.

We laughed a lot with some of the scenes from the film’s SPOILER ALERT like when Basti did his rap music clip with the help of Diallo, or after the huge party organised by the friend of Angelika. There were also heart-touching moments, such as the presentation that Basti did on Boko-Haram, the reason why Diallo fled to Germany, or when Sofie comes across his father at the club and leaves after realising that he has been cheating on her mother.

This film is definitely one of the ways to get to know a culture better. It shows also one of the ways to address societal issues, such as immigration. In Europe, this is one of the topics that divides the more our society and, through humour, this film tries to make people reflect on the question of “What is actually that makes us feel Germans?”.

Tuesday

In the morning, we met with Ahmad, who took us to the Landesmuseum for a presentation that we would have on Architecture. Our lecturer showed us some insights in light architecture. This concerns the use of light in order to create different spaces and atmospheres, without changing the infrastructure. Just with a different layout of light sources or different light colours, a space can appear bigger or smaller, and objects inside this space can convey different feelings.

We visited then some of the rooms of the Landesmuseum, where we could appreciate the different functions of lightning according to the topic of the room. The exhibition on zoology, for example, used light in a different way than the exhibition on renaissance paintings.

Finally, we ended our visit with a tour at the Rosetta exhibition. And, just in case you didn’t know, Darmstadt is where the European Space Agency and the European Space Operations Centre are! They directed and monitored the three phases of the mission: the launching of the Ariane 5 rocket, the trip of the Rosetta space craft through the space, and the landing of the Philae module on a comet. We saw a really innovative presentation that summarised this mission, we actually laid down the floor on bean bags and watched this presentation projected all over the ceiling above us. It was truly mind-blowing!

Wednesday

We actually spent all of our tuesday evening preparing our German presentation (don’t judge us, it’s the fault of procrastination…). The class of beginners in German had the choice between preparing a short presentation introducing themselves and their country of origin or doing a short conversation in pairs. The other four who had foundations in German, Alex, Sheyna, Rahman and Ana, had to prepare a presentation on our trip to Rüdesheim. The hotel café bar, again, became our head quarters for a night. Most of us couldn’t have made it if it wasn’t with the help of Frau Ahlheim (a.k.a. our dear Mona), who became our volunteer German teacher (at one point her class was made of 10 of us).

The next day was the big day! We did our presentations group by group, and some of the conversations were really funny (the guys were really creative). It was satisfying to see ourselves and realize that we arrived without knowing a word in German (except for Hallo and Danke) and now we were able to make basic sentences and count! We’ve come a long way indeed…

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Aidan: “Super! Ich komme aus den USA auch!”

In the evening, we decided to organise a picnic to enjoy one of the last sunny days in Darmstadt before we left (the weather forecast announced rain for the next two days). We organised ourselves to buy Einweg grills, a sort of disposable barbecue grill for one person (thank you Germany!) and meat, and then set off to Grube Prinz von Hessen lake. It’s almost an hour bus ride, with a connection once in the outskirts of Darmstadt and a short 10-minute walk through the woods. But it’s totally worth it! Aidan, Gaetan and Rodeo used their cavemen skills to light up the bonfire and Sheyna, Roger and CH were handling the BBQ production chain, while the rest of us enjoyed swimming in the lake.

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The Master of Fire

We had to be careful not to miss the last bus back to Darmstadt! Some of us got a little lost when we tried to join the others, who were already at the bus stop waiting for the bus, and we only had 10 minutes to reach them. So there we were, walking in the dark with all of our stuff and trying to find our way out (no, there is no service coverage in the woods so Google Maps wasn’t very useful) until we saw a bright light in front of us: it was Dev who was making signals with his phone! The rest of the group cheered us while we ran as fast as we could so that we wouldn’t miss the bus, and we made it safely back to the city. This was absolutely one of the most memorable Darmstadt adventures for us.

Thursday

Our last educational outing was in Mühltal where we visited a smart house owned by Dr. Bernhard Hein, a very friendly person who welcomed us warmly. He actually retrofitted his own house (which was originally built in 1920) with solar panels and advanced technologies such as solar inverters and device controllers all wired to smart software like TA Designer and TAPPS2 which are used to program the heating system and switching modules in his house.

He started the guided tour of his house by showing us his garden (where he planted a variety of vegetables) and his solar panels which are strategically located on the roof of his house. We were then invited inside where he had already set up a presentation room with comfortable benches, chairs and small snacks which included hot tea (made of herbs from his garden) and coffee.

We were introduced, through a Powerpoint presentation, to the equipment installed, how to interprete the data collected, the controlled devices and the software he uses to efficiently monitor the heating system of his smart house even when he is abroad on holidays (ah, Internet is of great use in such technologies!). He has definitely proved to us that anyone can go for a smart home as the initial investment does lead to a significant saving later. He also showed us his basement where the solar inverter, the device controllers, the hot water (boiled by the solar heaters) as well as the gas heater and the paper/wood burner (used during winter when there is not enough sunshine for the solar panels to work properly) are installed. We are certainly thankful to Dr Hein who generously opened the doors of his unique house and kindly offered to help us in any future smart home project.

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Wir machen Watt!

Weekend trip #4: Heidelberg, the romantic…

On Sunday, we woke up for a short trip to Heidelberg in the state of Baden-Wurtemberg. It was a sunny and warm day, so once we got off the bus and saw the landscape, with the river Neckar, the green forests, the blue sky and the castle on top of a hill, we were too thrilled! Ahmad, an ISU member who was accompanying us, had already lived for a while in Heidelberg, so he suggested us to go first to the Old Bridge and then to the Castle of Heidelberg.

 

The charm of the bridge are its red bricks, which are quite uncommon in other cities that we’ve visited in Germany. In fact, Heidelberg is one of the cities that was the least affected during the Second World War, which is why it managed to keep its beautiful architecture. We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed the sun for a moment, before heading to the cable car that would take us to the castle. Once at the top, it was still early so we had around one hour to eat something (guessed right, it’s Bratwurst time!) while we waited for our guided tour to start.

Heidelberg Castle

Built in the 15th century, this was the residence of the prince-elector of the region. He built it on the side of a hill, as a king of natural defense system (there is a good reason why a cable car exists in order to climb up…) This castle has been destroyed three times, and almost four! Our guide went through all of the dramatic stories around these destructions.

  1. It all started with Frederick V, elector palatine and Protestant. When he became King of Bohemia and Holy Sacred Emperor, he didn’t imagine that it would trigger the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. Friedrich had to escape with his family to the Netherlands. The Heidelberg castle, that he built up to be magnificent for his wife, was burned after two years. Aftermath of the Thirty Years War: out of 8 million people, some fled while others died either in war, or of famine.
  2. The second destruction came shortly after this one. After that war, his son, Karl Ludwig I, came back to the castle. He married his daughter to Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe d’Orléans, in order to maintain good relationships. But when the latter died, the palatine crown fell into the hands of a distant Catholic cousin of his, who seized the castle and destroyed it again before leaving it 4 years after.
  3. But happy stories are short. In the 18th century, Karl-Theodor built a new palace in Mannheim and it became the new capital of his land (Palatinate and Bavaria). The Heidelberg castle was therefore only used for the storage of gunpowder. One stormy night, a lightning struck… and there again the castle was almost completely destroyed.

The castle was never completely reconstructed, and it was abandoned until the 19th century, where it was saved by a French aristocrat, Charles de Graimberg, who fought for it to be preserved. Thanks to him, nowadays we can enjoy a delightful visit to this castle on the heights of Heidelberg.

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View of the castle of Heidelberg from the Old Bridge

An interesting fact about Frederick V is that the current English monarchy descends from him. The last daughter of Frederick V, Sophia, almost became Queen of England (because she was Protestant). Instead, her son was crowned as King George I and ever since, the line of succession has never been broken.

The region of the Palatinate is and has always been famous for its wine. Taxes were paid in wine, and all that wine would be put into giant barrels and served in the feasts. Nothing to be jealous of, our guide explained to us that mixing different kinds of low quality wine (because obviously the producers kept the best wine for their business!) did not offer a very tasty wine in the end. But people at that time actually had no choice. The Neckar was an open air sewage, so wine was actually cleaner than water from the river!

There is still one of these giant barrels on display at the cellar. We didn’t really believe our guide until he told us to go there and check it with our own eyes after the guided tour. And indeed: 200 228 L of wine in a HUGE barrel. There are stairs for climbing to the top of it, where there is like a small dance floor! That’s why this wine barrel currently holds the title of the world’s largest wine barrel.

This guide was one of the youngest and funniest we had so far. He was at the same time studying a Master in History, which explained why he would tell us all the hidden stories behind the nobility which such passion.

 

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View from the castle

Free time at the city center

After the visit, we still had some hours before the bus would pick us up. So we decided to grab something to eat or drink and spend the rest of the sunny afternoon in the charming old Heidelberg. Even if it was a Sunday, Heidelberg’s city center is crowded, the ice cream stores and cafés are humming with activity. With this weather, nothing is more refreshing than a Radler, which is 50/50 soda and beer and ice-cream (the official ISU dessert). We could lounge in a table at the terrasses at a café, and after a short stroll, try another terrasse. Terrasse/Stroll/Ice cream repeat. A pretty way to end our weekend in beautiful Baden-Wurttemberg.

 

 

Weekend trip #3: Wiesbaden – the Capital of Hessen!

On Saturday 5th August, we got the chance to visit Wiesbaden, the capital of the state of Hessen. Together with our ISU student assistant Mona Ahlheim, we met in the lobby and then took the bus to Wiesbaden. Once we arrived there, a building with a big clock on its front side, caught our eyes. A sign next to the cuckoo clock stated that what had grabbed our attention was actually the biggest cuckoo clock in all of Europe! After taking some pictures, we could take a stroll on the outside of the market church. We quickly grabbed some coffee at the market place before meeting our English-speaking guide for a guided tour through the state parliament.

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The famous Cuckoo Clock

The former palace, which by its exterior architectural design didn’t look like a palace at all but rather like a citizen center, left us stunned once we found out what was kept behind the dark greyish walls. Besides traditional furniture and statues from the classicism and huge chandeliers which we of course used as nice photo motifs, we also visited the newer part of the palace which included the state parliament: the hall where the different political parties meet and discuss political issues. It was interesting to hear the history of the building as well as to get information about the political system in Germany.

After having a nice lunch break at an Asian restaurant, we continued our excursion in Wiesbaden by taking the so called “Thermine”, a special cute little old-fashioned train, to see the sights of Wiesbaden and to get to know more about the area. Unfortunately, we all had to squeeze in a small wagon as more people joined the tour than expected. Add to that, the tour was in German… Although we could not totally understand what the guide was saying during the trip, we definitely enjoyed the 50 minutes-drive through this beautiful city: the view from the top of the “Neroberg” hill onto the high society of Wiesbaden was totally worth it!

The last 3 hours of the day were “free time” which we used to get some souvenirs for our families back home or to have some nice German or better to say Italian ice cream before travelling back to Darmstadt by bus at 6pm.

The long-awaited poster presentation…

At the very beginning of this programme, Professor Jeromin informed us that the assessment for the summer courses would be done through a poster presentation, instead of a typical written exam. So during the excursion, we were asked to form groups of two (we had to pair up with a partner from a different country) and choose a topic related to the subjects taught or our trips. This subject had to be summarized in a poster, following a template that Jessica had sent us. This proved to be very interesting as we also had to use what we learned in our classes and excursions to describe and compare with the situation in our respective countries. The most challenging part was that the poster had to be written in German!

On Wednesday 3rd August, instead of classes we had the day “free” to prepare our poster. We all opted to stay at the hotel and prepare our posters as well as our speeches (fortunately, in English!). The hotel lobby/bar became our study room for a whole day (and night!). Working together and helping out each other made us appreciate more the cultures of the different countries of the ISU participants.

In the morning of the long-awaited day, 4th August, we had a German class where we could ask for some help from the teachers with the German texts on our posters. At the end of the class, Jessica came in to take a soft copy of our posters for printing them.

After lunch, we all had a short nap time in the café of building C10 (since everyone stayed up late the previous night). It had a complete wing full of big couches, inviting us to lay down and have a nap. Ana, instead of napping, enjoyed snapping fun pictures of us and she even recorded Aidan snoring!

 

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Rahman chilling out!

These made us laugh so much that we could head in a joyous mood to the “Haus der Energie” building where the presentations were to be held. The stress of the presentation was gone! Professor Jeromin, Jessica, Mona and Ahmed were already waiting for us there. Unfortunately, the other professors could not make it on that day. Each group came in front of the class and presented their work. Although we were nervous, we encouraged each other by cheering before and after each presentations. Professor Jeromin assessed our work and after each presentation, he would ask some thought-provoking questions to the group.

The topics chosen where really interesting: the comparison of the current situation of renewable energies in our countries, an analysis on the smart heating in Germany and possible smart cooling solutions for hot countries (like Mauritius and Mexico!), the technological, economical and social situation of electric vehicles, a comparison on the diverse Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and even a hypothetical sizing for the land surface required by wind turbines in the US (Rodeo stepped in and performed some calculations on the board in front of everyone) !

We finally did it! Even though professor Jeromin told us that he will inform us of our marks the following week (he wanted to study the posters and discuss with Professor Zahout-Heil before grading our work), he assured us that we all did a great job. We were very proud of ourselves – after all we worked hard for it!

Day 7: Wuppertal… our last stop before heading back home

University of Wuppertal

The last day of our week-long excursion had arrived… but we weren’t even close to finish it yet! On the morning of August 2nd, we hopped again in our bus, Richtung the South, Wuppertal. We visited the University of Wuppertal in order to find out more about a research project being conducted there, the Happy Power Hour.

Two young researchers welcomed us in their campus and explained to us their project. In fact, it’s a research on a power management solution for industrial purposes. The difference from the existing offer in the market is that instead of only focusing in the final user, the Happy Power Hour is deployed right between that user and the distribution grid. It consists in the development and implementation of a dynamic priced electricity tariff. The researchers behind it map the power exchange price fluctuation, since there is a high offer and a low demand in summer against a low offer but high demand in winter. Thus, the power exchange price can actually go from 10,04€/Mwh to 61,99€/MWh in one year!

However, industrials do not benefit from the price fluctuations at the power exchange (since they don’t buy the energy directly, it all happens in the EPEXSpot) so they have no incentive to perform some load shift: they pay the electricity for the same price whether they’re using it during the day or the night. The Happy Power Hour creates optimized schedules according to electricity prices. A control box can calculate schedules of up to 10 processes of the company, and control the running times automatically too. This way, the industrial actors and the energy retailers cooperate: we obtain a regular load profile which is more convenient for the distribution grid, and the users get a cheaper electricity tariff.

After this short presentation, they showed us the smart-grid for the parking lot at the university, which provides recharging stations powered by PV panels. But what stole the show was the Tesla car parked there, some of us had never seen a Tesla that close before! Although the owner of the car wasn’t there (so we couldn’t try the interior), we also had the chance to see the BMW i3, one of the best performing electric cars too and also one of the best-sellers around the world.

 

Fertighauswelt

At noon, we had lunch at the Mensa and then we hit the road again in the outskirts of Wuppertal, where we went to the Fertighauswelt, which is an exhibition neighbourhood of only prefabricated houses. Unfortunately, the guide who was supposed to give us a tour couldn’t show up, but instead we visited the houses that caught our eye in small groups.

The houses looked so big and luxurious, it was hard to believe that they were prefabricated and installed in less than one week. Another advantage of these houses is that most of them were actually smart houses, eco-friendly and powered with solar panels, so the temperature, humidity and other information could be controlled independently for each room with a touch screen, as in WoQuaz. Each one of the houses was manufactured and sold by different companies, and come in different styles: there are some houses that are more modern, with sleek lines and big glass panels while some others look more “traditional” with a tiled-roof, hence there are houses for all tastes!

 

We had fun exploring the neighbourhood, it felt like playing in a doll house but live-size (because we all have an inner child).

Hotel Atlanta

Finally, we got on the bus again to ride back home… Everybody was so tired that during most of the trip back to Darmstadt we mostly slept. Once we returned to hotel Atlanta, we realized that although we adored each city that we visited, we missed Darmstadt. Over the two weeks, the staff already knew us and cared for us such that hotel Atlanta had actually become home for us. After all, there is nothing like home, sweet home.

Day 6: Essen (part II)

RWE MHKW (Waste Fire Incineration Plant) Essen-Karnap

Waking up at the Holiday Inn in Essen was a real treat after staying at the youth hostel in Köln. Even though the hostel was comfortable enough, this hotel was luxurious! After breakfast, we set off to one of the biggest incineration plants in Germany which is Müllheizkraftwerk (MHKW) Essen-Karnap. Professor Jeromin had arranged for a double-decker bus so that we could enjoy a nice view throughout the bus trip (that was helpful for the guided bus tour of Essen later on that day).

Arriving at the plant, we were welcomed by a very friendly guide (this one spoke perfect English!) who escorted us to a conference room where he made a short presentation over the different processes of the plant while we had some breakfast snacks. We learned that the plant generates 130 MJ/s of energy used for district heating and 48 MW of energy for household use in the Ruhr area. After incineration, the volume of waste is reduced by 10%.

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Short diagram about how a waste incineration plant works

After the seminar, we changed into safety wear (again safety first!) and went for a guided tour of the plant. We could witness the discharge of wastes in the tipping hall: the smell was strong but bearable! We were directed to a small room with a glass wall, from where a crank operator controls the big grippers to mix the wastes and feed the 4 boilers: everyone was stunned by the huge amount of waste in the waste bunker – 10,000 TN. During the visit, while chatting with our guide he told us some funny anecdotes: a motorcycle that had the whole process stop as it blocked the way (someone was crazy enough to throw away a motorcycle in the regular trash bins) or when they had to stop the operation of the plant and call the police because a human body had been disposed in the waste. The funniest one he told us was when the police had to supervise the incineration of black market goods (branded products such as Chanel, Boss etc.) and all the employees just had to watch the scene with a heavy heart…

Unfortunately we could not visit the burning chamber as the sparks generated in the boilers (they operate at a temperature higher than 1000°C) frequently caused some explosions which could be dangerous for bystanders. On the other hand, we could visit the general control room where a team of specialised workers supervised the different processes by viewing live videos of the tipping hall, the waste bunker and the boilers: there we could at least see the video transmissions of the burning processes. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the plant but indeed we felt privileged to be given the opportunity to visit such an important place for a city that usually remains unknown for the most of the population.

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A happy crew!

Zollverein: former coal mine

In the afternoon, we visited Zollverein, a former coal mine complex and one of the biggest in Germany. It was owned by the Haniel family, owners of the Franz Haniel & Cie Holding and one of the wealthiest families in Germany, even nowadays. Our tour started with an energetic and funny guide, who started by telling us the history behind the name of the mine. It means “Customs Union”, and indeed, it was a bizarre name for a mine. In fact, it dates back to the time when France and England had already a central state but Germany didn’t. So when transporting coal from one state to the other, producers had to pay customs fees. Bothered by this issue, Germany industrials decided to implement free trade inside the country, thus the creation of Customs Union.

This mine was founded in 1928, and it was closed down in 1986. Now, it’s a museum about the mining industry and its important role in modern Germany. It is also a master piece of industrial architecture, with its dark red towers and its ancient interior setting design.

Coal mining was the key activity in German economy; it led the German Industrial Revolution for 800 years. It was also a technology-driver, because most of the research and development done at that time was aimed at improving the performance and the production rate of mines. For example, they invented lifts in order to load faster the coal extracted down in the mines.

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Now that’s a fancy coal mine!

 

Our guide showed us the different rooms in this huge mine while describing the difficult working conditions at that time. The unloading of coal generated a noise of 106 dB (a starting airplane generates around 120 dB). There was a room where loudspeakers reproduced this noise so that we would try to put ourselves in the workers shoes for two minutes – that was super loud! However, these conditions had to be endured 24hrs by the workers!

Over a century, although the working conditions didn’t improve at all, the people liked the stability that the work offered. In addition to this, there was plenty of job opportunities and this is how many Polish, Italians and Turkish immigrants started to come to Germany. Our guide explained to us an interesting point of view from the workers of that era: nobody actually felt miserable, because everybody had the same tough life. Plus, accommodation was included in the contract and the employer even provided free coal and a garden where the miners could grow vegetables and keep some goats.

We ended our visit by climbing up to the top of the mining facilities, where we could see how big Zollverein was. We could also see the huge hills around Essen commonly known as tips which was made of the remaining stone that’s left after washing the coal. Some of them were really big and it is hard to imagine Essen’s landscape before that was dumped.

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The whole Zollverein mining complex has dark red buildings, which are part of its architectural value

The Krupp family and Essen

Before going back to the hotel, we had a bus tour of Essen with a guide who commented on the city sights. Essen is a rather modern city, most of it was destroyed after the Second World War, so many buildings had to be rebuilt.  It was founded as a city in 1850 but it was already a big economical centre thanks to the mining industry. When the last coal mine was closed down, the city started to shrink, but now thanks to other fields of economy the city is growing again. As a proof, the unemployment rate is very low: 2% in the south of the city and 2.12% in the north. We drove past some of the biggest German companies headquarters: e.on, Karstadt, Aldi Group, ThysenKrupp… Needless to say, there will always be jobs for young professionals here.

The biggest sponsor of the city was the Krupp family, one of the richest in Europe thanks to the mining and steel industry. In fact, they were the first weaponry manufacturer during both wars.

We headed to Margaritenhöhe Garden, an enormous park named after the wife of Friedrich Alfred Krupp, the second Krupp to direct the family company. With the help of our big bus, we drove 50 metre up to one of Essen’s tips. Nowadays, the tips are open for the public and local artists to display massive artworks on them. The one we were at, the Schurenbachhalde, featured a massive 15-metre-high slab, called Bramme (slab), made by American artist Richard Serra. From there, we contemplated the industrial city’s skyline to the sunset. The slab pretty much represented Essen’s essence (no pun intended) as an industrial capital. It is made of steel, a metal that was key for Essen’s economic growth, covered with rust (an effect that the artist was looking for on purpose), and yet it’s there, standing up on top of the city.

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That’s Greg next to the slab, so that you can tell how tall it was (15 metres tall!)

Night was falling, so we returned to the hotel. At Ana’s request (and because she was craving for what she calls “real food”), Professor Jeromin suggested to us a traditional Bavarian restaurant not far from there, der Löwe. We decided to go there, and Professor Jeromin decided to join us too! At the restaurant, he introduced us to the famous Maß (measure), which is a one-litre mug for beer, typically seen in Germany and specially in Oktoberfest (the American boys fell in love with it), and he also recommended us several traditional Bavarian specialties, such as the Schnitzel. We had an awesome dinner, with the Professor sharing funny anecdotes with us and exchanging tongue-twisters in Chinese, Indonesian, English, French… you name it. Do you know how much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? This dinner was one of the most memorable moments with him in this trip!

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Time for some typical Bavarian food in Essen!

Day 5: Essen (part I)

Strip mining Garzweiler and RWE Power Station

On Monday 31st July, Professor Jeromin came to meet us at the hostel in Köln and we all hit the road again. We headed to the Tagebau Garzweiler which is a large surface mine in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. It is operated by RWE and used for mining lignite. We went first inside the RWE Garzweiler Info-Center, where we met our guide. She was unfortunately more comfortable speaking German with us, so Professor Jeromin and Mona volunteered to translate to English what was said during the whole visit. They did a pretty good job!

We were given some explanation about the extraction of lignite, which is done from 40m to 210m below the Earth’s surface. We were also told that due to the new laws on Energiewende, the mining operations will be shut down in some years, and RWE is already preparing for the future training that the mining industry employees will need for reorienting their career. We were shown some designs of the forthcoming plans in which the lands are reconstructed for agricultural purposes and the mines are filled with water to be used by the neighbouring inhabitants. Then, we went for a bus tour around the excavated land. We were all astounded by the vastness of the landscape (the mining area covers 3.096 ha of land!) and the enormous super expensive bucket wheel excavators – the small electric excavators costs “only” 150 million dollars each and they need 8 operators at the same time.

Later, we travelled with our guide to the RWE Power Station which is a bit less than a 30 min drive from the mining areas. After a short introduction by our guide and Professor Jeromin, we could finally visit the power station, but before: safety first! We were ushered into the changing rooms where we were given safety gears such as safety shoes, head protection, goggles, fluorescent jackets and ear plugs. We followed our guide into a big lift, and funnily in RWE they don’t use floor numbers but rather meters in height, the total height of the building being 170m. It seems that this was common practice in power plants. The noise and heat that welcomed us once the doors of the lift opened were overwhelming. We learned that the production capacity of the plant is 660 MW (at full capacity, 30 000 TN of lignite are consumed per day!) and that the boilers operated at 600°C, 200 bars – no wonder why we felt so hot! We took the stairs and walked all the way up to the top of the building where we could see a magnificent view of the surrounding villages. There we could breathe some fresh air… although we were next to the cooling towers! Back inside, we had a close-up view of the steam turbine, which has a rotating speed of 3000 rpm during the cooling phase. Seeing so many huge machines in one day felt like being in the Transformers movie!

Weekend in Köln

City of Köln – Finally some free time!

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Dinner at Vapiano at Hanseul’s suggestion!

After our trip to SMA, we were all so exhausted (total Kaputt!) that we slept in the bus, all the way to the DJH Jugendherberge Köln-Deutz Hostel. Arriving there, we freshened up and went out for a fine dinner. Köln is a super big, beautiful but expensive city: the night life there is amazing – especially for youngsters. We were a group of 20 persons walking through the city trying to find a dinner place without a reservation. Tough mission. After trying in vain to find seats at a Mexican restaurant (they pretended that our group was too big!) and a Spanish one (way too expensive for our tight budget), we finally succeeded in giving ourselves a treat through some nice Italian food prepared by the Chef right in front of us at Vapiano! Later in the evening, we decided to rather have some drinks at the youth hostel’s reception (that also sold beers) after the long day we had.

On Saturday 29th July, we had a free day to stroll around the city. As such, we could spend the day shopping and visiting the area near the Rhein. We took the urban train S-Bahn to the city centre (we were each given 3 daily tickets by the ISU team on Friday). The imposing edifice of the 140m high Cathedral never failed to daze us each time we went out of the main station: by day or by night we couldn’t help to wow in front of it. We could buy the famous 4711 Eau de Cologne products and eat ice creams near the dock (ice cream break was a staple in all excursions we had in Germany). A few of us visited the Chocolate Museum but since it was so full of people most of us opted for a nice walk along the river.

In the evening, we could taste typical Kölsch food and beer at the Peters Brauhaus. In the evening, we decided to go for some drinks by the Rhein and later Ana, Mona and some of us joined a karaoke night: the Jameson Irish Pub. They all sang along the lyrics of the songs played, specially the German classic Ich War Noch Niemals in New York (not that they knew it beforehand, but after the karaoke it became the one German song they learned!). Unfortunately, the registration for the karaoke was over by the time Aidan and Gaetan arrived, so they missed the chance to delight us with their favourite song, Sweet Caroline.

On the next day, Sunday 30th July, Cecilia, Greg, Alnardo, Alex and I (Sheyna) woke up early to attend the Mass at the Kölner Dom – Cologne Cathedral. Although we missed the one held in the small chapel of the cathedral, we got to attend a bigger, way more interesting Mass held in the cathedral itself. That was grand! We left the church feeling contented and blessed. We had lunch at a nearby Türkish restaurant after which we met the others at the Hostel and set out for the guided tour of the city centre. Our guide, a nice lady, depicted the history behind the cathedral which actually took 600 years to be built: the only cathedral in the world that has a house number (given by Napoleon for tax purposes… but the Kölsch were actually smarter and it didn’t work out as planned by the French).

We got to know that there was not only a gargoyle made after the mascot of the local football team but also a statue of Kennedy hidden among the hundreds of statues on the structure of the cathedral… The guide then took us for a short walk around the church to the room of Dionysus which had a floor made of Roman mosaic designs. She also told us about the several markets in Köln, the well-known Carnivals (“Kamelle!”) as well as Saint Peter of Milan, the saint patron on Kölsch breweries. Fun fact: the saint patron of the the rest of German brewers is Saint Lawrence and it seems that Kölsch people wanted their own saint patron. We ended the tour by rubbing the nose (this act is presumed to bring luck!) of Tünnes, a statue of a Kölsch puppet character.

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Us and the duo of Tünnes and Schäl

On our last evening in Köln, we went again to Jameson Irish Pub: this time for dinner and more fun song singing! Later we went back to the hostel for some drinks in the lobby – a perfect way to end this marvellous weekend.