A couple of weeks in Gelsenkirchen

Neumarkt, Gelsenkirchen
Neumarkt, Gelsenkirchen

I admit that the only thing I knew of Gelsenkirchen before being there was their football team. I can say, now, that, honestly and with no offence, there is not much else in the city.

I have spent two weeks in the city to visit my girlfriend (she currently works and lives there), one in May and one in June. What I can say of Gelsenkirchen is that I have not been much impressed (indeed, half of the pictures of my German weeks have been taken during the day I have spent in Cologne).

Nice flowerpot
A sign of the mining heritage,
in the Altstadt

Alright, I had some anticipation of what I had to expect after reading some stuff on the internet: a small village turned at one point into a large mining settlement and then suffering the decline of its core industry, well, what could it offer? There is no academic institution in Gelsenkirchen, and you notice that when you see that the only young people in their ’20s hanging around are in many cases young mothers with their children.

So, as soon as you leave the central station, what you find is Bahnhofstrasse, which is a sort of high street with shops, cafés, fast food restaurants and so on. At the end, you find Neumarkt and, next to it, Heinrich-Koenig Platz, which is, I guess, the city centre’s main square, and the Provost Church of St. Augustine, a gothic style church built in the XIX century and which I could visit only during my second trip to the city. I have been told that some interesting archaeological findings had just been found in the Platz, but I did not really investigate further on it.

Walk farther and you see the city council and library (nothing special) and the Musiktheater im Revier, which apparently is the most remarkable monument and cultural venue in Gelsenkirchen.

Musiktheater im Revier
Musiktheater im Revier

When it comes to dinner and nightlife, well, there is not much to mention either: some pubs, which serve good beer at a decent price, a lot of Italian restaurants, and if you do not have a car and want to stay in the centre there are not many options for you, I am afraid. Actually, even outside of the city centre you probably may need to be addressed by some local: once we have gone to Buer, a northern suburb, to play bowling, but we have been unlucky, as the venue we headed for was about to close (11 pm on Saturday night – I was a bit pissed off, I admit it). Consider that the city tram/metro stops a few kilometres away from Buer, and that we had to call a cab (€25 for a one-way trip back to the city centre, where I stayed), and you realise how unhappy my experience that night has been.

The Thousand Friends Wall, Veltins Arena
A wall with the names of Schalke 04 supporters
who have financially supported the club

If you are a bit into football, you should visit the Veltins Arena, which is located in the Schalke neighbourhood, which is the home, indeed, of Schalke 04, and named after the name of the local brewery, Veltins, the producer of an excellent lager beer. I was unlucky in my visit, though: both the stadium and the club museum were closed, but I took the chance to get some pictures. The (old) guard at the entry door could not speak English, I do not speak German, but when he started shouting “Fermé! Fermé!” in French, we found a common language and then I left. I have good memories of Schalke 04 in my youth: in 1997 they defeated Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup final, and, as an AC Milan supporter, I quite enjoyed it.

If you have ever happened to spend some time in the North East of England, the city which resembles Gelsenkirchen the most is Sunderland – at least to my eyes, those of a foreigner who does not know the place as a local would.
Heilige Familie, Gelsenkirchen
The Holy Family Catholic Church
Overall, I am under the impression that Gelsenkirchen is not a very lively place from the cultural point of view. I have checked on the internet and there are sometimes interesting electronic music events in the area (there was one in Dortmund with very popular and interesting names DJing, but I could not go; during my June trip, in Oberhausen they had Ruhr in Love, which, sadly, saw the death of a person last year – and I decided to not go either).
In general, as regards this area at least, life is (seems) not expensive at all, and, honestly, the reputation of German trains punctuality seemed quite excessive during my two stays.
If anyone from Gelsenkirchen, or from Germany, or any visitor of the city, wants to add a comment, to criticize or to expand on what I wrote, he or she is obviously welcome, firstly because there is not much on the internet (although I know I missed on visiting, for example, the Nordsternpark and the industrial heritage it has to show), and secondly (and mostly) because I will likely go back to Gelsenkirchen by October.

Avoid power or die: the sad life of liberals in Europe

Sign displayed before the 2014 EU elections

The results of the latest general elections held in the United Kingdom seem to confirm – in my opinion – a sort of trend which has been occurring in the largest European countries over the last two years: once the liberals get into government, they are eventually wiped out.

In 2013, Mario Monti’s Civic Choice performed under the expectations at the Italian general elections and won an amount of seats which resulted in being irrelevant in the formation of the new cabinet. This and the subsequent collapse of the parliamentary groups led to the extremely poor results at the latest European elections and in opinion polls. Ironically, perhaps, Monti was assisted by David Axelrod, who also has been advising Ed Miliband during the electoral campaign we have just left behind us – and we have all seen the results; Europe is not America, or, maybe, spin doctors’ influence is overrated – I cannot really say, though.

In Germany, at the 2013 federal elections, after four years in coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Liberals (which, previously, had been out of government since 1998) suffered a massive loss of votes, coming fifth as a party and winning zero seats – an astounding defeat.

Now, it is the turn of Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats: five years of coalition (yeah, there’s that thing about tuition fees, I know) and, now, 8 mere seats left for them in Westminster.

There are exceptions, of course: in the Netherlands liberal parties did well at the 2012 general elections – but the Netherlands are the stronghold of liberalism in Europe.

Worrying is the fact that this decline occurs at the same time of the rise of populist, extreme and nationalist parties, an event which would strongly need the counterweight of rational policies and anti-nationalism (if not cosmopolitanism). Even more worrying, in my view, is the fact that more than simply electoral defeats, we see whole parties almost wiped out from the scene, making, perhaps, life for liberal ideas and policies even more difficult: they would probably still circulate, but no one would advocate them.