Today’s post didn’t take me to far-off places. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because today I’m playing tourist in my hometown Solingen in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany.
Solingen is not a tourist spot. Never has been, never will be. We’re an industrial place, nicknamed Klingenstadt” which translates as “City of Blades” due to a long (try 700-odd years) and proud tradition of manufacturing swords, knives and cutlery. Knife-manufacturers like J.A. Henckels, Wüsthof and even the German HQ of Wilkinson Gilette are based here.
As you can probably imagine, knives are a pretty popular gift and souvenir from here. But we do have our own little superstition: we never give knives away for free. Even those intended as gifts have to be bought with a penny – or any copper coin – so the blades don’t sever the friendship.
Solingen is home to the small Märchenwald Ittertal, a Fairytale Forest. It’s a small collection of huts in a wooded area, each hut representing a scene out of a fairytale.
There’s a lot of industrial heritage, as you can guess. In the forests surrounding the city, there are old timber-frame grinders’ workshops we call Kotten. They are found in the valleys, next to rivers like the Wupper, as the massive grind-stones used to be turned by water power. There’s a great, 70km-long hiking trail called Klingenpfad all around Solingen, which includes several Kotten and some of the sights. At the Hendrichs Drop Forge, the Industrial Museum, you’ll see how scissors are made. The drop forge also one of the anchor points of the European Route of Industrial Heritage.
There are a few beautiful places in Solingen. The old, cobblestone market place in Gräfrath is one of those and it’s a nice place to sit outside for a drink in the summer. It’s all traditional Bergisch Land style timberframe-slate houses, with their white trims and green shutters, and quite idyllic, if you’re into that. The old convent church stands above Gräfrath and right next to it is the Deutsche Klingenmuseum, the German Blade Museum. Yes, we do take our industrial heritage very seriously over here.
At the other end of town is the suburb of Burg an der Wupper, with the Schloss Burg (literally translates to Castle Fortress, but Burg in this case is the name of the suburb) up on the hill overlooking forested hills. The Schloss used to be the seat of the court, counts and dukes of Berg, including Engelbert II, the archbishop of Cologne. The original castle was where the parents of Anne of Cleves, wife of Henry VIII, were married, as they belonged to the House of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. The current castle is the largest reconstructed castle in the state of North Rhine – Westphalia.
Germany’s highest railway bridge – the Müngsten Bridge -connects Solingen to neighbouring city Remscheid. It towers 107m above the river Wupper. Local legends say that the steel bridge, which opened in 1897, contains one golden rivet somewhere, and people have actually died trying to find it. Now the bridge is rusty, though, and awaiting restoration.
The only proper local specialty we’ve got food-wise is called “Bergische Kaffeetafel”. A typical Bergische Kaffeetafel consists of the following:
- Fresh, hot waffles with rice pudding, hot cherries and cinnamon
- Slices of coarse rye bread, sweet buns and farmer’s loaf
- Curd cheese, butter and jams
- Liver sausage / Brussels Pâté
- Marble cake, Burg Brezel (pretzels) and a local type of Biscotti
- All served with coffee from an urn called “Dröppelmina”.
Needless to say it’s very filling.
But next to all these quaint or industrial things, Solingen has recently made a name for itself as Rock City No. 1.
First of all, we do love a good get-together and/or festival. Throughout the year, we’ve got the Dürpelfest in suburb Ohligs, the Marktfest in Gräfrath, Echt.Scharf.Solingen in the city centre, a wine festival, Brückenfest (a bridge festival around Müngsten), Nordstadtfest and a city-wide annual flea market called Zöppkesmarkt, just to name a few. And all of them have live music of one sort or another.
Together with our neighbouring cities Wuppertal and Remscheid, we also hold Jugendkulturfestivals (Youth Culture Festivals) with live music and workshops every year. Sometimes there is more than one festival. We also have Schülerrockfestivals – you guessed it: Student Rock Festivals for local student bands. There’s been a revival of sorts for youth culture in this city and music is actively encouraged by institutions like the Cow Club, Cobra and the Youth City Council. That’s right. We have teenagers officially elected by the teenage population to represent their interests in the city council.
But what makes Solingen Rock City No. 1 is that there are more spaces for band practice than anywhere else and quite a few opportunities for bands to show what they’re made of. According to the Cobra website (a club that offers a lot of bands their first stage experience), there are currently over 150 bands and solo artists in Solingen. So come by and check them out.
After all, this is Rock City No. 1!