My little trips continue – I really want to make use of the nice weather while it lasts! This week, though, I only did some day trips and didn’t stay over night anywhere.

On Monday, I joined a field trip organized by one of my university’s professors to the Rhenish brown coal area. A friend picked me up in the morning and together we drove half an hour or so to get to the huge brown coal power plant and open-cast mining area around Eschweiler. We were impressed even before the actual tour started, as the power plant’s enormous plumes of steam can be seen from several kilometers distance when approaching the area on the motorway. After a short introduction by our guide on how the open-cast mining area is generally organized, we left the visitors’ center and boarded our bus. The bus was equipped with special tires in order to be able to drive through the mining area.

Our tour bus somewhere at the ground level of the mining area.

Our tour bus somewhere at the ground level of the mining area.

As open-cast mining has a very negative reputation around here, we first made a short drive through some newly built villages. Several villagers were resettled when the mining area moved along and these were the villages they were moved into. Our guide explained how everything got better for them after the resettlement (more parking space, better shopping possibilities, new houses etc.), but for me it just seemed that the villages which used to have at least some kind of history and identity were turned into faceless displays for guided tours such as ours to look at.

Open-cast mining area with the power plant in the background.

Open-cast mining area with the power plant in the background.

The next stop was a view point from where we could see the immense mining area. The place we went to was the smallest of the three mining areas around, but it was still extremely impressive. Compared to this huge hole in the ground, the (what we thought to be) huge power plant next to the motorway suddenly seemed tiny. On we went with our bus down into the actual mining area. Every now and then, we stopped next to one of the huge diggers (which were introduced to us as the “little brothers” of diggers used elsewhere). We also had a look at the conveyor belts carrying the coal first to an intermediary storage where everything is mixed in order to ensure a consistent quality, and then on to the actual power plant.

One of the diggers.

One of the diggers.

In the very end, we were also taken to an area where the restoration of the land was in progress after all the brown coal had been extracted from the ground. We were shown an artificial riverbed, shrubs that had beed replanted, and an area were farmers were paid to recultivate the land. All in all, seeing such a huge open-cast mining area was impressive, but I felt that too much effort was put into improving the bad reputation. The only thing that driving us through villages and to artificial riverbeds did to me was to remind of all the negative talk being done about the extraction of lignite. Had we just seen the mining area, I would mostly have been impressed with the size of the area and the machines and not thought about the negative image. Also, I would have liked a look at the proper power plant as well – or at least some kind of explanation how the process of producing energy actually works here. This, however, did not seem to be part of our tour.

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The German Unification Day yesterday (which is a nationwide holiday) gave us (me and three friends) the chance for another day trip. Again, we took a car and headed west – though not as far as Bruges this time. Now, our goal was the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Compared to our tour to Bruges, it was a short drive of not much more than an hour. We parked the car somewhat close to the city center and slowly made our way on foot until we reached the main market square of Maastricht. The streets did remind me of Bruges a little bit, though not of the historic city center, but rather of the city’s outskirts. We stopped at a nice little café where we had some waffles and poffertjes (little round snacks made from pancake dough and usually served with butter and powdered sugar). With some ice-cream to go, we went on through the streets doing some window shopping. Apparently, huge masses of Germans had, just like we did, come over to the Netherlands to do some shopping, as all the shops in Germany were closed due to the holiday.

Street in Maastricht.

Street in Maastricht.

We walked around some more, also taking a quick look into a local church, and generally enjoyed the great weather and nice atmosphere. After a few hours, we decided to head back to Germany. Unfortunately, as it was already late afternoon, we were not the only Germans wanting to get back at the time. So we spent more than half an hour just trying to get back onto the motorway. Still, it was a great day trip and with every short trip I make, I appreciate the location of Cologne so close to so many interesting places even more. Let’s see where our next trip will take us!