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To love the Maastricht Region

Wir sind alle ein bisschen Neandertaler

31-05-2012 om 13:21 by Sueli Brodin

DSC_7619Up until last weekend, the image I had of the Ruhr region in Germany dated back from my school textbooks and had always been that of a vast grey and unwelcoming industrial area, drowned in noise and pollution. The fact that it is located just 90 minutes away from Maastricht was more a cause for worry than enthusiasm.


After spending the Whitsun bank holiday in the Neander Valley, just east of Dusseldorf and south of Essen, I realised how mistaken I was. As we were nearing the camp ground in the small town of Hattingen where we had reserved a spot for the night, I couldn’t believe my eyes  at the picturesque and romantic landscape of thick dark green pine forests.


The weather forecast for the long weekend was excellent and we were looking forward to visiting the Neander Valley, where the Neanderthal skeleton was discovered by accident during limestone quarrying works in 1856.


The Neanderthal Museum is located in the town of Mettmann, just a few hundred metres away from the Feldhof cave where the bones of Homo neanderthalensis were originally unearthed.


It was interesting to find out that the spot was named after Joachim Neander, a German minister, theologian and hymn writer who lived in Düsseldorf and liked to visit the picturesque nearby valley of the Düssel river to find inspiration for his poems and sermons. It was even more interesting to learn that Neander’s original family name was Neumann, but that his grandfather had changed it to the Greek form Neander following the fashion of the time.


Another fascinating fact I learned at the museum is that in 1999, 143 years after the first discovery, archeologists uncovered more bones at the location of the former Feldhof cave which exactly fitted the first skeleton and helped to complete it further.



This year, on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the Neanderthal Museum is exhibiting a new reconstruction of the Neanderthal Man, “Mr. 4%”, designed by the Dutch artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis. The “Stone Age Clooney”, as the museum pleasantly describes him, illustrates the recent scientific discovery that between 1% and 4% of the Eurasian human genome appears to come from Neanderthals.


After several captivating hours at the museum, which is currently also showing a very insightful exhibition on our relationship with apes, we walked the short trail from the museum to the Neanderthal discovery site.


After two centuries of extensive mining, only a small wall of rock still remains from the old, certainly very impressive, limestone canyon with caves and waterfalls.


The spot where the bones of homo neanderthalensis were founded are indicated with white and red poles in the ground.


The surrounding area, crossed by the river Düssel, still provides a peaceful, idyllic scenery and it is easy to imagine that romantic poets, writers and painters felt attracted to it.


We decided to take the one hour trail around the Ice Age Game Park, close to the museum, where the Nature Conservancy Association Neandertal is sheltering three animal species which shared the same habitat as homo neanderthalensis: aurochs, tarpans (wild horses), and wisents (European bisons).


My daughter Naomi, who loves all living creatures, saw all sorts of insects, birds and small animals in the nature reserve and was very enthusiastic about our walk.


The beautiful surroundings inspired my daughter Sacha to compose a small poem in Dutch:

De dennenbomen en de Ruhr, samen in het bos
Met wat druiven, dat is een grote tros.
De natuur is puur
En niemand raakt overstuur
De vallende takken en de brandnetels doen pijn
Maar toch vind ik het fijn
Dat de natuur er mag zijn.

The pine trees and the Ruhr, together in the forest
And a few grapes, that’s a big bunch.
Nature is pure
And no one gets upset.
Falling branches and nettles hurt
But still, I am happy
That nature is here.


We woke up fresh and relaxed on Whit Monday, ready for another day of exploration in the Ruhr region.


What I like the most about camping, is to rediscover the simple pleasures of life, such as enjoying a warm cup of green tea out in the open air.


I had looked for a few hiking trails near Hattingen on the internet but the first one we tried, around the Kemnade Lake, was very crowded and much too civilised to our taste so we moved on to the second trail, near the small town of Langenberg.


This one was much better, out in the green and hilly countryside, with no one around...


My son Tim found a perfect spot in the woods for our picnic lunch of fruits, water, bread and cheese.


We walked all afternoon on dirt roads across peaceful woods, fields and pastures and once again, it became obvious that I urgently needed to revise my initial one-sided image of the Ruhr region.


At the end of our walk, we passed in front of a homy looking German restaurant with a pleasant outdoor terrace serving appetising German dishes such as schnitzels with fried potatoes and salad. And when I saw that a quote by Friedrich Nietzche on the menu card, I smiled and agreed with the rest of my family that this was the right place for dinner that evening.

The quote read:

Ein Bissen Nahrung
Ein Bissen Nahrung entscheidet oft, ob wir mit einem hohlen Auge oder hoffnungsreich in die Zukunft schauen.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche


*I later found out that this quote is often used in German restaurants, but never mind…  It was the first time I heard it and I am glad I fell for it!

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Sueli Brodin has been living in the Maastricht Region since 1994. She is the website editor for the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in Maastricht and produces the EJC's daily Media News digest. She is also a team member of PechaKucha Night Maastricht, an informal English-language initiative where creative people get together and present their ideas in a concise format. 

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