A throbbing Ruhr metropolis in Germany's industrial heartland, Essen brings to most minds visions of steel mills and coal pits, smoke stacks and slag heaps. The gloom of fall and winter seems to descend on the city sooner than elsewhere, and even the illustrious presence of the Krupp firm tycoons hasn't done much to overcome the sooty image.
That's why Essen's city fathers and local merchants came up with the bright idea to lend a light touch to the downtown area during the dark months of the year. The sparkling result: The Essener Lichtwochen, the Light Week.
The first of these festivals was held in 1928, the second 10 years later. Then came World War II and the total blackout. The idea was revived during the postwar years and this year the 1,100-year-old Ruhr center celebrates its 18th Annual Lichtwochen.
Traditionally, Essen's mayor lights up the electric splendor by pushing a button during a sparkling ceremony held early in October. That solemn act illuminates streets, squares, monuments and public buildings with thousands of light bulbs and neon lamps creating glowing arches and garlands, painting light pictures and outlining all sorts of fantastic figures.
Each year, the Lichtwochen is staged under a different theme; this time the scene is Fairyland — Children's Land, a colorful show aimed specifically at the small fry. The kids can join their favorite fairy tale and cartoon characters — Red Riding Hood and Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Goofy, and, of course, Santa and his red-nosed chargers.
Along with its downtown streets and store fronts, Essen lights up its cultural buildings with an opulent share of concerts, theaters and opera premieres. Light Week continues to Dec. 31.