Duisburg Welding Course
It was 14 months in the works, but once your company approved your welding course you headed to Duisburg to finally learn something relevant. The International Welding Engineer qualification, or IWE, certifies your knowledge of all things welding. It is required by most industries both legally and practically, and is in high demand in Europe. You're doing it so you can release your own new designs. Cue evil laugh: muwahahaha!
The blended learning English course is offered by GSI SLV in Duisburg Germany once a year, and takes the whole year to complete. You headed to Duisburg for the first classroom learning part, which was split between lectures and practical welding training.
You found your hotel opposite the train station, and checked into you shoebox room. Shoebox sized was perhaps an exaggeration; shoeboxes can fit two shoes after all, whereas you kept tripping over yours.
The IWE course content was top-notch (ignoring translation mistakes) but the organisation was a little lacking. No one really took responsibility for managing the course, so it became a weave of experts inferring their specialities. The learning suffered from a lack of fusion (lol, welding joke).
The practical part was the highlight where you were allowed to melt steel plates to your heart's content. There you met real welders able to explain every minute detail of the welding process at hand, just not much about work-safety. Sparks flew as everyone took up their acetylene, TIG and MIG/MAG torches for the first time (and each subsequent time). Things sparked, arcs sprayed and smoke was produced but not much was welded, apart from torches to tables.
Over the course of two weeks you progressed from flame to arc, and then to resistance welding. The machined got bigger, louder and more expensive. By the time lasers came up you had to hide outside the argon-protected copper-based vacuume-cleaned gas-shielded particle-impregnated double-walled computer-controlled robot-articulated secure-entry industry-certified operation chamber, and watch via a camera. You got the impression that solid-state lasers were hot stuff.
The town and nearby
Shortly before leaving a work college gave you a list of things to do in Duisburg - as if hinting there wasn't much to do there - listing museums and industrial parks. Curiously, on the list was scuba diving... (you looked up) in an old gas cylinder! Intriguing.
Verhicle number plates in Duisburg all start with DU. It didn't take long to find a DU_MB_1234 amongst the DULL's, DUST's, DUNG's and DUCK's. This town really seemed to have nothing going for it. Even the ducks currently waddling about with their ducklings had fowled (lol, bird joke) the lakes provoking algae growth, preventing swimming. The town really was hard to warm to with its grumpy baristas and unwelcoming swimming pool attendants. "You didn't order that!" and "We're open until *8*, so I'm keeping my eye on *you*" didn't help sell the place.
With a little patience for grumpy people, agrivatingly slow hotel internet connections and queuing traffic, you found all the essentials within reach. There were a few nice climbing gyms nearby, a few parks for jogging, and the all-weather 50m pool with retractable roof was nice. By the end the sun even came out and things warmed up a little.
The North Rhine-Westphalia region has many old coal mines and steel factories which have been out of operation since the 80's. The initiative was taken to reinvent them as public spaces and museums, and it has been very successful. Duisburg has the Industrial Park, an old steel smelter which was donated to the state - primarily to avoid the company's responsability to sanitise the soil themselves - and turned unto a multifunctional recreation and events area. It has grassy parks, kids playgrounds, jogging and cycling tracks, cafés and event rooms. It also has an extensive climbing area; not originally planned, but eventually created after they couldn't stop people climbing crumbling concrete constructions. The scuba diving operates out of a massive 14m deep water tank containing various rusty metal things.
Europe's largest coal mine was the Zecke Zollverein. It operated until 1986 Employing thousands of miners its peak, and was now a UNESCO world heritage site. You visited and joined a guided tour of all things coal.
The installation was unique, in that it was designed by an architect rather than a engineer. They wanted people to be proud of working there so made a factory image to match. It was constructed in Bauhaus style with tall square walls of brick and high metal-frame glass windows. For its time it was revolutionary. Entering from the main gate you were confronted by strong recangular buildings, whos alignment created a singular vanishing point to manipulate your depth perception and reinforce the immense cable towers and smoke stacks reaching to the sky.
The dirty employees were, of course, not allowed to use the front gate (they used the back door and old mine shafts). If they dared set foot on the grass it was ground for immediate dismissal. The miners had it tough in many respects, for example: work safety didn't exist; miners worked bare handed, went deaf by age 30 (if the got that old), and the 20 minute ladder descent into the mine shaft was not considered working time. If was still considered the better alternative to steel mills, where it was also smoky and (unbeknownst) toxic.
An interesting fact about the city of Essen where the Zecke Zollverein is located: the town is on average fifteen meters lower than it was a hundred years ago due to mine subsidence. This requires that water pumps run 24 hours a day in the old mines to keep the ground water underground. It would take about three weeks for the town to become a lake were they every switched off! Doesn't seem very efficient.
Zinc come back!
Not all museums in the Rohgebeit were as interesting. Your excursion to a small steel factory museum contained little more than a few slabs of zinc and war propaganda posters. Your guide explained the strong ties between the Nazis and industrialists - a mutually beneficial relationship, often one of shared political views - but little of steel manufacture. While watching a historic reel about zinc production you couldn't help but think of The Simpsons episode where Bart is forced to watch a tediously boring B&W film about a world without zinc. "Zinc, come back! Zinc!"
Meike's grandmother is a lovely lady. At 89 living alone and getting about town by bike was something to be proud of. She's so happy to receive visitors she buys far more than anyone can eat. So, as with everyone's grandparents, unless you are almost exploding from overeating there's something wrong. Meike's dad usually takes some home with him when he visits.
German servings are generally quite big. Not American big, but still larger than conservative Swiss or petite French portions. It's clear the average waist is greater in Germany than other places, as is the proportion of smokers. Perhaps it's because food is cheaper (in both quality and cost). Whatever the reason, you've found yourself staring in disbelief at an 8€ plate of sushi for one the size of the table more than once. Your Thai duck dish in Oldenburg fell in line, and by the end your tummy wanted to fall out.
Sunday was spent sleeping in until midday. You felt a little guilt to have ignored Hertha all morning, but made up for it by spending all afternoon gardening. Her garden is enormous. There'd be space to grow a self-sustaining vegetable garden if you had the energy. Your lovely lady had many fond memories of digging up carrots and potatoes as a kid there. Now everyone was content to just keep it mown and in-line. It is a lovely place with its huge shady willow and two big apple trees, which still produce more fruit than anyone is able to consume.
For two office-bound young professionals, raking grass and cutting weeds with a sithe was a refreshing activity. There is a sense of satisfaction seeing gardening work completed; working in a garden on a sunny day really is its own reward. Hertha worried you both working in the garden was a chor. Providing she let you use her anti-wrinkle cream (also a suncream) 'twas a pleasure.