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Ten Days in the Ruhr - A Student Engineer's Diary (1952)

A Diary of the German Tour of UCD's Fourth Year Engineering Class from March 21st to April 1st, 1952

Friday, 20 January, 2023

Visit to Zollverein Coalmine, Essen. March 27th, 1952

Visit to Zollverein Coalmine, Essen. March 27th, 1952.
From left:
Back Row:
Mine worker, Paddy Browne, Mr J. A. O’Donnell, Dr P. Leahy, John Sharkey, Jerry Sheehan, Eddie Cunningham, Maurice Lowe, Myles Crowe, Mine worker, Des Clarke.
Middle Row: Kieran Brennan, Jim O’Callaghan, Jim Cullen, Paddy Kelly, 
Paddy Farrell, Chris Shouldice,
Front Row: Jack Higgins, Angus Ryan, Sean Lyons, D. McCarthy, Paddy Doyle, Gerry Sheehy

In 1952 a group of 30, fourth year, Mechanical & Electrical engineering students and a team of academics set out from Ireland and travelled to Germany to Visit the Ruhr valley. Set out below is the Diary of one of the students James L. Cullen.  This will be the first three days of their German adventure setting out from Dún Laoghaire Pier, travelling overland through the UK then taking a ship from Dover to Ostend and their final overland leg to Cologne.

Academic Staff:-

Prof. M.A. Hogan, Mr J. Morrissey, Dr. P. Leahy, Mr J.P. O’Donnell & Mr A. Mooney (Demonstrator).


K. Brennan, P. Brown, I. Campbell, I. Canavan, E. Chandler, M. Crowe, J. Cullen, D. Clarke, E. Cunningham, P. Doyle, P. Farrell, J. Higgins, P. Kelly, B. Langley, B. Leyden, M. Lowe, S. Lyons, J. Martin, N. Mulcahy, D. Mc Carthy, J. O’Callaghan, H. O’Keeffe, L. O’Reilly, A. Ryan, G. Sheehy, R. Sweetnam, J. Sheehan, L. Shanahan, C. Shouldice, J. Sharkey.


D. O’Sullivan, (Third Year Engineering Student)

Day 1 - Friday, March 21st

At 7.45pm all were assembled at Dún Laoghaire Pier, except Professor Hogan who had travelled to Germany a few days earlier. Customs allowed us through ‘en masse’ and we proceeded to board the ship, the Princess Maud. There was a general air of gaiety about the party. There was regret that we had no national emblem or something to identify us as Irish. Accommodation on the Princess Maud was quite inadequate. The saloon was already very full and smelling of foul air. We proceeded to stow our bags near the hold, where seats were set partly open to the elements. A guard of two students at a time was detailed for each half hour of the journey, to watch the bags. Meanwhile the main party assembled on deck and proceeded to render Irish airs, to the accompaniment of a mouth organ in the hand or rather the mouth of Liam Shanahan. The Maud was punctual in leaving the pier.

As we headed out to sea it became apparent that the crossing would be somewhat rough. On deck it became cold and wild with traces of rain. Many repaired to the lower deck where we piled our bags on the seats. Attempts were made to get forty winks. There were signs of sea-sickness everywhere we went. After some hours fog appeared and the ship had to slow to a few knots. As we neared Holyhead the fog became worse. Outside the harbour we had to lie for about an hour. This caused general uneasiness as the Dover train left Victoria Station in London at 9.00am and it would be difficult to catch, even under normal conditions. At length the fog cleared and we tied up in Holyhead. At this time rain was falling and a tousled party passed through Customs swiftly and boarded the reserved carriages on the London train. Refreshments were available in the cold damp station, at a rate of 8p per sandwich and 5p per cup of bad tea. There was little music or singing now. Sleep was needed. Unsuccessful attempts were made to doze for a few hours. A long stop in Crewe led to speculation as to how far we could get to on that day.

Day 2 - Saturday, March 22nd

Day dawned as we sped on to London. Sleep fell from our eyes. Tea was ordered and was surprisingly good - refreshing and agreeably cheap. The flat English countryside showed signs of life. Soon we were in Euston Station. It was clear now that we had missed the Dover train by about half an hour. However, we were ordered to get to Victoria Station without delay. A large party, led by Donal O’ Sullivan, who was familiar with the London Tube, boarded a train for Charing Cross and changed there for Victoria. The whole party assembled, without loss and in good order, at Victoria Station. Enquiries revealed that the next train for Dover would leave at 1.00pm. This gave us a few hours in London. Small parties set out on sightseeing tours. At 1.00pm we all assembled, retrieved our baggage and boarded the Dover train.

The day was very fine and the train was very pleasant. Tea was again ordered but it lacked substance and only whetted our appetites. The countryside was exceptionally pleasant and was bathed in sunlight. Large orchards were plentiful and the huge undulating fields were unusual to our eyes. Soon we saw the sea. A swift downhill run through a tunnel brought us into Dover and on to the pier. Passports were required. These were of two sorts - ‘British’ and ‘Foreign’. Some of the party, disliking the ‘British’ tag went through the ‘Foreign’ door, thereby causing a stir. But matters were agreeably settled. Customs examination was brief and soon we boarded the ship, which was Belgian. It was in marked contrast to the Princess Maud. It was spotless and comfortable. Third Class accommodation was very good and quite adequate.

Towering above us was Dover Castle and the dazzling white cliffs. Large radar aerials topped the cliffs. There were no signs of war damage to be seen here. Hardly six years have passed since British aircrews, returning from bombing raids over Germany, sometimes in ‘planes severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire, rejoiced when the white cliffs of Dover came into view. We all knew the popular wartime song, sung by Vera Lynn - “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. Tomorrow! Just you wait and see.”

Very soon we were under way. Another stage of the journey was beginning. The continent lay ahead of us and, for most of us, new and unseen lands. Cameras were very much in evidence and many groups were photographed as we sailed away from the white cliffs of Dover. By this time some of the party had discovered berths and proceeded to snatch a few hours sleep. The sea was calm and the sky was clear but a cool breeze was blowing. The ship had a foreign aspect - many of the passengers were speaking French and German.

Before we lost sight of the English coast we passed the Goodwin Sands, the graveyard of many ships. About a dozen masts could be seen scattered over a wide area, protruding from the sea at different angles. There was heavy traffic in The Channel and at all times at least a half dozen ships were to be seen. Many of us took the opportunity to take a wash and a shave while some of the drinkers sampled the clear yellow beer named ‘Pils’, which they were to become fond of later in the tour. Dusk was falling as we got our first glimpse of the Belgian coast, stretching in a thin line to the south. Many had dinner at a rather steep price for all. Eatables and drinks on board the ship were expensive.

Ostend is a large port which was gaily illuminated by bright neon lights. The gangways were put down quickly and we got through Customs very quickly. We boarded the train which had hard seats but was well heated. As soon as we pulled out we tried to settle down to sleep. Most of us succeeded. We awoke at the first stop, Bruges, and again at Brussels, which was gaily lit with neon signs. A church had a large neon cross on it. We slept further until we reached Liege.

At Aachen (Aix le Chapelle) our passports were examined, as were our visas. There was a long stop at Aachen and finally we pushed on to Köln (Cologne).

Day 3 - Sunday, March 23rd

Köln Station is huge and airy and when we arrived there it was about 2.30am. Immediately we collected our baggage and went outside to the bus, which was waiting. Towering above us were the magnificent twin spires of the cathedral but at that time of the morning we were not capable of appreciating their beauty. The bus was magnificent and soon we were all on board. We were all quite excited now but lack of proper sleep was dampening our excitement. The driver took us through what was left of Köln. The wartime destruction of the city was really saddening. Where there were new shops they were magnificent. Their illuminated windows showed a very high standard of window dressing, while many car showrooms were also magnificent. We passed on through the well-lit streets to the magnificent flood-lit suspension bridge over the Rhine. We then came on to the autobahn which led to Düsseldorf and journey’s end. Driving on the right hand side of the road was for us a novelty but many of us were asleep by the time we reached the outskirts of Düsseldorf.

Düsseldorf soon appeared with its strange mix of neon lights and gutted houses. Our hotel, Hotel Sönnenschein, was situated on the corner of a street. It had been damaged during the war but had now been almost completely rebuilt. We checked in and proceeded to our rooms. We were grouped in twos and fives, according to the size of the rooms. No meal was provided by the hotel on our arrival, so a number of us made enquiries as to where we might get something to eat. This was about 3.30am on Sunday Morning. The hotel porter, who could speak no English, excitedly directed us where to go. Finally, we arrived at what appeared to be a bar. Inside it was full of people chatting and singing. There was an imposing menu but the prices seemed to be excessive. Here some of the party sat down and had a good meal. The place became known to us as “Obert’s Place”. Ober means waiter in German and many of the customers could be heard calling out “Herr Ober”. We thought “Obert” was the man’s name. The desk attendant at our hotel had promised breakfast at 5.45am, so some of us decided to wait until then to eat.

At about 6.30am the hotel breakfast arrived at last. The dining room was very attractive with its oak panelling and parquet floor. An old waiter, Henchel, attended to us. Breakfast consisted of bread and jam and tea. Each person had a pot in which his tea was made. Some rye bread was served but it was not popular. After the meal we went to bed and enjoyed a real sleep. We did not approve of the beds which were very low and had light clothing, in the form of a sheet bag in which there was one blanket. The bedrooms were heated but still the light bed covering was unusual.

Masses were at 8. 00am, 11.15am and 6.00pm. A further breakfast was served up at 11. 00am. The morning was very fine. A friend and I set out to see the town, having decided to go to 6. 00pm Mass. We headed for the centre of the city and its main thoroughfare, the Königsallee. This is magnificent. On one side there are high class, modern shops and on the other a waterway with grassy banks and trees. The waterway is crossed at intervals by bridges. We became more and more impressed by what we saw. The people were well dressed (children in particular) but somewhat Americanized in appearance. Cars were plentiful and mostly new. Many American makes were in evidence. Motor cycles were very plentiful, mostly two-stroke and all of German manufacture. The aroma of strong tobacco filled the air. Most of the men wore wide-brimmed hats and very long leather coats. The shops were magnificent: almost every article on sale is priced. The Adolf Strasse which runs at right angles to the Königsallee has a number of very fine motor showrooms. In one part there are four magnificent motor cycle showrooms, one of which displays British machines. We had lunch in the hotel and did some further exploring before we set out to find the chapel in which 6. 00pm Mass was to be celebrated. This church stood complete in an area of desolation. Only the main door was damaged. However, most of the outside was spattered and pockmarked by shrapnel. Mass was sung throughout. A long sermon was preached and Communion was given.

After Mass we returned to the hotel and made enquiries about dancing. In Germany there are no dances as we understand them. Most of the bars have small dance floors and small orchestras. The procedure is to sit at a table and order a bottle of wine. There is no price for admission. This was unsatisfactory as many of us did not drink. A group of us, however, agreed to pay for a bottle of wine and let some of the drinkers consume it. We were well received and soon we had the orchestra playing Irish tunes. The non-drinkers soon got tired of this entertainment and left. We went to the Automaton, which was to become a favourite resort of ours. Here food was attractively set out and reasonably priced. It could be bought and eaten on the spot, standing up. The food was cheap and the helpings generous. Afterwards we returned tired but happy to the hotel, for a good nights sleep.

By: James L. Cullen, April 8th, 1952

Continued here: Ten Days in the Ruhr - A Student Engineer's Diary (1954) - Part 2

UCD College of Engineering and Architecture

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