Ruhrgebiet, an urban area in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, is a good example of successful place management. I wrote briefly about this region in a previous article, mentioning it as one of examples of popular man-made travel destinations. What makes this place so special is its successful metamorphosis from a sprawling post-industrial region to a cultural melting pot.
With a population density of 2,800 per km² and a population of some eight and a half million, it forms the largest urban agglomeration in Germany and the fifth largest in Europe after Istanbul, Moscow, London and Paris. This former coal-mining region consists of several large, industrial cities and is now known for its diverse and vibrant cultural scene. Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen, Oberhausen and more than 50 other Ruhr towns and cities have one thing in common: they have successfully achieved the transition from industry to culture. This change of role has been evident and permanent, since the Ruhr region won a prestigious title of European Capital of Culture in 2010.
With its new identity Ruhrgebiet now forms a fascinating urban area that is full of surprises. Its 20 museums in 15 towns and cities, lying within a few kilometres of one another, have joined forces to form a network called RuhrArtMuseums representing the greatest concentration of modern art museums in the world. Yet these are just a few of the region’s 200 or so museums. This wealth of museums is only a part of Ruhrgebiet’s emergence as a new cultural region that respects, cherishes and preserves its vast industrial heritage.
Today’s Ruhrgebiet is characterised by ‘Change through culture-culture through change’, new arts venues in former industrial sites and a population who have taken to this new role with enthusiasm. The blast furnaces, gasometers and winding towers still dominate the landscape of the Ruhrgebiet and serve as venues for theatre, music, painting, dance, performance and more. Major international events, such as the Ruhrtriennale, the Ruhr Piano Festival and the Ruhr Theatre Festival take place at these venues, featuring some of the most exciting performances to be found on stages and in concert halls anywhere. They can be explored along The Industrial Heritage Trail, a 400 km of road network and 700 km of bicycle tracks through the Ruhrgebiet, which connects museums and exhibitions that present Germany’s industrial past and present.
Bright examples of transformation and innovation await visitors on every corner in Ruhrgebiet. One of the best examples is Duisburg-Nord Industrial Landscape Park, in which an industrial wasteland has been transformed into a multi-functional park with an entirely new perspective. The Park features Europe’s biggest man-made diving centre in the old gasometer, Alpine climbing gardens and many other things one would not normally expect to find in an industrial city.
In neighbouring Oberhausen, the Gasometer between the Rhine-Herne Canal and the gigantic CentrO shopping and leisure complex was once used to store gas from the coking plant and is now one of Europe’s most unusual cultural venues.
The city of Essen, which was selected as European Capital of Culture for 2010 representing the Ruhr region, is home to the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the quintessential symbol of the entire region’s transformation.
Nearby city of Bochum is home to the Jahrhunderthalle, the main venue for the Ruhrtriennale- an international arts festival in fact takes place annually. This early example of a modern, purely functional industrial building has come to symbolise the new Ruhrgebiet. Bochum once had more collieries than anywhere else in the Ruhr region, but now has the most theatres and is considered to be the party capital of the entire region.
Dortmund’s skyline is dominated by an enormous ‘U’ that can be seen for miles around. Today ‘Dortmund U’, the former Dortmunder Union Brewery, is a centre for art, creativity and commerce. The city lies on Emscher river which, although once considered the most polluted river in Germany, is now being restored to nature. Huge amounts of time and effort are being spent on creating a pleasant new landscape that will represent the new image of the Ruhrgebiet and its move from the past into the future.
Hopefully this example of modern Ruhrgebiet with its industrial tradition is as inspiring for you as readers as it is for us in Bearing, as we embark on a journey of innovation and transformation of some major cities in Poland which are also endowed with monuments from their industrial past.