The area between the Ruhr, Lippe and Rhine rivers consisted mainly of rural villages until the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution turned it into one of Europe’s largest centres for coal mining and steel production (which soon earned it the nickname Ruhrpott, or Coal Pot). Hundreds of thousands migrated from all over Germany, Poland and other countries to work in the Ruhrgebiet’s collieries, coking plants, and foundries.
Today, its population of over 5 million (who live in cities like Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen and Bochum) makes it one of the largest conurbations in Europe. Today’s workforce is concentrated more in manufacturing and technology, but the former industrial sites have since been renovated and reborn as vibrant tourist attractions and cultural centres on a route called the Industrial Heritage Trail. In recognition of this, Essen and the Ruhrgebiet were recently named the European Capital of Culture for the year 2010.
Get free and discounted admissions to almost 120 attractions across the Ruhrgebiet with the RuhrTOPCard, including museums, cinemas, theatres, music festivals, amusement parks, hotels, tours and transport. Valid until 31 December 2006, the card costs €33 (€23 for children) and has two levels of service. First, choose any three individual days throughout the year to get free admission to any attraction displaying the green “Eintritt Frei” (Free Entrance) sign. Furthermore, a blue “Extra Frei” (Extra Free) sign means free entrance any day of the year when you show your card, while a red “Ermäßigung” (Reduced) sign means you’ll pay discounted rates - and neither of these will use up any of your three selected days.
Ruhrgebiet Tourism Centre
Gutenberg Str. 47, Essen, tel. 0201/176 70, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ruhrgebiettouristik.de.
The Industrial Heritage Trail
Zeche Zollverein XII Colliery
Gelsenkirchener Str. 181, Essen, tel. 830 36 36, www.stiftung-zollverein.de. Open 10:00–19:00. Admission €6/3. Formerly the largest coal mine in Europe, this beautiful piece of industrial Bauhaus design — now a lively arts and cultural centre — made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001. The jewel of the Ruhrgebiet Industrial Heritage Trail, this complex features the Zollverein Museum (guided tours only), the famous Red Dot Design Museum, an art gallery and ice-skating rink in the former coking plant, and a fine-dining restaurant. Take tram N°107 from Essen to the Zollverein stop.
The Gasometer / Centro
Am Grafenbusch 90, Oberhausen, tel. 0208 850 37 30, www.gasometer.de. Open 10:00–18:00, closed Mon. Admission €6/4.
This “industrial cathedral” began life as a blast-furnace gas tank in 1929, but has been turned into a 117-metre-high exhibition hall and art gallery. Besides the annual art exhibition (past artists include Christo and Jeanne-Claude, although they didn’t wrap it in fabric), there’s also a glass elevator that will take you to the roof for a panoramic view of the Ruhr valley and next-door Centro, the largest shopping mall in Europe. Accesible by bus or tram from Oberhausen to the Neue Mitte stop, plus a short walk.
Emscherstr. 71, Duisburg, tel 0203 429 19 30, www.landschaftspark.de. Open 24hrs, admission free.
A former industrial wasteland has been turned into one of the most popular destinations in the Ruhrgebiet. Besides acres of beautiful greenery and wildflowers, old factory buildings house musical performances and art exhibits, former ore silos have rock walls and a “climbing garden”, a massive gas tank is the largest artificial scuba-diving centre in Europe, and an old blast furnace has been turned into an observation deck. Accessible by tram from Duisburg to the Landschaftspark Nord stop, plus a short walk.
German Mining Industry Museum
Am Bergbaumuseum 28, Bochum, tel. 0180 587 72 34, www.bergbaumuseum.de. Open 08:30–17:00, Sat, Sun 10:00–17:00, closed Mon. Admission €6.50/3.
Go from the abyss to the heavens on a tour of the largest coal-mining museum in the world. Comprehensive exhibits and collections of artifacts teach you the history and science of coal and iron ore mining and let you understand the life of the brave miners who put their lives on the line every day. The galleries take you 20 metres underground, and then the trip up the 68-metre gear tower offers a spectacular view. It’s located in central Bochum.
Hansa Coking Plant
Emscherallee 11, Dortmund, tel. 0231 931 12 20, www.industriedenkmal-stiftung.de. Open 10:00–18:00, closed Mon. Admission €5, under 12s free.
Once the largest coking plant in Europe, the Hansa plant (which included a coalmine and iron and steel works) is now the headquarters for the Ruhrgebiet’s industrial preservation foundation — an “accessible megasculpture” with an “adventure trail” which you can take to discover the evolving flora and fauna that have since taken over the defunct factories. The coal tower gives a fantastic view of Dortmund. Accessible by tram N°47 to Pasevalstraße stop, plus a short walk.
Schwebebahn (Suspended Monorail)
Oberbarmen–Vohwinkel stations, Wuppertal, www.schwebebahn.de. Open 05.20–23.22, check website for timetables. Tickets €1.80/1.15.
It’s not just a Shelbyville idea – the monorail is alive and well in Wuppertal, a city just south of the Ruhrgebiet. Opened in 1901, the Schwebebahn travels suspended from a track twelve metres above Wuppertal and its river, taking about 35 minutes to complete its twenty-station trip. The system has been completely renovated and modernised, and carries almost 23 million passengers every year. Less than two euros will let you take this moving observation deck along the entire line.
Aquarius Wassermuseum (Water Museum)
Burgstraße 70, Mülheim an der Ruhr, 0208 443 33 90, www.aquarius-wassermuseum.de. Open 10:00–18:00, closed Mon. Admission €3/2.
This beautiful old water tower was built in 1892 by August Thyssen, founder of the company that would eventually become ThyssenKrupp AG, one of the largest steel producers in the world. Now it’s an award-winning museum featuring 14 levels of interactive, multimedia exhibits on water, its place in the environment, and the importance of protecting it (plus a fantastic view from the top). Accessible by S-Bahn S1 or S3 to Mülheim Styrum.
Museum der Deutschen Binnenschifffahrt (Inland Waterways Museum)
Apostelstraße 84, Duisburg, tel. 0203 80 88 90, www.binnenschifffahrtsmuseum.de. Open 10:00–17:00, closed Mon. Admission €3/2 (ships €21.50).
Duisburg is the largest inland port in Europe, and this museum, housed in the old city baths, exhibits the history of inland shipping from its beginnings through to modern times. The real showstopper is a 1913 freight yacht under full sail. Two antique ships are moored nearby and can be toured during the summer months. Accessible by bus or tram from Duisburg or Oberhausen.
Westfälisches Freilichtmuseum (Westphalian Open-Air Museum)
Mäckingerbach, Hagen, tel. 02331 780 70, www.freilichtmuseum-hagen.de. Open April–Oct, 09:00–18:00, closed Mon. Admission €5/2.
To understand life in the Ruhrgebiet before coal and steel changed everything, visit this recreation of an 18th-century village in the Mäckinger Valley, near Hagen. Trained artisans will teach you about almost 60 old trades such as forging, brewing, baking, and printing, and you can watch nails, rope, honey, bread, paper and more made right before your eyes. There are free workshops on weekends. Take bus N°512 from Hagen to Freilichtmuseum.
Altes Schiffshebewerk Henrichenburg (Henrichenburg Ship-Lift)
Am Hebewerk 2, Waltrop, tel. 02363 970 70, www.schiffshebewerk-henrichenburg.de. Open 10:00–18:00, closed Mon. Admissions €3.50/2.
Kaiser Wilhelm II inaugurated this ship elevator lock in 1899, and for over half a century it was used to lift barges of up to 600 tons – until replaced by a larger, faster one still in use today. Learn more about lock and ship lift technology and the crucial role inland shipping played in the growth of the Ruhrgebiet, and see historic steamships and work boats on display. Take bus N°231 from Recklinghausen to Kanalstraße.
Umspannwerk (Electricity Museum)
Uferstraße 2-4, Recklinghausen, tel. 02361 38 22 16, www.umspannwerk-recklinghausen.de. Open 10:00–17:00, closed Mon. Admission €2/1.
Besides coal mining and steel production, one of the major inventions of the industrial revolution was electricity to power homes, farms, factories and transportation. Your eyes will light up at these exhibits detailing the history of electricity and how it changed the world. Housed in an old transformer plant built back in 1928, the museum features hands-on demonstrations and electric-era artifacts to explore. Take bus N°205 from Herne or Recklinghausen to Hochlarmarkstraße.
Zeche Zollern II/IV Colliery
Grubenweg 5, Dortmund, 0231 696 11 11, www.zeche-zollern.de. Open 10:00–18:00, closed Mon. Admission €3.50/2.
Opened in 1898 as the Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks’ model colliery, this mine features beautiful Art Nouveau-designed marble panels and doorways. It’s currently the headquarters of the Westphalian Industrial Museum, and the restored buildings feature temporary and permanent exhibits on 19th-century coal mining. A housing settlement on site shows the living conditions of workers and their families. Accessible by train N°43 (Emschertalbahn) from Dortmund or Herne to Bövinghausen stop, plus a short walk.
Henrichshütte Iron and Steel Works
Werksstrasse 25, Hattingen, tel. 02324 924 70, www.henrichshuette-hattingen.de. Open 10:00–18:00, Fri 10:00–21.30, closed Mon. Admission €2.40/1.50.
Built in 1854, this giant plant employed more than 10,000 workers, who mined ore and coal and produced iron, coke and steel, all under one roof. The blast furnace – the oldest in the Ruhrgebiet – was shut down in 1987 despite angry protests, and now features exhibits for adults and children on the history and science of iron- and steel-working in the Ruhrgebiet. Accessible by bus from Hattingen Mitte or Bochum to Henrichschütte or Industriemuseum.