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.
Ruhrgebiet Tourism Centre
Gutenberg Str. 47, Essen, tel. 0201/176 70, email@example.com, 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.