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Regional route Ruhr | Germany

Heavy industry means heavy labour. Nowhere in Europe is this so clear as in the Ruhrgebiet. The region is full of the history of coal, steel and people, exemplary pioneering achievements and countless victims. A history in which entrepreneurial audacity simultaneously resulted in appalling suffering and ... more

The Ruhrgebiet Regional Route

Heavy industry means heavy labour. Nowhere in Europe is this so clear as in the Ruhrgebiet. The region is full of the history of coal, steel and people, exemplary pioneering achievements and countless victims. A history in which entrepreneurial audacity simultaneously resulted in appalling suffering and a proud sense of community, and the urban population was welded together by the common fate of poor living conditions, poisonous gases and pulmonary diseases. Now the clouds of smoke from factory chimneys have for the most part disappeared, leaving more industrial monuments in their wake than anywhere else in Europe. Pithead towers and engine houses, coking plants and blast furnace are living witnesses to the past which, in their new roles as attractive cultural and entertainment centres, also point forward to an exciting future.

The Ruhrgebiet has only really existed since the 1930s. The name was coined as a belated acknowledgement of the fact that the region had become a single entity. Previous to this people had never made any such connections. There was the area south of the Ruhr around Witten, Hattingen and Hagen. North of this, dotted along the ancient Hellweg trade route were Duisburg, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. Even further north the River Emscher connected Oberhausen, Gelsenkirchen, Herne and Castrop-Rauxel, not forgetting the nearby towns of Bottrop, Gladbeck and Recklinghausen. On the far eastern edge was Hamm, whilst Marl to the north was situated right on the border of Münsterland. The western border was marked by the River Rhine, Rheinberg, Moers and Kamp-Lintfort.

Everything within these borders seemed to be subject to an uncontrolled process of chaotic growth. Industrial plants, working-class housing estates, meadows, suburbs, roads and railways cut across one another to an unforeseeable degree. That said, nowadays the various parts of the Ruhrgebiet do not look at all the same. For the explosive periods of growth have left a variety of different traces. Coal was not only the fuel behind the unrestrained process of industrialisation, it was the essence of industrialisation. The woods around Duisburg, Essen and Witten were full of little pits at a very early period. Here, where the coal lay near the surface, mining was conducted in a very elementary fashion with no more than a handful of pit workers. Since it was only of average quality most of it was used by the local inhabitants for cooking and heating purposes, the remainder being sent by boat to Holland and the Upper Rhine. At the time the Ruhrgebiet was still an idyllic rural area.

The breakthrough came around 1830 when mines began to be sunk deep below the surface to get at the seams of coal along the Hellweg area. Powerful steam engines were needed to pump out the water from the galleries at the different levels. Production multiplied. In addition the local bituminous coal proved ideal for firing coking plants. This in turn promoted iron and steel making which had until then been held back by their dependence on limited supplies of expensive timber. In 1849 the first coke-fired blast furnace in the region went into operation in Essen.

Foreign capital was there from the start. A good example is the Altenberg zinc factory in Oberhausen which was set up in 1854 as a result of a Belgian initiative. Technical know-how also came from abroad - especially from England - via industrial espionage, the import of qualified workers and the relocation of complete business firms. The growth in the number of steelworks led to an ever-increasing demand for iron ore, at first from the nearby Sauerland region and the Lorraine, later from Sweden and Newfoundland. The Krupp concern even had its own fleet of ships to import ore from the north of Spain. Lime came from Wuppertal and Wülfrath, nickel from Silesia and New Caledonia, graphite from the Bavarian forest.

In the mid 19th century the Ruhrgebiet felt as if it had been hit by a gold rush. Industrial pioneers like Franz Haniel, Mathias Stinnes, Friedrich Krupp, and Friedrich Harkort built up  whole empires within the space of a few years. The railways were primarily responsible for this explosive growth for they were simultaneously efficient and elementary means of transport and major consumers of iron and steel. The first major stretch of rail between Cologne and Minden was opened in 1847. By 1862 the whole of the Ruhrgebiet had been connected. The new technology led to the creation of pits and steelworks everywhere. Most of them produced coal to fire their own steelworks. This development in turn heralded the creation of integrated works producing coal, iron and steel – and later chemical by-products – a feature which was to become characteristic for the Ruhrgebiet as a whole.

The massive growth of industrialisation created a voracious demand for workers and resulted in an upsurge of immigration on a hitherto unknown scale. In 1850 the population of Essen was around 9,000. By 1910 this had grown to 295,000. In the brief period between 1895 and 1913 the population of the Ruhrgebiet more than doubled from 1,500,000 to 3,300,000. The first immigrants were farm workers from Münsterland, East Westphalia and Hesse. After that the catchment area moved further east. Between 1910 and 1914 alone more than 800,000 people moved to the Ruhrgebiet from Poland and Masuria.

The chaotic development brought the towns and cities to the edge of collapse because of the lack of housing, roads and sanitary facilities. Factory owners tried to counter this by building housing estates exclusively for their workforce. They set up health insurance systems and introduced company stores in the hope of being able to damp down potential conflicts with social welfare programmes. Nonetheless the lack of housing was a constant theme. Around 1900 every second family was housing a lodger – single young men who had come to the Ruhrgebiet in search of work and who were delighted to find somewhere cheap to live.

Life was hard in the pits and foundries. The work was not only dangerous it was damaging to the health. The only compensation was that it was comparatively well-paid. Working together at close quarters in such circumstances encouraged a close-knit community spirit which was further strengthened by clubs, political activities and industrial conflicts.

The manufacture of armaments for the two World Wars strengthened the dominant status of heavy industry in the Ruhrgebiet and prevented the introduction of new technologies. In the long run this monoculture proved to be fatal. The last real major innovation in the Ruhrgebiet occurred in 1932 in the form of the gigantic shaft number XII on the site of the Zollverein Pit in Essen. When it was opened it was generally acknowledged as the most modern coal mine in the word. Its practical and flexible mix of redbrick and steel trellis work was a landmark in architectural history. Its closure in 1986  after long years of crisis heralded the end of the monopoly of coal and steel along the Rivers Ruhr and Emscher.

Industrialisation, the boom years, war devastation, reconstruction – the Ruhrgebiet was the power house of Germany for around 150 years. Now it is in search of a new identity. Structural transformation is the in-word. It has been a very painful process. This is no surprise given the fact that thousands and thousands of workers lost their jobs. But now people are slowly beginning to realise that their unique industrial heritage forms the potential basis for future developments. Where other regions boast of their churches, monasteries, castles and fortresses, the Ruhrgebiet can boast of its collieries, gasometers, foundries and steelworks. They are not only tourist attractions but also constitute an attractive environment for modern businesses as well as offering spectacular settings for culture and entertainment. A huge number of people in honorary societies and grass-roots initiatives have committed their energies to creating new roots in the old industrial plants. The Emscher Park International Building Exhibition (IBA) made a considerable contribution to the process of sustainable reconstruction between 1989 and 1999 Its aim was to design and implement forward-looking projects for the Emscher region, an area which had suffered most from the results of industrialisation and the economic crisis which accompanied its decline. The Ruhrgebiet continues to develop with similar new projects. Nonetheless it has remained true to its original nature - as a pioneering force in modern industrial society.

The Route of Industrial Heritage

The regional tourist project entitled "The Route of Industrial Heritagel", a ca. 400 km circular route around the Ruhrgebiet, opens up the region's industrial heritage to visitors.

25 so-called anchor points make up the core network of the Trail, including six important museums of technical and social history, many panorama points and a series of significant workers'settlements. Outside all the anchor points there are large conical yellow identification posts.

Around 1,500 signs on motorways and local roads point the way to these industrial and cultural highlights. The "Discovery Pass"introduces all the attractions in words and pictures.

This project is the responsibility of the Regional Association of the Ruhr (RVR). The "Ruhr visitor centre" is the main visitor centre for the Trail and can be found at the Zollverein World Heritage Site in Essen. 

Angle towers and gables with battlements, artistically ornate staircases, an imposing boulevard of lime and plane trees against the background of a palatial redbrick façade! Was this once supposed to be a colliery? Indeed it was. The original owners consciously set out to build a magnificent ...
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Zollern II/IV Colliery LWL Industrial Museum
Grubenweg 5
44388 Dortmund, Germany

Duisburg | Germany
“Clean and tidy and ready to be fired up once more”. That may be so. But blast furnace no. 5 on the site of the disused Thyssen ironworks will stay for ever cold. Because it is right in the middle of the North Duisburg Landscape Park. This 200 hectare area is a clear example of how nature and ...
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North Landscape Park
Emscherstrasse 71
47137 Duisburg, Germany

Zollverein is the meeting place for past, present and future. The past are the Ruhr Museum with its presentation of the exciting natural and cultural history of the Ruhr Region and the "Monument Path" which brings industrial history back to life. Zollverein was once the largest coal mine in Europe, ...
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Zollverein Mine and Coking Plant World Heritage Site
Besucherzentrum Zollverein Zeche Zollverein Schacht XII Gebäude A 14 / Kohlenwäsche
Gelsenkirchener Str. 181
45309 Essen, Germany

The story of iron, steel and the people who produced it: That's what the Henrichshütte in Hattingen, one of eight sites of the Westphalian Industrial Museum, is centred around. Visitors are invited to discover the varied aspects of the industrial monument by following several theme routes. The path ...
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Henrichshütte Steelworks LWL Industrial Museum
Werksstraße 25
45527 Hattingen, Germany

Oberhausen | Germany
Between 1988 and 1992 the citizens of Oberhausen were involved in a passionate dispute. The bone of contention was a gasometer belonging to the disused Good Hope steel mill. Bulldozers had been ordered onto the site to demolish it and then sent back again. Some people considered it to be a filthy ...
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Gasometer
Arenastraße 11
46047 Oberhausen, Germany

The powerful steel framework offers a truly imperial view, being flanked by elegant sandstone towers each of which is crowned by an ornamental globe, the whole construction majestically reflected in the waters of the Dortmund-Ems canal. Not surprisingly, it was Emperor Wilhelm II himself who ...
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Henrichenburg Shiplift LWL Industrial Museum
Am Hebewerk 2
45731 Waltrop, Germany

Dozens of children’s’ dreams are simultaneously fulfilled here. For example when the eyes of large and small railway fans light up as they climb into the driver’s cab of a steaming locomotive to watch the stoker shovelling coal into the crackling oven. Sometimes there’s a whole train attached to the ...
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Bochum-Dahlhausen Railway Museum
Dr.-C.-Otto-Straße 191
44879 Bochum, Germany

Bochum | Germany
This impressive hall was built as an exhibition hall by the Bochumer Verein ironworks for the 1902 world exhibition in Düsseldorf, after which it was used as a gas-blower and dynamo station in the cast-iron works. The airy steel construction is one of the first examples of purely functional ...
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Hall of the Century Bochum
An der Jahrhunderhalle 1
44793 Bochum, Germany

Dortmund | Germany
For outsiders the Hansa coking plant was a forbidden city for more than 60 years. Its roads and bridges were permeated with the smell of tar, its buildings and towers covered with layers of coal dust, day and night. Every ten minutes the endless batteries of coking ovens had to be emptied and ...
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Hansa Coking Plant
Emscherallee 11
44369 Dortmund, Germany

The history of the Ewald colliery began in 1871. Three mining contractors in Essen, one of whom Ewald Hilger, gave his name to the pit, set up the colliery in the south of Herten. After a thorny start the colliery grew to become the most productive pit in the Ruhrgebiet, above all after the Second ...
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Ewald Mine | Hoheward Landscape Park
Besucherzentrum Hoheward
Werner-Heisenberg-Straße 14
45699 Herten, Germany

Bochum | Germany
The highlight is hidden around 20 metres below ground level: a replica of a coal mine with coal seams, galleries and shafts complete with all the machinery. The whole stretch is two and half kilometres in length. Here visitors can see live, close-up demonstrations of various mining techniques. The ...
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German Mining Museum
Am Bergbaumuseum 28
44791 Bochum, Germany

If you don’t believe that office work is bad for your health you should try the so-called “compulsory posture”, a kind of corset which imitates the unnatural position adopted by most people when they’re sitting in front of a computer. It is only one of countless experimentation points in the German ...
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DASA - German Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition
Friedrich-Henkel-Weg 1-25
44149 Dortmund, Germany

Duisburg | Germany
Just popping down to the shops is out of the question. The family is much too tied up. The man of the house has several professions: pilot, engineer, sailor, accountant – all at the same time. The same goes for the woman of the house – but she has to cook as well. The children spend most of the year ...
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German Inland Waterways Museum
Apostelstraße 84
47119 Duisburg, Germany

Duisburg | Germany
Spacious, lively, down-to-earth, modern and simultaneously rooted in history, maritime yet located in the midst of the city: other European cities can only dream of a jewel like the Duisburg inner harbour. It was originally constructed between 1850 and 1950 for loading and unloading grain and ...
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Inner Harbour
Hafenforum Innenhafen Duisburg Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH
Philosophenweg 19
47051 Duisburg, Germany

Essen | Germany
A family house: this sober description in the local land register hardly does justice to a royal palace containing 269 rooms and covering 8,100 square metres of living and working space, surrounded by a 28 hectare park in a picturesque setting above Lake Baldeney. The Villa Hügel was once the home ...
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Villa Hügel
Hügel 1
45133 Essen, Germany

Gelsenkirchen | Germany
The Nordstern park in Gelsenkirchen is located on the site of a disused coal mine and is a mixture of carefully restored and modernised colliery buildings and landscaped gardens from a former National Garden Show. Industrial heritage and industrial nature; a place to relax and recuperate. It all ...
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Nordstern Park
Am Bugapark
45899 Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Hagen | Germany
Nothing has been left to chance here. From the outside it seems like nothing more than a solid family residence. But inside, everything has been planned to match right down to the last detail. The wall decorations, the flooring, furniture, lamps, material, even the plates and the cutlery have all ...
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Hohenhof
Stirnband 10
58093 Hagen, Germany

The piercing pounding of the mighty scythe rings through the green valley of the Mäckinger stream – no wonder that the old blacksmiths suffered from deafness. Other locations are also full of activity. An agate grinder is cutting unprocessed agate, a clog maker is hollowing out a piece of willow ...
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LWL Open Air Museum of Handicrafts and Science
Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Handwerk und Technik
Mäckingerbach
58091 Hagen, Germany

Hamm | Germany
Sometimes it takes time to make changes. In Hamm on the north-east edge of the Ruhrgebiet the long wait has paid off. For almost a hundred years nature ran wild on the disused site of the old Maximilian colliery. Indeed the natural growth was so successful that it gave rise to the first State Garden ...
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Maximilian Park
Alter Grenzweg 2
59071 Hamm, Germany

Marl | Germany
30 active companies, 100 production units, 900 buildings, a dense network of high technology stretching over more than six square kilometres. This is what the future of industrial heritage looks like. In the Chemical Industry Estate in Marl, on the northern edge of the Ruhrgebiet, it is already part ...
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Chemical Industry Estate
Ausstellung im Informations-Centrum (IC)
Paul-Baumann-Straße 1
45764 Marl, Germany