Blue skies over former German industrial heartland

6th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

We look at the changes in Germany's Ruhr region as it shifts away from heavy industry towards tourism.

A landscape of smoke-stacks and dense smog were once synonymous with Germany's Ruhr industrial heartland.

An ice-rink at the site is a good place to see the Zollverein complex

But all that has changed in recent years with the closure of dozens of mines, steel works and factories, clearing the skies and making way for new jobs in the service sector.

Tourists are beginning to discover the Ruhr area between the cities of Duisburg and Dortmund. Last year, Duisburg saw the opening of the country's largest children's museum called Atlantis. The museum has been built on the premises of the former August-Thyssen Works where raw steel was produced until 1985.

A playground full of industrial ruins

The smelting towers were destined for slow decay, but have been renovated as part of the Duisburg-Nord landscape park and are lit-up at night in red, green and blue. Managing Director Ralf Winkels has been imaginative in luring more than half a million visitors to the park every year.

Bicycles can be rented out for a tour of the old industrial site and handed back at other cycle stations. Guided tours by bike are also possible, and by torchlight at night. The building that once housed the Thyssen administration is now a modern youth hostel with accommodation in 38 rooms.

The landscape park is like an adventure playground full of industrial ruins. The German Alpine Association has a branch on the premises where climbers can practise their skills on the walls of the bunkers that once stored iron ore and coal. There is also a climbing park where children can learn to climb up walls.

Industrial cathedral

Then there is the world's largest indoor diving centre which is visited by 10,000 divers every year. It is a real underwater playground where divers can go down to see a sunken Cessna, two cars and a shipwreck.

The Oberhausen gasometer was once the largest in the world

One of the smelting ovens is today an open-air cinema with 1,000 seats. Next door is a theatre stage. The power station, the main part of the "industrial cathedral", is used for fairs, exhibitions, concerts and other events. Both Lionel Ritchie and the magician David Copperfield have performed there.

But there is also a lot to see apart from the events regularly hosted here. Visitors can view the smelting hall where raw steel was made into liquid. From the top of Oven Number 5, the visitor has a marvellous view of the 200 hectare site and from a height of 50 metres can really experience blue sky over the Ruhr.

World's largest gasometer

The Gasometer in the city of Oberhausen is also visible from the tower. The 117 metre-high steel giant was built in 1929 and was then the world's largest. In the 1980s, the huge gas tank was ready for demolition.

Since then it has become a symbol of the city. The inside of the steel cylinder looks like a gigantic space station and the acoustics are phenomenal. Jumping up once triggers a seven or eight echoes similar to surround sound in a multiplex cinema.

Several exhibitors have taken advantage of the surreal atmosphere attracting more than two million visitors. The Gasometer is also the world's highest exhibition hall which did not go unknown to the Guinness Book of Records in which it is mentioned. A panorama lift offers a good view of the Rhein-Herne Canal, the skiing arena in Bottrop and the Schalke football arena.

UN World Heritage Site

What the Gasometer is for Oberhausen, the Zollverein mine is for Essen. It was the last mine to close in Essen in 1986. The Zollverein premises were declared a United Nations World Heritage Site in 2001 and old coalmining machines can still be seen.

"But we also offer city tours that show more than this site," says Heike Sander of the Zollverein tourist association.

The coke plant in Essen, where coke was produced until 1993, is also a World Heritage Site. Six smoke-stacks are still intact with two of them almost 100 metres high. Visitors can peer up one of these towers, offering a view like a small blue disc and in the distance Essen's blue skies.

September 2005

[Copyright DPA with Expatica 2005]

Subject: Ruhr, tourism, Essen

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