Coal Pot? Outdated Image of an Underrated Region

Essen Travel Blog

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Dirty coal pot? View from Zollverein

The Ruhr District, nicknamed the Kohlenpott (coal pot), is one of the most underestimated regions in Germany and beyond. The general image involves coal and steel industry, bad air, grey cities and no green at all in those few bits of landscape that are left between cities. This was valid three, four decades ago but is long outdated. Since the late 1980s the Ruhrgebiet underwent a profound change from an industrial zone to a region of culture and high tech.

The coal ressources were exploited by around 1985/1990. First the mines died, then the steel mills. There is some coal remaining along the northern edge of the area but it is deep down and accessible only with enormous efforts, costs and dangers. Only four mines are still working (2010) but with high state subventions.

Dirty coal pot? Ruhrstausee
EU politicians have recently decided to close them down in the near future, despite protests. The death of the heavy industries lead to high unemployment and hopelessness at first. However, things have changed and ideas have changed and the region is on the way into a new future.

Today's „Coal Pot“ is a green landscape with clear sky, lakes and rivers. The change started with the International Architecture Exhibition (IBA) and the ambitious project Emscher Park. The Emscher, a river that became a canalized drain through the worst part of the industrial zone. This underdevelopped area with its factory and mine ruins was to be turned into the „Route of Industrial Culture“ with technical monuments, attractions, new housing quarters and green nature.

Dirty coal pot? Ruhr river in Essen-Werden
The planners' imagination found new uses for the huge, impressive buildings of mines, steel mills, factory halls, gas tanks, power plants. They became art exhibition halls, dance clubs, cinemas, freeclimbing centres, concert halls, museums, landscape parks... The flagship, Zollverein coal mine, achieved the status of UNESCO World Heritage in 2001.

The Ruhrgebiet consists of 53 separate cities. Dortmund and Essen are the biggest with more than 500,000 inhabitants each. Each of them offers everything city life requires. The density of opera houses, first and second league soccer stadiums, museums, shopping centres, nightlife... is higher than anywhere else. Cultural life is as varied and vibrant as in a metropolis like Berlin, Paris, London. There is heaps to do and see within short distances.

Dirty coal pot? Old town of Essen-Kettwig
All cities are well interconnected by trains and S-Bahn so city hopping is easy. One would need a year to see them all and do them justice.

Ruhrpott Melting Pot: International Workers‘ Culture

5 million people live in „Germany's biggest village“. People are down-to-earth, open-minded, rough but hearty. Although there are the usual rivalries between neighbouring suburbs and cities, and of course between the fans of neighbouring soccer clubs, there is a general „Ruhrpott“ identity.

The booming industry of the Ruhr district needed manpower from the beginning. In the late 19th century immigrants came from Poland, Silesia, rural Prussia and other regions in the East to work here. During the „economic miracle“ after the War again more workers were needed.

Multi-kulti street food
The so-called „guest workers“ were invited first from Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Greece) and then from Turkey. Many families in the Ruhrpott have some kind of migration background (latest pc term for immigrants and their descendants) - the population is international and multi-culture but at the same time the region is a melting pot. Those who speak the purest Ruhrpott dialect may well be dark-haired, dark-eyed people with a mediterranean or middle-eastern appearance who were born in the Ruhrgebiet and spent their entire lives here.

Lots of symptoms of that cultural mix can be spotted. Like the latest invention of a kebap stall in Essen: the Pomm-Döner. It involves döner (Turkish), French Fries (Belgian/generally Western European) and Tzatziki (Greek), all served together in paper bag.

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Dirty coal pot? View from Zollvere…
Dirty coal pot? View from Zollver…
Dirty coal pot? Ruhrstausee
Dirty coal pot? Ruhrstausee
Dirty coal pot? Ruhr river in Esse…
Dirty coal pot? Ruhr river in Ess…
Dirty coal pot? Old town of Essen-…
Dirty coal pot? Old town of Essen…
Multi-kulti street food
Multi-kulti street food
Essen Hotels & Accommodations review
Friendly, convenient, quiet hotel
Hotel Korn is a middle-class hotel with friendly and attentive service, small enough that staff remember their guests. I liked this place a lot. It is… read entire review
photo by: Vlindeke