Structural Change in the Ruhr Area

Shaft of the former coal mine Schlägel & Eisen, shaft 3/4/7 in Herten.

Shaft of the former coal mine Schlägel & Eisen, shaft 3/4/7 in Herten., © picture alliance / Jochen Tack


For a century and a half, the prosperity of the Ruhr region relied heavily on the coal and steel industry. However, the late 1950s witnessed a coal crisis, causing prices to plunge and the demand for coal to decline.

In the 1970s, the steel industry also faced difficulties, and this crisis spread throughout the entire region. As the Ruhr region's economy was predominantly focused on coal mining and related sectors, the crisis affected the entire region, making transformation exceptionally challenging. As a result of the crisis, many coal mines were closed, and mass layoffs occurred.

Education, culture, landscape preservation, and recreational opportunities had long been overlooked in the Ruhr region. The absence of universities and limited access to quality education and vocational training had been the norm, as they were not deemed essential in the region's past. The natural environment was fragmented and damaged.

Starting from 1960, greater emphasis was placed on education and the service sector. Neglected areas such as art and culture, research and education, as well as environmental consciousness and quality of life, gained new significance. The suburban railway and road networks were expanded to create overall higher quality of life in the Ruhr region. This was achieved through the development of new regional recreational areas. Efforts were also made to improve air quality, allowing Germany's so-called “black lung” to breathe again. The development program also included the expansion and establishment of schools and universities. The founding of universities and colleges transformed the Ruhr region into a powerful educational and research hub.

The International Building Exhibition Emscher Park (Internationale Bauausstellung Emscher Park) played a significant role in the transformation of the Ruhr region. From 1989 to 1999, it developed new uses for former industrial sites, mines, coking plants, and steelworks. Under the motto “Working in the Park,” new business and service parks, as well as incubators and technology centers, were established on former industrial areas. The green spaces, accounting for 50% of the total area, are particularly important. Moreover, a high architectural quality is emphasized. Many former industrial structures now house museums, studios, and exhibition halls, such as the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex (Zeche Zollverein), which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Gasometer in Oberhausen, or the Dortmund U, a former brewery building in Dortmund.

To connect the most significant cultural landmarks, the Industrial Heritage Trail (Route der Industriekultur) was established starting in 1999. This tourist route spans 400 kilometers and includes the most important and attractive industrial heritage sites in the Ruhr region. The network consists of 27 anchor points - locations of exceptional historical importance and outstanding tourist appeal. In addition to these, there are 17 observation points, 13 settlements, and numerous thematic routes within the Industrial Heritage Trail.

The 700-kilometer-long bike route of the Industrial Heritage Trail is a dream come true for all bicycle enthusiasts!

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