Tuesday, January 08, 2008 at 3:38 PM
I sometimes get apprehensive reactions when I tell people that I’m from the Ruhr Area of Germany in North Rhine-Westphalia, known locally as the Ruhrgebiet. It seems that some people have an outdated image of the Ruhr Area as a sad, industrial zone dominated by chimneys, factories, and coal mines.
Well, I'm here to tell you that growing up in Essen wasn’t so bad after all, and to share a little bit about where I come from, I did some research using Google Book Search. Parks and playgrounds were within walking distance from my house (and my mom kept me away from the closed coal mines). I got to experience some of the great outdoors – even cows and other farm animals!
Marked by its industrial history – Krupp and Thyssen were among its founding fathers – the Ruhrgebiet has seen significant structural changes since the 1960s. The coal crisis of 1958 caused a dramatic decrease in coal demands, which lead to soaring unemployment rates. This forced cities of the Ruhr Area such as Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg, and Oberhausen to redefine themselves.
Industrial spaces were gradually transformed into more beautiful – even historical – sites. The renovation of a former Thyssen building as one of Europe’s largest shopping centers had an immediate, personal effect on my life, as I found my first jobs in the “CentrO Oberhausen.” Nowadays, the so-called Route of Industrial Culture links these rejuvenated locations, like the “Zeche Zollverein” World Heritage Site in Essen, and the large complex of former steel mills at Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Duisburg.
The Ruhr Area now houses numerous theatres, museums, and concert auditoria. There are annual cultural events such as Essen’s “Grillo-Theater,” Oberhausen’s Short Film Festival, and the Moers Jazz Festival. I had one of my earliest encounters with art courtesy of a major Van Gogh exhibition on display at Essen’s Folkwang Museum.
The area’s cultural diversity will find wider recognition when Essen, representing the entire Ruhr Area, is named “European Capital of Culture 2010.” As writer Adolf Muschg puts it: “The new Ruhr District is no longer inhaling dust, but rather the future.” It’s a future that I can't wait to explore – and I hope I've whetted your appetite for it, too.