The Ruhr (German: Ruhrgebiet) is a region in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Once the uncontested heart of Germany's economy, the region was formed during the 19th and 20th century by the coal and steel industries and is going through a structural transformation, which makes it one of the most dynamic regions in Europe. Its borders are defined by the Ruhr River in the south, the Lippe in the north, the Rhine in the west and the city of Hamm in the east. That makes the region about 100 km from west to east and about 40 km from north to south. A "city of cities" as the marketing campaign would have it, the Ruhr area is one of Europe's most densely populated areas with both a strong regional identity and strong identities of many component cities and neighborhoods. About 5.3 million people live in the Ruhr, the third-most-populous metropolitan region in Western Europe after greater London and Ile de France (Paris) - ahead of greater Berlin. The Ruhr area lies in the center of the so called "Blue Banana", an area of high population density and industrial activity extending from northern Italy to the Netherlands and beyond the North Sea to England.
- 1 Bochum - the region's cultural hub
- 2 Dortmund - most populous city in the region famous for its football team and Europe's most attended and Germany's largest stadium
- 3 Duisburg - world's largest inland harbour
- 4 Essen - hosting the UNESCO World Heritage former industrial complex of Zollverein
- 5 Gelsenkirchen - with a number of parks
- 6 Hagen - home to an open-air museum dedicated to early industry
- 7 Hamm - with an impressive railway station building
- 8 Mülheim an der Ruhr
- 9 Oberhausen - famous for the CentrO multi-functional centre incorporating shopping, culture and tourist attractions
- 10 Hattingen - medieval and industrial heritage
The city of Düsseldorf is very close to the Ruhr but is not part of the Ruhr area.
If one were to count the Ruhr Area as a single "metro area" (which most residents would scoff at, given the strong identities of individual cities) it would be bigger than Berlin and its surrounding suburbs and thus the biggest "metro area" in Germany by population and among the top ten in the European Union, depending on which boundaries are drawn for this and other agglomerations.
The Ruhr area used to be mostly rural until the 19th century, when the region's rich coal deposits were suddenly in great demand. Steam engines needed coal but also enabled better mining; railroads expanded the export market for coal and were also coal-fired, but above all the demand for steel rose above anything ever seen before and companies like Krupp built an empire on coal and steel. Enormous immigration inflated the population fifty-fold and the favourable geographic conditions, including the location close to four rivers, caused towns to rapidly grow to accommodate the bustling heavy industry and its workforce. This led to a development of a contiguous urban area with barely noticeable borders between the cities and an efficient - if sometimes overcrowded - transportation network.
Because of its strategic importance, the Ruhr area was extensively bombed during the Second World War. After the war, the region rebounded in the 1950s and 60s, driving the German "economic miracle" with GDP growth rates of 9% a year. With the economic crises of the 1970s came a downturn, however, as the coal mines and steel works, by then uneconomical, started to close. The Ruhr began a slow process of reorientation towards more high-tech industries, while also cleaning up its polluted environment.
While there is still significant steel production in the Ruhr and new industries have partially replaced coal mining, Ruhr still has higher-than-average unemployment. Thanks to the overall economic strength, the region does not come off as impoverished, and can surprise with the abundance of greenery and cultural potential. It has also retained its many Sportvereine, hosting some of the most successful German teams in association football in particular. The last coal mines were shut down in late 2018 with an emotional rendition of the Steigerlied (originally from the Ore Mountains but long since associated with mining in general and still sung before major soccer games - even in one voice by fans of regional rivals) and everybody of political relevance in the area past and present in attendance - many shedding tears.
The Ruhr area has a reputation of business not pleasure, a place where "Currywurst" is as sophisticated as cuisine gets and soccer chants are the highest form of culture. But award of the 2010 "European capital of culture" title to Essen which was branded as Ruhr2010 in cooperation with the entire region has righted those prejudices and put the Ruhr on the map as an area that has far more to offer than a rough proletarian charme and down-to earth honesty. There are several world heritage sites in the area and Ruhr native Herbert Grönemeyer (one of Germany's most famous recording artists) is noted for songs about deep philosophical themes as well as anthems to Currywurst or his native Bochum.
The main rule about the central European climate is that you cannot predict the weather. Sometimes summers can be cold and wet, while April (most years very rainy) is warm and sunny. But in general the best chance for sun will be from May to August and in October. July and August can become very hot with temperatures up to 35 °C. In wintertime, from December to February, the average temperature is around the freezing point. Winter is not generally recommended for travelling to the Ruhr area, but on the other hand in December, Germany's famous Christmas markets take place. The Christmas markets in Dortmund and Münster are definitely worth a visit.
The pronounced Ruhr dialect of the 20th century is by now hardly spoken, though you will still hear whether people are from there or not if you have a trained ear. A particular blue collar accent popularized by TV (a lot of TV is produced in nearby Cologne) is spoken by some, but by no means all - not even all blue collar - inhabitants of the Ruhr area.
Do not expect everyone to understand English, although most people have had English lessons at school. You will have fewer problems if you are able to communicate in German. In some neighbourhoods, you will find immigrant populations using their own languages, including especially Turkish, Polish , Serbo-Croatian and Russian. However, the long history of immigration means that even people who have a very "Polish" or "Turkish" surname may speak nothing but German, given their ancestors came to the area decades or even more than a century ago.
Nonetheless, the Ruhr area still attracts immigrants from the Middle East (mostly Turkey and Syria, with smaller but active Afghan and Iraqi populations), Eastern Europe (according to statistics, the Ruhr area has one of the largest Slav communities in the world), and Southern Europe (Overwhelmingly from Italy and Spain). University towns of course attract international students, whose German ranges from near-native to barely existent and who usually speak at least one other living European language, sometimes several.
As this region is rather densely populated, there should be more than one airport within reasonable proximity to choose from. Airports that serve this area, both within and outside it include the following:
Dortmund Airport (DTM IATA) is the region's international airport, with scheduled service to several European cities and sizeable holiday charter traffic. Shuttle buses connect the airport to Dortmund Hauptbahnhof and the local railway station in Holzwickede, where you can change to trains heading towards other cities in the Ruhr region.
Düsseldorf Airport (DUS IATA) is one of Germany's largest, with flights to all major European airports and some intercontinental services. It is immediately south of the Ruhr area and has its own train station on the high-speed line towards it. High-speed and regional trains depart from there towards all the major cities in the Ruhr. Travel times to most of them are below one hour. The airport is also well connected to the local highway system.
Germany's largest airport by passenger traffic, Frankfurt Airport (FRA IATA) also has very frequent direct high-speed train service to major cities in the Ruhr, taking between one and a half and two hours. There are also direct long-distance buses offering similar travel times by not stopping along the way, but the departure frequency is low. Frankfurt has a large network of connections all over Europe, and to all other continents except Antarctica.
Cologne-Bonn Airport (CGN IATA) is also a major airport in terms of domestic and European traffic, also served by a dedicated on-site train station but with direct train connections to Ruhr less frequent. That said, by changing at Cologne's train station one may almost seamlessly get to the Ruhr in 1½ hours or less. Direct bus services are also offered.
Some low-fare carriers, in particular Ryanair, use the Niederrhein Airport Weeze (NRN IATA) east of the Ruhr. There is shuttle transportation offered from the airport to Duisburg and Essen, but no direct train connection.
Other nearby regional airports are Münster-Osnabrück Airport (FMO IATA) and Paderborn-Lippstadt (PAD IATA). Travelling from there requires taking a bus to the respective city's main train station and taking a direct train from there to any of the major cities in the Ruhr, which in total should take around 2 hours.
The cities of Duisburg, Mülheim (not all trains stop here), Essen, Bochum, Dortmund and Hamm are at the main south-north route and therefore many long-distance trains stop there. From there, there is a non-straight-tight, but sufficient network of commuter trains and urban rail in other cities at the Ruhr.
For visitors coming from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, there are several Thalys trains per day going through the Ruhr region.
- See also: Intercity buses in Germany
Flixbus has all but cornered the domestic market and also runs several international routes.
Highways lead to the Ruhr from all directions. In the north-south direction, the A1 (Hamburg-Cologne) leads through the eastern Ruhr area. The A3 (Arnhem-Cologne-Frankfurt) opens to the west part and Oberhausen and Duisburg. In east-west direction, the A2 (Oberhausen-Hannover) runs through the northern part of the Ruhr. The central and southern area around Duisburg, Essen and Dortmund is accessible from the A40 (Ruhrschnellweg). East of Dortmund, the A40 changes its name to A44. Directly from the north, crossing the Münsterland, the A31 leads to the center of the region, from the south the A45 (Sauerland line) leads the Ruhr. There are many other highways which run through the different regions of the Ruhr.
In general inside the big cities public transport is well developed and faster than going by car. But outside and between cities the car can be a better choice - outside rush hour, that is.
Since most cities have their separate transport association, coordination is not always the best. But they are all linked together including trains like S-Bahn and Regionals-Express by Verkehrsverbund Rhein Ruhr (VRR) and Tarifraum Münsterland/Ruhr-Lippe (VRL) at the eastern limits. Look for tarifs and timetables there. Within a city use bus, tram or underground. Many lines cross city limits several times during their route, this is common and should not be considered alarming. Since most cities in the region blend into one another, traveling across cities is possible but slow. However riding a bus or tram can give you views and insights you will get nowhere else. If you are short on time, use the S-Bahn or Regional-Express. These are trains, and you will have to get to the nearest station. They all have the same pricing system so that the tickets are valid for all vehicles within the VRR and VRL respectively. For change from VRR to VRL and vice versa special conditions apply. Refer to the internet sites or contact one of the information offices of the organisations.
Generally, single tickets are quite expensive, usually cheaper are day tickets, group tickets, family tickets or for longer stays, tickets with a monthly pass. There are 5 fare levels. As a rule of thumb: if you travel 3-4 bus stops or 1.5 km (different rules for each city) you need level K, for travelling within one city or two adjacent suburbs you need level A, for a ride to the next neighbour city fare level B is needed, if you transit to a neighbour city of a neighbour city use level C, and level D is for rides to any location within the area of VRR.
You can obtain tickets from the customer offices of the local transport association, from the ticket-machines at the subway stations, from ticket machines within the trams, from bus drivers and from designated kiosks. The surface of the ticket machines can be switched to several languages, english is always among them. If there is a ticket machine at a station, it is usually not possible to buy a ticket on the vehicle. Even if you just enter the platforms of a subway station without holding a valid (stamped) ticket, you may be fined. Tickets are rarely checked on platforms.
Since tickets are not stamped when bought, you have to do it by yourself before entering a vehicle. The orange stamp boxes are located at the entrance of the platforms of subway and trains and within trams and busses.
If you depart from a station without being able to buy tickets and without a ticket machine on board the train, you need to ask the conductor or, if there is none, the driver what to do.
Regional trains may be used with tickets of VRR within the VRR-area.
Going by taxi is quite expensive. Calculate a price of about €1.60/km plus a onetime charge from the approach. As taxis have to drive on the same roads regular cars do, they are not even faster than public transport during rush hour.
As some things aren't really close to each other, you might wish to take a car. You can do so, the road network is consistently good if sometimes congested. Finding where you have to go can be difficult as the huge number of places and roads taking you there can be confusing - a navigation device comes highly recommend. Avoid the rush hour, which is more extended to the early morning and late afternoon than elsewhere in Germany. All highways are very prone to traffic jam. This is particularly true for the A1 around Dortmund, the A3 between Düsseldorf and Oberhausen, the A40 along the entire length between Duisburg and Dortmund, the A42 between Oberhausen and Herne and the A43, between Bochum and Recklinghausen.
You will find parking garages in most major cities, but take note of the opening hours as most close for the night.
The Ruhr has not historically been a good spot for cyclists. In the northern part, the situation is perhaps a little better because of the spirit of the Münsterland region nearby than in the southern part, which is quite hilly. But there are exceptions and political efforts to make the whole area more bike-friendly. The Ruhr Regional Association is buying disused industrial railway lines and converts them to cycle paths. If your destination is close to such trails, cycling is a great opportunity in good weather. Even the core of the Ruhr is 50 km long and the sights are spread over the entire area, in contrast to classical capitals. A list of routes can be found at item #Sport. Cycling is making a comeback, however, and there are many programs to upgrade and expand cycling infrastructure, including the bike-share system Metropolrad Ruhr (whose rental spots are usually found next to railway and light rail stations).
The first "bicycle highway" in Germany, the Radschnellweg Ruhr or RS1 is planned to offer an east-west link for cyclists throughout the Ruhr area from Duisburg to Hamm, mostly avoiding major roads and traffic lights (some 115 km in total). Parts of the route are already in service.
Industrial Heritage Trail
The most interesting sites of the industrial heritage of the Ruhr region are combined under the keyword Industrial Heritage Trail. Among the most prominent sites on the trail are the Zollverein pit and cokery in Essen (a UNESCO World Heritage site), Gasometer in Oberhausen and Zeche Zollern pit in Dortmund. A number of objects relate to the importance of riverine transportation, like the entire Innenhafen of Duisburg or the Henrichenburg ship lift in Waltrop. There are also preserved industrialist residences, for example the Hochenhof in Hagen
The booming population of the Ruhr area needed to be housed, and thus the local industrialists built numerous workers' settlements throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Some of them have been preserved. The oldest one is Eisenheim in Oberhausen, which is pretty basic and reminiscent of the sombre beginnings of industrial revolution. Other, however, paint a different picture, forming elegant garden cities and surprising with unique architecture. Among them are Margarethenhöhe in Essen, Dahlhauser Heide in Bochum and Teutoburgia in Herne.
Extensive mining operations brought large masses of waste rock above ground, which needed to be stored away. This led to the creation of pit heaps, called Halde in German, close to main mining shafts, which formed a landscape typical of all of the mining regions of Europe. Today, most pit heaps have been recultivated and have the appearance of green hills rather than grim spoil tips.
Museums of industry, technology and trade
There are a number of major and comprehensive museums themed on the Ruhr's industrial heritage, technology, transport and trades; namely the German Mining Museum and Railway Museum in Bochum, the Museum of Industrial Heritage (including a former zinc factory and steel mill) in Oberhausen, the DASA Museum of working environments in Dortmund, the Museum of Inland Navigation in Duisburg and the Aquarius Water Museum in Mülheim an der Ruhr.
- The open-air museum of handicraft and technology in Hagen presents the earlier stages of industry in the Ruhr.
- The Muttental a nice valley within a forest near Witten (Ennepe-Ruhr-Kreis) – Here is where hard coal was first discovered in the 16th century and the history of mining on the Ruhr began. You can find equipments and sights from the early era of mining along the 9-km Muttental Mining Trail.
- Duisburg: Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (LaPaDu) - the disused steel plant Meiderich has been transformed into a landscape park, highlight is the accessible furnace
Each of the Ruhr's cities has one or several art museums, galleries or exhibition halls. Most of them focus on modern and contemporary art. The Ruhr Kunst Museen network includes 20 sites in 15 cities, most notably the Folkwang Museum in Essen and the Museum am Ostwall in Dortmund.
Zoos, gardens and parks
Many of the region's large parks are redeveloped former industrial sites, many being parts of the Industrial Heritage Trail, like Nordosternpark in Gelsenkirchen or Maximilanpark in Hamm. They were developed to host a garden exhibition, as was the earlier Westfalenpark in Dortmund. Besides those, noteworthy are botanical gardens in Dortmund, Essen and Bochum, the latter featuring a splendid Chinese Garden. Pretty much all of the large cities also have zoos.
Theatre and musicals
The municipal theatre in Bochum has an excellent reputation.
A lot of private theatres in all cities offer excellent shows. Ask at the tourist offices of the cities for addresses and shows.
Visit Colosseum Theatre in Essen. It is a former production hall with an wonderful industrial ambiente.
The play and concert festival Ruhr Triennale offers a wide range of events spread all over the region.
Another example for the re-use of a former industrial building is the Jahrhunderhalle (Hall of the Century) in Bochum - one of the most extraordinary stages worldwide.
Every year at the first weekend of summer schoolout starts Bochum Total. For 4 days the city turns into a stage for rock music.
In May the Ruhr Marathon takes place with about 20,000 athletes and 100,000 viewers.
Football/soccer is the most popular sport in the region. Every town has several pitches and in the summer there are few grassy areas not used for playing. The Ruhr also has several professional football teams, creating at times an intense rivalry. The most intense is between supporters of Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04. As a rule of thumb you should avoid wearing football jersies in blue and white in Dortmund and yellow and black in Gelsenkirchen. The rivalry between these two teams rarely turns into violence, but the atmosphere can get a bit hostile, especially if you don't understand the people. Both Dortmund and Schalke have been very competitive on the national and European level but other teams (mentioned below) also have a storied history that is taken very seriously by the fans. Some people have argued that there are more people in the soccer stadiums on Saturdays than in church on Sunday, and though nobody has counted, it may well be true judging from the quasi-religious fervor for soccer in this area.
Bochum, Oberhausen, Essen and Duisburg also have professional teams, but these are considered non-contenders by supporters of the two big teams. Matchdays are between Friday and Sunday and can lead to heavy traffic at the roads and public transport. You should behave like the locals and avoid the playing cities on match day unless you have tickets for the match.
Other team spectator sports play second or even third fiddle, but there are regular games in the (professional) team Handball, Ice-Hockey and Basketball leagues as well as several semi-pro and amateur leagues of other sports including American Football.
Excellent conditions for cycling are offered by the Ruhrtalradweg with a length of about 230 km through rural regions, the Emscher Radweg goes for 225 km besides the river Emscher and Rhein-Herne-Canal through industrial panorama. For short trips, Lake Kemnade and Lake Baldeney (not at the weekend), as well as the Ore-Route (Erzbahntrasse - without any crossing) from Bochum Westpark to river Emscher with connection to Emscher-Route and Kray-Wanner-Route (5 street-crossings) from Colliery Zollverein towards to the city of Wanne-Eickel with connection to Ore-Route. Both routes offer an excellent view on industry surroundings, settlements and suburbs.
Inline skating you can do very well around Lake Kemnade (910 km) at the southern limits of Bochum and Lake Baldeney (16 km) at the southern limits of Essen. But avoid visiting these locations at the weekend - it will be too crowded.
For jogging, the routes above are very suitable but also there are Nordsternpark at Gelsenkirchen, Gyserberg-Park at Herne and Rombergpark at Dortmund (for all of them entry is free).
Characteristic for the Ruhr are lots of kiosks in the suburbs: small shops for nearly everything. Open mainly from afternoon till late night, they act also as a communication spot for the neighbourhood.
The city centres of Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund offer excellent shopping conditions.
Popular shopping centres are Centro at Oberhausen, Rhein-Ruhr-Zentrum at Mülheim, Limbecker Platz in Essen and Ruhr Park in Bochum. But the centres of the major cities are good places to go shopping as well.
Buy a pit lamp.
The traditional Ruhr cuisine has died out. Today it is mainly an international cuisine with influences from Westphalia and Rhineland as well as from the Mediterranean cuisine. Since a high percentage of the population has a migration background and Germans like to taste foreign food you will find a lot of foreign restaurants. Most of all Italian, Greek or Chinese restaurants, but there are also Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Egyptian, Arabic, Mongolian, Russian, Indian and Japanese restaurants. All those who like pancake should visit a 'Pfannkuchenhaus'. There is a wide variation of covering: you can get them sweet or with bacon, meat or vegetables.
During all months ending with letter 'r' (that would be September-April in German) blue mussels are offered.
During May fresh asparagus (Spargel) is available. White asparagus is the widely preferred variety in Germany, and while green asparagus is increasingly available, restaurants usually serve the white variety. As most asparagus comes from Germany or is imported from elsewhere in Europe and the harvest is labor intensive and difficult to mechanize, prices are high with €5 for a kilogram or even half a kilo entirely normal depending on climate and time during the season. Traditionally the last day of asparagus season is 24 June, as the plants have to get enough rest time to regenerate for the next season.
Takeaway bars can be found everywhere. The most common fast food is Pizza, Döner as well as chips and fried sausage.
The typical German 'Currywurst', a fried sausage with ketchup and curry powder, is available everywhere. But insiders say the best one you will get in Bochum made by 'Dönninghaus'. Currywurst as a traditional workers' food, while invented in Berlin, has strong cultural ties in the area, and comparing it unfavorably to that in Berlin is certainly a no-no.
Cafes and ice cream palours are very common. On warm days many of them offer some tables at the pavement where you can see and be seen.
The traditional drink is Pils, simply called beer. Not so long ago, the region had the highest density of brewing houses in Germany. The decline of heavy industry followed a decline of breweries. Local breweries include Fiege from Bochum, Stauder from Essen and König Pilsener from Duisburg. An excellent beer from a smaller brewing house with smooth taste is 'Borbecker Dampfbier', but it is not available everywhere; the same applies to 'Rüttenscheider' which you will only get in Rüttenscheid (a suburb of Essen). Of course you can also get non-local beers in most bars and restaurants.
Lots of cocktail bars have opened in the region, especially in the cities of the bigger towns. Many restaurants also offer a huge varieties of wines. German white wine has become popular, but grape varieties from all over the world are also common.
Besides a few notable exceptions, the cities in the Ruhr area are among the safest in Germany. Since the Ruhr area has fewer tourists, it is not in the focus of pickpockets, but it is still a good idea to take the usual precautions. Never leave your camera unattended or flash around a fat wallet. Since many citizens have roots elsewhere, strangers are widely accepted and the chance of encountering racism or other prejudices is low. Because of unemployment and the demise of the once excellent German social system, beggars and bottle collectors are becoming rather common problems, but they are usually harmless.