Germany´s industrial center of the past
The Rhine-Ruhr Region is one of the most densely populated areas of Germany. Rhine and Ruhr are two rivers which are surrounded by many interconnected larger cities in a kind of supercity. More than 10 million people live here.
The Ruhr-area, once the major industrial center of the country, is made up of many bigger cities, with the most important ones being Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg and Bochum. During the times of industrialization, the area experienced heavy urban growth, fired up by work migration. Until late in the 20th century, mining and steel producing industries there brought millions of Germans into hard but well-paid jobs and laid the foundation of Germany´s wealth as an industrial nation.
Most of the old mines, factories, steel mills and facilities have been shut down. What remains is a highly populated area with industrial relics, a great infrastructure both for cars and trains and lots of green.
The Ruhr-area ends below Duisburg which is the meeting-point of both rivers. Following the Rhine southwards several other big and important cities such as Krefeld, Düsseldorf, and Köln are connected to the megalopolis of Rhine-Ruhr.
Once being a quite dirty industrial area of the country, the Rhine-Ruhr region has turned into an attractive region with many interesting places. Visiting the various different cities and exploring old factories and mines-turned-museums such as Bochum´s old cold mine is like a nostalgic trip through the industrial past of Germany. Many other attractions and the surprisingly green landscape complement this unique flair and are also worth a visit: Various lakes (Kemnader Lake in Bochum-Witten, Baldeney Lake in Essen, Hengstey Lake at Hagen) and great parks (Gruga-Park in Essen, Westphalenpark in Dortmund, Movie-Park in Bottrop-Kirchhellen) create a great atmosphere.
The Rhine-Ruhr region is definitely worth a visit with its very diverse and interesting cities. Most travelers come here via Düsseldorf Airport (DTM), Germany´s third largest airport, which is also an important hub for Business travels. Alternatives are Cologne Airport (CGN) and Dortmund Airport (DTM). But as the Rhine-Ruhr region offers an excellent and affordable public transport network, it does not really matter where you place your foot on the ground first.
The German Lufthansa (LH) and its two low-cost carriers Eurowings (EW) and Germanwings (4U) frequent all three airports. Air Berlin (AB) offers flights to Düsseldorf Airport (DUS) and Cologne Airport (CGN). The quite small Dortmund Airport (DTM) is mainly used by low-cost carriers such as easyJet, Germania, Ryanair and Wizz Air which might offer cheap connections to the Rhine-Ruhr area.
Düsseldorf Airport(DUS): 3rd largest airport in Germany, important hub for national and international connections, operating at capacity which sometimes causes flight delays and cancellations.
Cologne Airport (CGN): International airport, used by many low-cost airlines for connections within Europe, some long-distant connections offered by Eurowings: Thailand, Dubai, Kuba, Mexiko, Barbados, Jamaica, Dominican Republic.
Dortmund Airport (DTM): Small airport with connections to Munich via Eurowings/Germanwings and to some European cities via low-cost airlines like easyJet, Wizz, Ryanair, SunExpress; many seasonal and charter connections.
What to do in the Ruhr-area
If you like the flair of old industrial complexes, the Ruhr region is one of the best spots to see. Visitors love to check out the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord with its old and huge smelter and the famous Blast Furnace 5 which nowadays serves as a touristic tower with panoramic views. Other nice places to see in Duisburg are the Dreigiebelhaus, Duisburg´s oldest residential building, the historic restaurant Lindenwirtin, the Speicherzeile inner harbor area and the Märchensiedlung, an idyllic neighborhood with clinker houses built for industrial workers.
Visiting the old stone coal mine Zeche Zollverein in Essen, which stopped operating in 1986 offers a spectacular subterranean experience. (Some parts of the facilities are used today as a cultural center.) In Essen´s Deutschlandhaus you can also step in one of the few remaining paternoster lifts for a funny ride.
Passing by the Gasometer in Oberhausen makes another great visit. During its active time, this gas holder from the 1920s had been the largest of its kind in all Europe. It is 117 meters high, 68 meters wide and was able to store up to 347.000 m³ of gas.
Dortmund and Köln
In Dortmund, the former coking plant Kokerei Hansa is another massive industrial complex you might want to visit. Here stone coal from all over the Ruhr region was processed to coke to feed the massive steel mill ovens of the Dortmunder Hüttenwerke company. The facilities were built in 1928 and have been put under monument conservation in 1998. Today they serve as a big industrial museum. A “nature and technology”-sightseeing route lines up other great spots such as the coal tower with panoramic view (Kohlenturm mit Panoramablick), the massive coke mill ovens where coal was turned to coke in a fire of 1000°C, and the machine hall with five huge gas compressors.
If you want to see something non-industrial, you might want to go to Cologne which is located at the other end of the Rhine-Ruhr region. This very old town has many impressive sights and the beautiful Rhine-river flows right through its center. The famous Kölner Dom Cathedral with its two 157 meter high towers offers spectacular views all over the city with twelve Romanesque churches and an old town which already Napoleon found beautiful.