Some time ago I was born (and raised afterwards) in a town called Herten, in the northern part of what we call Ruhrpott, the Ruhr-District. In 2010 this, being the 3rd biggest agglomeration area of the EU, is the European capital of culture. I’m aware of the fact, that, besides the related people, hardly anyone cares about these places. But as a self-appointed ambassador, I consider it my duty to tell you about the place that I call home…
The Ruhr-District is, in many different cities and districts, home of almost 5.5 Million people in the “deep West” of Germany. The reason for so many people is simple: Coal. In the end of the 18th century, there was nothing but some farmers. But with the industrialization came the need for coal. An area close to the river Ruhr was rich of that and iron. So soon hundreds of coal-mines were built as well as big steel works.
Coal and steel was very important during wars and many weapons were produced in the Ruhr-District. This and the fact that a lot of energy came from here, was reason enough to destroy most of the area during the Second World War.
Right after the war, coal became the engine for a rising society. So people began to rebuild the cities and mine coal, the faster the better. This had two major influences. First, Germany managed to become healthy and wealthy very fast again (Wirtschaftswunder). Second, the as-many-buildings-as-possible-and-as-fast-as-possible-approach resulted in townscapes, which share a certain style that is not exactly considered as being fancy nowadays…
In the 1950s the structural change began, coal was cheaper in Russia or China and most mines closed down in the following 40 years. So by now you can still see the mines and their consequences, but the whole region needed a different perspective. Even though unemployment is quite high in that area, communities became creative to find new ways. One of them is tourism and culture, what was once grey from dust is now green and/or modern – a lot has been done.
But let me talk about the people, because they are special. The Ruhr-District is traditionally a huge working-class area. That influenced both, spirit and language. Germans say the language is dirty as coal-dust. We make heavy use of what is considered of being swear-words in many other parts of Germany. And even the accent is rather messy, edgy and practical, e.g., some grammar rules simply do not apply here.
The spirit is something I notice much stronger, now that I live abroad. People in the Ruhr-District are very straight forward. You will get their opinion, whether you want it or not. Additionally, they are outright and do not like frills or knick-knacks. The people are, in the best meaning, honest and simple.
… and football-fans. Three (out of 18) teams in the German Bundesliga are from this area: VfL Bochum, Borussia Dormund and Schalke 04. The latter ones being the biggest rivals and having the derby of the highest interest in whole Germany. Their big stadiums are usually sold out and you see people with fan-wear everywhere on every possible occasion. The same counts for smaller teams, on lower levels. Everybody talks about it all the time and quite some people consider football as a matter of the heart.
So this area that defines itself by coal, steel and football is now the European capital of culture. Many different events throughout the whole year are scheduled. It’s the first time that this title is held by an area, not just one city. So during the year there will be a spotlight showing the local heroes, 52 cities in 52 weeks, Herten will be number 22.
If you’ll ever make it to the Ruhr-District, I would suggest you, to climb up one of the many tailings and get a look over the landscape. Or go to one of the former coal-mines (you can get pretty close to some) and try to grasp the pulse of steel. But in any case, you have to stop at one of the diners and get a ‘Pommes-Currywurst‘, the regional meal.