I’m spending a few weeks in Germany as part of a German/American journalist exchange program through the RIAS Berlin Kommission and the Radio Television Digital News Foundation. During the trip, I’m sending back lessons on urban planning and revitalization from German cities. Today’s topic: how cities in the Ruhr region are embracing their heritage by repurposing industrial sites.
When I think of quintessentially European cities, I imagine cobblestone streets, historic brick buildings, magnificent cathedrals, sidewalk cafes, and chocolatiers on every corner. I think of cities with history stretching back hundreds, and even thousands of years. Paris. Or Brussels. Or Rome, or Prague, or Vienna, or Hamburg…
But of course, Europe has all kinds of different cities, each with their own unique aesthetic and history.
Last week, I visited several cities in Germany that don’t fit the mold. What’s most prominent about them isn’t ancient history, but rather, their more recent, industrial heritage.
The Ruhr region of Germany is a sprawling metropolitan area, with 5.2 million people and 53 cities with boundaries that blur together. For decades, the region was dotted with thousands of coal mines, steel mills, and other industry.