Exploring our black spot: the Ruhr area

When you start playing a new game of Civilisation you find yourself on a little city island with a vast amount of black space around you that you only can discover by crossing it with  your "explorer". While walking in all directions your map & knowledge about the area around you expands.  Until then you have vast amounts of black areas on your map out of which all of a sudden foreign traders or armees might appear of which you had no idea they existed.

We've explored France many many times with my map leaving no more big black areas and I am convinced that any region there is beautiful, scattered with historic pearls waiting to be discovered. No wonder that we typically head south if we want to have a short get-away. France is closeby, beautiful, natural, historic and abundant with very good food.

A few weeks ago we, probably with many other Belgians, hit some Bongo stress: our weekend gift voucher once received risked to expire at the end of February when these popular gift vouchers seem to celebrate their Bongo new year.   Bongo's New Years resolution is "too late, sorry you can pay to extend your voucher or buy a new one".   So it was my resolution to book us a weekend away before that happened. Both Jan and I felt adventurous enough to explore our black spot and we make a wild choice "Lets go to Germany".  My explorer had so far in the previous decades frequently crossed the border to the Cologne / Bonn area to visit relatives and I must have made a corridor towards Austria several decades ago.

Anyway....Germany it was and the only available hotel for our voucher within reasonable driving distance was near Dortmund in the Ruhr area.  Oh great, right, isn't that the dusty black heavy industry region in decay? Well Erica Van Tielen had already convinced us last summer that that image no longer fits, so off we went to the European cultural capital in 2010. Who would doubt Erica huh?

We started off in Hamm , a medieval trading city. I hoped to find some historic city center which I seem to need to connect to a city.  When a grumpy lady gave us the map for a self-guided "elephant" trail along the cities highlights and it started off with the renovated trainstation "Germany's most beautiful trainstation " (how sad for Germany's trainstations in that case) (sorry, I come from the country where 2 Belgian trainstations, Antwerp & Li├Ęge have been voted in the world's top 10 most beautiful trainstations...Antwerp being the #1 world's most beautiful trainstation....I need a bit more to be impressed than this dull building).
When the next highlight was a big parking lot square where before WWII had been nice buildings and now only the groundplan of a former synagogue was visible, ...I really started to question whether we shouldn't have gone to France after all.  Some movable funny sculptures at the church square didn't really make up for that.

Hamm trainstation

So we decided to concentrate on the industrial heritage of the area alone, hopefully finding some unique attractions there. That turned out to be a good choice.

Eg...Who would have thought you could turn an obsolete coal washery building into the world's biggest glass elephant in the midst of a green park?

 (doing a little i. jump)

We drove along the industrial kultur heritage route and even in the tiniest little villages you stumbled over coal shaft towers, old water towers, ....and when there was a wide panorama, you could always find several active industrial plants.  It brought the concept of an old heavy industrial metropole alive.  The biggest impressive sights were still yet to come.....


Brian Miller said…
wow whata cool trip...i would love to see much of europe as i have never been....the elephant building is really cool...

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