Unique brand essence in tourism

Industrial culture and nature enter into a growth-enhancing alliance in the Metropolis Ruhr.

The mountain called and thus far more than 200,000 people have answered its call – not the real Matterhorn on this occasion, but a monumental replica of the picture-postcard mountain in Switzerland. It is set against 3D projections of changing times of the day and seasons of the year. A mirror image of the 17-metre-high summit floats in the huge space of the Gasometer Oberhausen and is reflected in the floor of the uppermost level of the tallest exhibition hall in Europe.

Such visitor numbers have been a common occurrence at the Gasometer for many years. The ‘Fire and Flame’ exhibition started things off in 1994 and was instantly popular. After ‘The Ball is Round’ and the artist Christo, who made it to the Gasometer twice with his colourful oil drum installation ‘The Wall’ and airy ‘Big Air Package’ sculpture, the 2016 exhibition ‘Wonders of Nature’ featuring 150 large-scale photos by famous photographers and a floating globe in a black space attracted 1.3 million visitors – making it Germany’s most successful solo exhibition that year.

  • 84870
  • 8Mio.
    overnights 2017
  • 1200
    km cycle path network

Leisure and events: unique diversity in the ‘City of Cities’

The Ruhr region has created a pleasant and attractive environment for its residents with many such extraordinary cultural events and captivating nature, while also establishing a unique brand essence in tourism. Over the course of many years of structural change, this has resulted in a broad service-based economy which permeates through everything that makes life’s leisure time so special: theatre and cabaret, audiovisual media, entertainment electronics and magazines, but also hotels and gastronomy, travel and editorial offices, trade fairs and sports facilities, publishing houses and advertising agencies, attractions set within historical sites, zoos and theme parks.

This market for leisure and events has been identified by the Ruhr Regional Association (RVR) as a key market for the metropolitan region – after all, it is a significant source of income and jobs. In 2017, the companies in this sector employed 84,870 people liable to social insurance contributions – a rise of 2.2 per cent on the previous year and accounting for five per cent of all jobs in the Metropolis Ruhr. The core areas of events and leisure alongside sport and tourism enjoyed the biggest share at around 53 per cent. On a regional level, the cities of Bottrop, Essen and Oberhausen especially benefitted from this upswing.

Our aim is to be among the “Magic Cities” by the year 2030, the ten most successful and attractive cities for tourism in Germany.

RTG managing director Axel Biermann

Metropolis Ruhr growing in popularity among tourists

Ruhr Tourismus GmbH (RTG) recorded over eight million overnight stays in the Metropolis Ruhr in 2017. The numbers have been rising for years, this time by four per cent on the previous year, with almost a fifty-fifty split between private tourists and business travellers. Word has clearly got around about the attractiveness of the region: no fewer than 1.4 million guests now come from abroad – the majority of them from the Netherlands – and yet again a 3.1 per cent increase on the year before. As a consequence of this trend, the number of bed bookings, even in relation to other regions in North-Rhine Westphalia and Germany, reveals strong growth.

Yet Ruhr Tourismus GmbH is not resting on its laurels: ‘Our aim is to be among the “Magic Cities” by the year 2030, the ten most successful and attractive cities for tourism in Germany,’ says RTG managing director Axel Biermann. Investment in hotel buildings, particularly in Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg and Oberhausen, is helping to achieve this vision – twenty million overnight stays a year should be possible in the future. As travel destinations, the short break tourists are especially attracted to the Zeche Zollverein World Heritage site in Essen and the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord – industrial sites that both culture fans and families can explore on foot or by bike. Centro in Oberhausen serves as a counterpoint for those who prefer shopping. And wellness fans head for the Revierparks managed by the Freizeitgesellschaft Metropole Ruhr – such as Vonderort with its leisure pool and sports facilities located between Oberhausen and Bottrop.

The Ruhrtriennale captivated no fewer than 34,000 visitors in 2017.

The Metropolis Ruhr has a cycle path network covering some 1,200 kilometres.

The Emscher is once again a river that is making a name for itself due to its pleasant banks and cycle paths.

The Ruhrtriennale captivated no fewer than 34,000 visitors in 2017.

The Metropolis Ruhr has a cycle path network covering some 1,200 kilometres.

The Emscher is once again a river that is making a name for itself due to its pleasant banks and cycle paths.

Industrial culture offers a stage for all kinds of events

In addition, those responsible for creating the cultural programme in the region have grasped the concept of using the old industrial architecture, production sites and colliery landscape as a stage for a wide range of creative events. Every year since 2001 on the last Saturday of June, for example, the ‘ExtraSchicht’ culture festival organises a night of industrial culture, during which 50 venues in 22 cities are connected by shuttle buses and brought to life. Visitors come to enjoy 500 different events, ranging from classical music, theatre and comedy to the firework displays at former industrial facilities, museums and landmarks. The theme in 2018 focused on the impending end of coal mining at the end of the year, attracting a large number of visitors to the Lohberg colliery in Dinslaken and Zollverein in Essen. ‘ExtraSchicht’ especially provides a platform for the independent scene as well as young artists to showcase their works.

The aim is not necessarily to visit every venue between Duisburg and Dortmund – most people enjoy the ambience provided by light installations, music, dance and theatre in a certain part of the region. ‘If visitors pick out one area, they can soak up the atmosphere more intensely there,’ says Sebastian Eck, head of the RTG event department, and promises new hot spots in the traditional industrial settings in the future. ‘You just have to keep coming back year after year.’ Many people do precisely this and also bring many ‘ExtraSchicht’ newcomers with them: there were more than 200,000 visitors in 2017 and an additional 65,000 in 2018.

The Ruhrfestspiele and Ruhrtriennale captivate visitors

The same goes for the Ruhrfestspiele, which attracted almost 85,000 visitors to Recklinghausen’s Ruhrfestpielhaus and other venues in spring 2018. Europe’s oldest theatre festival recalls the post-war winter of 1947/48 when the miners smuggled coal past the occupying forces to Hamburg’s theatres. The actors in the Hanseatic city showed their gratitude by staging a guest performance. Out of these small beginnings emerged a major success story. The festival always kicks off on 1 May with a cultural fair and then focuses on innovative artistic concepts that have earned it the reputation as the ‘Bayreuth of the Ruhr region’, according to a report by the local broadcaster WDR.

The Ruhrtriennale is a smaller and culturally more refined event that has been running since 2002. For six weeks in August and September, contemporary artists showcase their works at disused collieries and monumental industrial architecture sites. In 2017, no fewer than 34,000 visitors were captivated by musical theatre, dance, visual arts and plays staged on slag heaps, in the Jahrhunderthalle Bochum and in the Maschinenhalle Zweckel in Gladbeck.

A cycle path network covering more than 1,200 kilometres in the Metropolis Ruhr

However, the revitalised machine halls, coking plants and steelworks can not only be experienced during cultural events. They are also situated along the wayside of a 1,200-kilometre cycle path network used by those who wish to discover the natural beauty of the Metropolis Ruhr. The ‘Industrial Heritage Trail’ alone covers some 700 kilometres on mostly flat sections along former railway lines and canal towpaths. If preferred, cyclists can always dismount for the climbs to the works of art installed on slag heaps, such as ‘Tiger & Turtle’ in Duisburg, Hoheward in Herten and Haniel in Bottrop. The RuhrtalRadweg is a cycle path that covers 240 kilometres from the source of the Ruhr in Winterberg to the Rheinorange sculpture in Duisburg, where the Ruhr flows into the Rhine. It has been designated as a four-star cycle route by the German Cyclist’s Association (ADFC).

Emscher route, RuhrtalRadweg, RS1

The Emscher route runs along another stretch of water. Since the start of the rewilding process, the Emscher is once again a river that is making a name for itself due to pleasant paths along its banks rather than the stench of sewage. Phoenix See in Dortmund and artistic figures such as Herkules by Markus Lüpertz in Gelsenkirchen’s Nordsternpark are points along a multi-day cycle tour to the Emscher estuary in Dinslaken. Every three years since 2010, the year in which the region became the European Capital of Culture, artists have been invited to install their works along the banks of the Emscher.  In 2016, no fewer than 260,000 visitors flocked to the ‘Emscherkunst’ exhibition, which stretched over 50 kilometres along the rewilded Emscher from the source at Holzwickede and featured works by famous artists such as Ai Weiwei.

Another river section will provide the setting for the exhibition space in 2019. Guests who do not have their own bike for a tour of the Ruhr region can seek out one of the Revier-Rad or Metropolradruhr bike rental locations – at central train stations and key places of interest. After all, the Metropolis Ruhr is ideal for cycling, which is why the cycle network is being continually developed. The RS1 bike highway is currently under construction. Once completed, cyclists will be able to travel from Duisburg to Hamm with no traffic lights and no pedestrians. The first section from Mülheim to Essen can already be used.

Visitors can also take in the abundant nature and vast green spaces from the 117-metre-high roof of the Gasometer Oberhausen, where, above all else, the observation platform atop the mountain invites them to explore the landscape and culture at their feet even more closely.

Author: Ruth Lemmer

Author: Ruth Lemmer

Ruth Lemmer was an editor at Wirtschaftswoche and manager magazin for a number of years and is now a member of the WDR Broadcasting Council.