Such an exhausting day – but oh so interesting! Today I took a day off to join on a class trip our bonus co-workers organised for their students. The ten hour trip took us through four cities in the Ruhr area, a region in Germany that non-locals often believe is a stinking dump, the black lung of Germany. I will never forget how my grandpa told the story of how you couldn’t hang laundry outside there because it would get too dirty.
But today Germany’s industrial belt, the Ruhrgebiet, is no longer smoking chimneys and coal mine workers. They have worked hard to transform the pits into culture venues and redidicated what once belonged to the steel and coal industry. For anyone interested in history and urban planning, the Ruhr area is extremely fascinating. The structural changes the region has experienced from the 1800s to today are amazing: the city of Essen, for example, grew tenfold within ten years.
I have such a hard time grasping distances in the Ruhr area because my mind doesn’t seemt to be able to wrap itself around the fact that basically – that’s our guide’s narrative – the Ruhr area is one giant city: So many city names I’ve known since childhood all right next to each other with the borders barely discernable. And those cities are, especially if you compare to Swedish standards, huge. Dortmund and Essen both exceed the size of Gothenburg, and in total, the Ruhr area is home to five million people, five well known (meaning even I know them) soccer clubs and five universities. It is also drowning: because of all the mines that are not used anymore and could not be completely filled up again, water has to be pumped down all the time to keep the cities from turning into a lake. I really hope they keep those pumps going because I put a few new items on my North-Rhine-Westphalia-bucket list.