Whisper it not, but there is still a landscape of live industry in the Ruhr. Not, as we have become used to in Britain, a landscape where retail has replaced production, but one where smoke belches and chimneys pepper the skyline. Almost Lowryesque.
Of course there is plenty of disused industry, but in the Ruhr the old coking plants and blast furnaces and iron works have been turned into shrines to the past. Open to visitors who wander through the old industrial landscape or clamber up the derelict towers, they have not been manicured or turned into themed parks. Just left as they were, these remnants of industry sit with rusting pipes, shattered glass of windows, weeds creeping over former production pits, pooled water turning industry to nature.
It is strange wandering these remains – part of the last century’s history of production and war destruction, the cities names are enmeshed in my generation’s history. Bombed and survived, there is still a starkness in parts about the Ruhr. As in the UK post war housing and road schemes has changed the land, yet the roots have not been lost. The area is both a museum to the past and evidence that Europe can still produce.
In between the blast furnaces, whether alive or dead, sit the old coal tips, made safe, wooded or grassed but opened to artists who have sculpted work to reflect their shape, their stark beauty. We got lost scrambling up and down again, but were stunned by the work we found on top. And on one “hill” there is nothing to see but live industry – acres of railway sidings linking steel works, coal mines, power stations and chemicals works.
Almost Lowryesque, and quite magical.