A gigantic elephant made from glass, curved bridges, giant steel shapes emerging from rubble heaps, a herb garden nestled next to a former blast furnace – the Ruhr region has many extraordinary and unique buildings. The Emscher Park Cycle Route is a fascinating journey through industrial heritage in the Ruhr region, in North Rhine-Westphalia. But first, let’s go back to the beginning. The coal and steel crises in the 1970s brought structural change to the Ruhr region. When the crisis was in full swing, things looked far from rosy. But the 17 cities in the Northern Ruhr region, through which the Emscher River flows, came up with an idea to turn the fortune of the Ruhr around. The result was a huge project with a long name ‘International Bauasstellung Emscher Park’ (International Building Exhibition Emscher Park), or IBA for short. You can find a great summary of the project in German language on the University of Duisburg Essen’s website: uni-due.de/~gpo202/iba-allgemein.htm.
An extraordinary landscape grew from the derelict areas, unused industrial giants and dreary stretches of land, demonstrating what is possible when people work together. Rather than tearing everything down and covering up the sad crises, the Ruhr region’s history was included. The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is a good example of this. On your cycle Tour, you’ll discover world-famous industrial monuments as well as countless small projects that resulted from the IBA such as small nature paradises, walk-in artworks and lovingly restored and converted factories.
You can, of course, explore the entire region by bike – you probably wouldn’t have landed on my profile otherwise. Starting from the city of Hamm, this 250-kilometre (155-mile) route leads past the most important industrial sites in the Ruhr region, to the River Rhine and returns to Hamm, a little further south. As the route is circular, you can join it anywhere. The route is signposted and follows many cycle paths. You’ll find plenty of accommodation in the towns en route. The rail network is well developed so you can hop on a train and skip a stretch if you want. I’d also like to recommend the numerous beer gardens and restaurants along the cycle path. They are cycling friendly and have fair prices. So get on your bike and explore the steel giants and nature reserves along the Emscher! My personal tip – walk or cycle up the slag heaps. You can enjoy a huge panorama from the top. You’ll never have seen the Ruhr region like this before!
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