• Germany edition
 
Ruhr ruins invite tourists for highwire hijinks
Photo: Jochen Schlutius, Ruhr Tourismus

Ruhr ruins invite tourists for highwire hijinks

Published: 05 Jan 2012 15:38 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Jan 2012 15:38 GMT+01:00

From my lofty vantage point, the panoramic view over the Ruhr Valley to Duisburg and beyond is breathtaking. Derelict factories – rusting, soot-stained hulks - pepper the surprisingly verdant landscape. Chimneys rise like cathedrals; proud relics of the region’s industrial powerhouse past.

In a moment of temporary insanity I have agreed to embark on a group climbing course at the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, an old ironworks-turned-adventure park, in an attempt to confront a life-long fear of heights.

Several years ago I froze just metres from the summit of a Scottish mountain. There seemed to be too much sky, and too little mountain to cling on to. Weak-kneed and woozy, I couldn’t go on.

Click here for spectacular pictures of the Landschaftspark

So I was a little apprehensive earlier in the afternoon in the Ruhr valley, when the climbing instructors led us up through the wrecked bowels of the factory, higher and higher, via a series of death-defying obstacles and increasingly hairy wire-walks, to the expedition’s zenith: the top of a decrepit blast furnace, 50 metres high. A steel rope spans the yawning chasm across to a second furnace. Apparently we’re going to walk across it. My mouth is suddenly desert-dry.

Rusty miracle

Until 1985 the Landschaftspark was a sprawling ironworks belonging to industrial behemoth ThyssenKrupp. In the late 1980s the Ruhr district, once the beating heart of Germany’s economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s, was blighted with severe unemployment and poverty after the collapse of the coal-mining industry. The steel and iron crisis of the 1970s had also taken its toll and many factories were driven out of business.

The smog-infested countryside bore the scars of environmental contamination as the empty industrial work-yards slowly decayed into brownfield sites in urgent need of restoration.

As Stephan Haas, a tour guide at the Landschaftspark since 2003, puts it, “the Ruhr was dying - something had to be done.”

A 10-year urban regeneration programme, the International Building Exhibition (IBA) Emscher Park, was set up in 1989 by the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia. The grand plan was to encourage the ecological, economic, and urban revitalization of the Ruhr Valley and the Emscher River: to breathe new life into an area saddled with its abiding reputation as Germany’s ugly industrial armpit.

The Landschaftspark was one of the IBA Emscherpark’s 100+ architectural and urban planning projects spread over 19 cities and municipalities of Germany’s largest metropolitan area.

Since opening in 1994 the park, imaginatively landscaped by Bavarian-based architects Latz + Partner, has proved to be hugely popular with local people who use it as an esoteric, 24/7, green space to walk their dogs, cycle or gambol among the dilapidated ironworks with their children.

Nature takes landscape back

Nature has reclaimed large parts of the two-square-kilometre site, with rose gardens planted in former ore-hoppers and trees sprouting up and through corroded furnaces.

“There are around 450 different species of wild plants in the park,” says Haas. “But the skyline is definitely still an industrial one.”

Indeed, the atmosphere of the landscape park is eerie, post-apocalyptic – like something from the pages of a JG Ballard novel. There is an ugly beauty to the union of man-made concrete and steel with the creeping advance of soft local flora.

But it works - both as a tranquil urban nature park and as an awe-inspiring piece of industrial archaeology; the whole representing what might be described as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total art work. Decay and growth interact in a series of still-lifes which tell the story of the plant’s past and present functions.

Little wonder the Landschaftspark provides an incredible backdrop for everything from fashion, wedding and even erotic photo shoots to classical concerts and BMX stunt-riding competitions. Some event or other is happening at the park on 250 days every year.

The vast, hangar-sized Kraftzentrale - in a previous life an old gas power station – and the smaller Gebläsehalle - which once produced wind for smelting the iron in the furnaces - act as unique venues for fairs, exhibitions, theatre performances and classical concerts.

Even more dramatically, Europe’s largest artificial diving centre is housed in a huge gasometer, flooded with 21 million litres of water. Illuminated at night with kaleidoscopic spotlights, it looks like it landed from outer space onto the set of a Mad Max movie.

Cultural metropolis

In 2010, the Kohlenpott, as the Ruhr region is known colloquially, received a much-needed boon when it was named the European City of Culture, the first time the distinction had gone to an area rather than a city. The year-long programme of art, music and theatre events engendered a feel-good factor across the depressed area.

The Landschaftspark itself enjoyed a spike in visitors, welcoming 750,000 people through its crumbling gates in that year.

But I don’t care about that much now. I have more important things to contemplate. My head is scrambled eggs. A feeling of nausea rises from my feet as I gaze over the edge of the top platform of the blast furnace down through a tangled mess of abandoned factory.

‘It’s windy up here,’ I hear myself think as I watch the wire sway gently in the breeze. When the climbing instructor offers me last minute advice his voice sounds like he’s speaking underwater.

For courage, I summon to mind French funambulist Philippe Petit, who famously walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Obviously his feat was on a far greater scale, and he wasn’t attached to a second wire by a harness and carabiners, but thinking of his audacious stunt helps focus my mind as I step gingerly off the precipice and tiptoe into the gaping void.

Edging across the steel rope, like a blind man tapping along a kerbstone with a stick, a sickening jolt of vertigo rudely spoils my enjoyment of the spectacular Ruhr Valley vista. But, as gusts of wind whoosh through my hair, I feel electrifyingly alive.

I wouldn’t describe my brief dalliance with funambulism as ‘fun.’ I’m still terrified of heights. But I did it. And I’ll never have to do it again. Next time I’ll take a leisurely stroll round the Landschaftspark. I’ll hang out, instead of hanging on for dear life.

David Sharp

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

12:58 January 10, 2012 by n230099
Looks like fun. There are too many 'girly' parks around.
21:13 January 11, 2012 by Pablo Barr
Great Article & pics. Would love to visit next time I'm back in Germany.
01:36 January 24, 2012 by padu
Ruhr Valley become a spectacular adventure park?

Germans removed its steel industry to China and then blame China as greatest polluter while enjoying a bluer sky for themselves. How hypocrite and disgusting!
Today's headlines
Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?
Coming soon? Photo: DPA

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?

Berlin's bid to set up a free city-wide wireless network has so far come to nothing. But city bosses are now trying for a fourth time - and hope to have the project running next year. READ  

Opinion
Do German unions have too much power?
Lufthansa passengers rush to change their flights at Frankfurt Airport on Monday. Photo: DPA

Do German unions have too much power?

Germany's pilots and train drivers are taking it in turns to bring the country to a standstill with strikes that have cost the economy tens of millions of euros in the last two weeks. Are unions abusing their power or standing up for their rights? READ  

Older workers can have extra days off, court says
Photo: Workers in a German shoe factory. Photo: DPA

Older workers can have extra days off, court says

Older workers in Germany are allowed more time off than younger ones, a court ruled on Tuesday, saying the difference was not discriminatory. READ  

Expat's family battles for answers four years on
Matthew Fitzpatrick died in 2010 in Mannheim. Photo: Fitzpatrick family

Expat's family battles for answers four years on

In 2010 an Irish computer engineer was found dead in his apartment in Baden-Württemberg. Four years on, his family are still pressing the German justice system for answers. They feel badly let down by police who they say have refused to examine evidence of foul play. READ  

Court: Germany can keep arms deals secret
The judges of the Supreme Court announce their decision about weapons exports on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Court: Germany can keep arms deals secret

The government can keep arms deals secret and only tell the public about them after contracts have been signed, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday. READ  

Tourist finds €7,500 instead of cheesecake

Tourist finds €7,500 instead of cheesecake

Just how honest would you have to be to return €7,500 that you found in a box supposed to contain your favourite cheesecake? READ  

Tanker fills up gas station with wrong fuel
Photo: DPA

Tanker fills up gas station with wrong fuel

Around 160 car owners are stuck after a gas station's storage tanks were filled with the wrong fuel, causing an estimated €100,000 in damage. READ  

Lufthansa strike hits 1,500 flights
Photo: DPA

Lufthansa strike hits 1,500 flights

UPDATE: In the second day of their strike, Lufthansa pilots have, as promised, extended their industrial action to include long-haul international flights until the end of Tuesday. READ  

Merkel tells allies to pay Ukraine's gas debts
Chancellor Angela Merkel in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Monday. Photo: DPA

Merkel tells allies to pay Ukraine's gas debts

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called on Ukraine's allies to help the war-scarred nation pay off its gas debts to Russia, amid concern over gas supplies this winter. READ  

Steinmeier wants epidemic task force
Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at the World Health Summit in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier wants epidemic task force

At the World Health Summit in Berlin, the Ebola crisis took centre stage at talks meant to create plans for how to handle future outbreaks. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: World's biggest erotic fair opens in Berlin
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The ten richest people in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd