• 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
Europeans descended from three tribes
The skull of a farmer from Stuttgart examined for the study. Photo: Joanna Drath, University of Tübingen

Europeans descended from three tribes

German researchers have traced the origins of modern Europeans to a migratory melting pot of three ancient tribes dating back 8,000 years. READ  

Germans return 'stolen' parts of Great Pyramid
The pyramids at Giza. Photo: DPA

Germans return 'stolen' parts of Great Pyramid

Fragments of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which were allegedly stolen by German archaeologists last year, have been returned to Egypt from Germany. But the case against those who allegedly took the samples is continuing. READ  

Oktoberfest 2014
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's tents
Photo: DPA

Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's tents

There are 14 "tents" at Munich's Oktoberfest, all with their own uniqueness and theme. In the second of The Local's four-part guide to the world's biggest beer festival, we look at some of the best ones. READ  

Drunk teachers ruin school trip to Hamburg
Photo: DPA

Drunk teachers ruin school trip to Hamburg

A school trip was cancelled after just one day when two teachers got so drunk while they were supposed to be looking after pupils in Hamburg that police had to be called. READ  

Where to find the speed cameras today
Photo: DPA

Where to find the speed cameras today

Police deployed 13,000 officers across Germany on Thursday to catch speeding drivers in a so called "Blitzmarathon". Here is where the radar guns are. READ  

US WWII bomb forces 11,000 from homes
The area of the town centre evacuated. Photo: Lüneberg Stadt

US WWII bomb forces 11,000 from homes

Thousands of people in the centre of an historic town in central Germany had to leave their homes late on Wednesday evening after a 250kg bomb was found. READ  

Who is listening to Berlin's music?
Photo: DPA

Who is listening to Berlin's music?

A study by music-streaming service Spotify has revealed the global reach of Berlin-born music, with genres originating in the capital finding a loyal audience in some unlikely places. READ  

Champions League
Boateng delivers Bayern 1-0 win over Man City
Jerome Boateng with Bayern trainer Pep Guardiola on Wednesday night. Photo: DPA

Boateng delivers Bayern 1-0 win over Man City

A superb strike by Jerome Boateng with a minute remaining earned Bayern Munich a dramatic 1-0 victory against Manchester City in their opening Champions League game of the season on Wednesday. Chelsea, meanwhile, were held by Schalke. READ  

Merkel promises help for Liberia in Ebola fight
A man walks past an Ebola information mural in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: DPA

Merkel promises help for Liberia in Ebola fight

Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised that Germany will send help to Liberia to tackle the Ebola crisis in response to a personal appeal by the country's president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. READ  

Cabinet clamps down on child image possession
Justice Minister Heiko Maas. Photo: DPA

Cabinet clamps down on child image possession

People caught in possession of indecent images of children will face tougher prison sentences, the government announced on Wednesday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Fashion Ladies of the Local: Win a New Autumn Look
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Oktoberfest 2014: The best and worst in dirndl fashion
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten German words you'll never want to hear again
Photo: DPA
Education
German universities tumble in global rankings
Photo: DPA
Tech
Netflix launches in Germany (in English too)
Photo: DPA
Politics
These men want to be the next mayor of Berlin
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
The three types of firms hiring foreigners
Photo: DPA/ESA
Tech
VIDEO: How one German astronaut sees Earth
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Frisky couple shock Berlin commuters
Photo: Bayernpartei/DPA
Politics
Why some Bavarians want a Scottish 'Yes'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
12 things to do in Berlin for less than a latte
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,363
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd