• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Ruhr ruins invite tourists for highwire hijinks

The Local · 5 Jan 2012, 15:38

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

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
Germany to tighten checks of soldiers amid jihadist fears
Photo: DPA.

The German army are planning stricter checks of their soldiers as officials fear that jihadists could be using the armed forces as a way to train.

New train line to cut 2 hours off Berlin-Munich trips
Photo: DPA

It has been 25 years in the making, but on Wednesday the rail line that is set to mark a new era for travel between Germany's capital and its economic powerhouse went live.

AfD leader attacked and beaten in Mainz
Uwe Junge. Photo: DPA

The leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Rhineland-Palatinate was attacked on the street on Tuesday evening by a group of young men.

100 flights cancelled due to Frankfurt airport security alert
Travelers being evacuated from Terminal 1 of Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: Some 100 flights were cancelled on Wednesday at Frankfurt Airport after the major transfer hub went on alert because a woman had managed to evade security checks.

Record 125k people file suit against Canada trade deal
A leader of one of the groups opposing the trade deal stacks another box full of lawsuit documents, presented to the Constitutional Court on Wednesday. Photo: DPA.

More than 125,000 Germans have filed the largest citizen lawsuit in German history against the controversial proposed CETA trade deal between Canada and the EU.

Merkel: 'Germany will remain Germany'
Photo: DPA.

One year after Angela Merkel first declared "we can do this," leading to a huge uptick in refugees applying for asylum, the Chancellor reflected this week on her policies and the future of Germany.

Nazi beach resort ruin turned into luxury playground
Prora. Photo: DPA

One of the biggest relics left behind by the Nazis is undergoing a radical transformation on a German island, harnessing a property boom to become a luxury tourist destination.

Berlin plans to be first state to arm police with tasers
Photo: DPA.

Berlin's plans to arm police patrols with taser guns would make it the first German state to implement extensive use of the electroshock weapon.

Far-right AfD leader injured by flying frozen cake
Jörg Meuthen and a cake. Photo: DPA

The co-leader of the far-right AfD party was attacked with a cake while attending a political event on Monday. But the fact the dessert was frozen made the act "dangerous", according to the politician.

Underwater pensioner hunts boats on famed Bavarian lake
A passenger boat on Lake Starnberg. Photo: DPA

"I love chasing the ships, and what a great feeling it is when they sound the horn!" he gleefully exclaims.

National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
7,389
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd