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Seven maps that explain the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia

One of Germany's largest states, North Rhine-Westphalia has been a combined Bundesland since 1946. Here are a series of maps breaking down different aspects of the state, from employment to language.

Seven maps that explain the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia
This map hones in on Cologne, the largest city in the state. Depositphotos/HenningMarquardt

North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein Westfalen, or NRW in German) is Germany's most populous state with almost 18 million inhabitants. The Bundesland's capital is Düsseldorf, but the state encompasses other large cities like Cologne and Dortmund as well.

NRW was at the center of Germany's Wirtschaftswunder, or “Economic Miracle” after World War II, mainly due to its coal and steel industry. 

Let's start with the basics. 

Location in Germany

Source: Wikimedia Commons

NRW is located in Western Germany, on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. The German state is surrounded by Rhineland-Palatinate to the South, Hesse to the Southeast and Lower Saxony to the North. 


Much of NRW is characterized by the flat plains of the Rhineland. Major rivers like the Ruhr and the Lippe are tributaries of the Rhine. NRW does reach into the central mountains (Mittelgebirge) of Germany in the Southwest.  

Source: TUBS via Wikimedia Commons

Historical changes

Here's a historic look at the area from 1799, when large areas of the Ruhr valley were under Prussian control and the French occupied the left bank of the Rhine. NRW didn't become an official German state until much later, when the Prussian provinces of Westphalia and the Northern Rhine were combined in 1946. This was done by British forces in “Operation Marriage.” In early 1947, the free state of Lippe was incorporated as well. 

Source: John Cary/Geographicus Rare Antique Maps via Wikimedia

Industrial Engine

The area's history is tied closely to its role as the economic backbone of Post-War Germany. Once called the Land von Kohle und Stahl, or the Land of Coal and Steel, the area's industry has since undergone major changes. Many decommissioned industrial sites such as mines and furnaces are now local heritage sites. This map depicts the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, named after two rivers crossing the heart of NRW. 

Source: Bezirksregierung Düsseldorf

NRW still accounts for over 20 percent of Germany's GDP, but the industrial collapse has had lingering effects, leaving the state's unemployment higher than the national average. 


Source: Statistik und Arbeitsmarktberichterstattung der Bundesagentur für Arbeit 

Unemployment in NRW was the third highest in Germany (excluding the city-states of Bremen and Berlin) at 6.4 percent as of October 2019. The average unemployment for Germany as a whole in 2019 has been between 3-5 percent. Industrial areas in the Ruhr region have generally felt the most pressure. 


Because NRW was formed from two Prussian states, the German dialects vary along the borders of the North Rhine and Westphalia. 

Source: Et Mikkel via German Wikipedia

Lower Saxon (Niedersächsische) dialects, also called Low German or Plattdeutsch, differentiate themselves mainly through consonant shifts. S and z sounds can be replaced with t, and ch is often replaced by k. For example, sitzen becomes sitten and machen becomes maken

Franconian, or Fränkisch dialects are spoken through a large portion of central Germany. This dialect also has consonant shifts, but incorporates different vowel sounds as well. For example, t can be replaced by d, so Tante becomes Dande and Leute becomes Leude

Marriage of two states

People living in the Rhineland are known to be “festive and upbeat,” while their Westphalian counterparts are seen as more reserved, or, worst case, boring. The industrial Ruhrgebiet, settled between these two factions, brought the different populations together during the industrial growth of the 50s and 60s. 




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Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?

Germany has no doubt accelerated its vaccine rollout. But despite the progress, some people in priority groups - such as the over 60s - are still not getting their jab in some parts of the country.

Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?
People queuing at a a special vaccination campaign at the Ditib Central Mosque in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

After a painfully slow start, Germany ramped up its vaccination campaign, breaking European records on the number of shots administered to people in one day.

Yet despite all of this, there appears to be a lottery on where things are moving quicker in the country.

Now as Germany gets ready to lift the priority list on June 7th – meaning that all adults will be able to apply for a vaccine appointment, no matter their age, health condition or job – there are worries that not all members of risk groups are being vaccinated.

Although Dortmund, in North Rhine-Westphalia, has opened up vaccination appointments for priority group 3, people aged 60-69, who are also in this group, are not able to book an appointment at a vaccination centre.

They have been invited to “special vaccination” drives using the AstraZeneca vaccine on certain days in April and May but according to Dortmund’s city vaccination plan, this offer has now ended. They were generally available on a first-come-first-served basis and ran out quickly.

“As soon as further vaccine for this group is made available, further appointments may be booked,” says the plan.

Dortmund city’s vaccination plan shows that over 60s in priority group 3 are currently not able to make an appointment. Screenshot from

That’s the case despite over 60s being able to access a vaccine in many other parts of the country, including Berlin and Baden-Württemberg.

The Local Germany reader Richard, who is 65 and has lived in the Dortmund area since 1999, said he was concerned that people in this age group were being forgotten.

Although priority groups should be able to book a vaccine appointment with their GP, or another doctor, many GPs are not carrying out vaccinations or giving out appointments. 

Richard said his doctor told him it wasn’t possible for him to make a vaccination appointment until mid-June when everyone can apply.

“I have followed the requirements and requests of the government in patiently waiting my turn, but with this opening up of applications to everyone on June 7th, I feel that my being a good citizen and not trying to jump the queue as many people have has been thrown back in my face,” he told The Local.

Richard said he is keen to get a jab soon as he suffered from severe bronchial asthma until he was 14 which means he still gets shortness of breath when he catches a cold. Furthermore he suffers from panic attacks and works in the live music business which may require full immunisation for travel when it gets back on track.

A person receiving a vaccine in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“It seems that many Germans think that the healthy 60+ category is already being inoculated, but in Dortmund that is simply not the case; as of this morning, it is still not allowed to book an appointment.

“With under three weeks until the doors are thrown wide open, I am really concerned that I and every healthy fair-minded 60+ person are now being forgotten.”

The Local contacted the North Rhine-Westphalia health office for a comment.

Why is there such a lottery when it comes to getting the vaccine in Germany?

Despite a clear acceleration of vaccine delivery in Germany, there are still people who belong to ‘risk’ priority groups who have not been vaccinated yet.

Other readers of The Local have also reported that they’ve struggled to find information or get an appointment even though they qualify for a shot.

This could be down to bureaucratic failures in states or local regions when trying to secure appointments. It’s also not particularly helpful that each area in Germany has a different way of doing things, and processes change at short notice.

The vaccine rollout in Berlin is different to neighbouring Brandenburg, and so on.

Another factor is the behaviour of people. It appears you are more likely to get a vaccine if you push for it, or have the time and resources to contact lots of different doctors – but Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged people not to put pressure on medical staff.

You might know a person with a contact for a vaccinating doctor, or you might be lucky enough to receive an appointment from your own doctor, be it a GP or a specialist. 

This points to a long-standing problem with Germany’s organisation of the vaccine rollout: it isn’t very logical, and a lot of it depends on luck.