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Dance against an industrial backdrop: PACT Zollverein | Photo: Dirk Rose
Dance against an industrial backdrop: PACT Zollverein | Photo: Dirk Rose

A cultural landscape built on coal

created by Dominik Schmidt | |   tours

The Ruhr region for culture vultures

The Ruhr region still benefits from being European City of Culture 2010

As a Cologne local, you sometimes have to be able to congratulate others. Like the Ruhr region, for example. In the 2000s, Essen (representing the Ruhr as Ruhr.2010) beat Cologne to become European City of Culture 2010: with a concept that is still a real draw today. In summer 2018, for example, 17 museums between Duisburg and Unna, the RuhrKunstMuseen (RuhrArtMuseums), will be showing a joint exhibition concept to examine the correlation between ‘Art and Coal’. And it’s also hard to imagine life without the region’s burgeoning theatre scene and its RuhrBühnen (RuhrStages). There are plenty of reasons to spend a weekend exploring the region — and the efficient public transport network makes it very easy too.

Our first stop is Duisburg. Around 500 metres from the main entrance of Duisburg main train station is the Lehmbruck Museum. The focus here is on modern sculpture by artists ranging from Rebecca Horn to its namesake Wilhelm Lehmbruck — in a variety and depth that is unrivalled. From May 2018 a special exhibition will be dedicated to coal as part of the region’s industry and identity. On tram number 901, we then head to the Theater an der Ruhr (stop: Raffelsiepen) in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Since 1980, director Roberto Ciulli and dramatic advisor Helmut Schäfer have been pursuing their mission of audience enlightenment here. Their programme consists mainly of modern interpretations of classic theatre, regularly enhanced by special productions based on current political issues.

If adventure is your thing, you can stay at the Parkhotel Bernepark on Emscher Island in Bottrop. The “hotel” is basically a number of converted sewer pipes, complete with bed and electricity, where, between the months of May and October, you can spend the night. They are really easy to reach by bike and the “pay as you wish” principle makes them an affordable option.

On Saturday we travel on to Essen. The Ruhr region’s biggest city certainly lives up to its promise of culture and the hotpots are well connected by the number 107 tram line. In the south (stop: Philharmonie), the Museum Folkwang houses a large collection of German and French art from the 19th and 20th centuries. The building was refurbished as part of the European City of Culture campaign in 2010 and has since shown European classics of modern art in solo exhibitions and curated thematically unusual group exhibitions, which also regularly include exhibits from the museum’s photographic collection. In autumn 2018, the Museum Folkwang will be showing “Unheimlich Real”, an extensive exhibition of Italian art from the 20th century. After stopping for a lunch break on nearby Rüttenscheider Strasse with its countless cafés and restaurants, we take the number 107 tram from Rüttenscheider Stern in the direction of Katernberg to the Zeche Zollverein (stop: Zollverein or Zollverein Nord). The former coal mine and adjoining coking plant were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Although you will no longer see smoke coming out of the chimneys, in winter you can go ice-skating on the old coking plant or swim in the open-air pool in summer. A tour of the site still gives you an idea of the gigantic machinery, which was used to mine hard coal until 1986. Anyone interested in history can find out more in the adjoining Ruhr Museum, but if dance, art and theatre are more your thing, you should head over to the comparably small building on Shaft 1/2/8. This is home to the PACT Zollverein, a multidisciplinary centre with a focus on dance. As well as dance performances, some of which are choreographed by the artist in residence, there are experimental concerts focused around toy instruments or electronic building blocks, and the team also carries out community work in the less affluent north of Essen. After the performance at the PACT Zollverein, we return to Essen where we spend the night.

On Sunday the train brings us to Dortmund via Bochum. Ambitious art connoisseurs should definitely plan a visit to the strictly modernist Situation Kunst art space in Bochum-Weitmar (line 308/318, stop: Haus Weitmar). In Dortmund, our first stop is the landmark ‘U’ building right next to Dortmund’s central train station. Museum Ostwall in the Dortmunder U (a centre for the arts and creativity housed in the former brewery building) has just restructured its collection and is currently looking at the connection between art history and everyday life.

We spend the evening watching a play at Theater Dortmund. Since Kay Voges took over as artistic director in 2010, the once somewhat sedate city theatre has become the favourite of Germany’s critics. Voges’ productions deconstruct classic subject matter. He broaches the issue of post-Fordist fatigue and spices up classic plays with video clips. And every now and then he ventures out of the theatre with his ensemble to make an impact in the city — whether it’s to chat to former coal miners or stop by the EuroMayDay protests.

Find more culture tips for the Ruhr region at: ruhrkunstmuseen.com and ruhrbuehnen.de

(by Dominik Schmidt)

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