Pictures: © City of Duisburg, City of Essen

Two anchor points in the region

The Ruhr metropolis is full of surprises, one of which has been its cultural transformation from a traditional industrial region to a European Capital of Culture and home to 5.3 million people from 140 countries.

Historic roots

That is not to say that there was no life in the region prior to industrialisation; the historic roots of both university cities, Duisburg and Essen, can be traced far back into the High Middle Ages. As a Rhine port, Duisburg is one of the oldest cities in the Lower Rhine region. It was here that scientist and cartographer Gerhard Mercator produced his world-famous atlases in the 16th century. By the time Bonn became a university city in 1818, the university in Duisburg had already been in existence for more than 150 years. As for Essen, it owes its existence to the vision of Bishop Altfrid, who founded a convent for noblewomen here in around 850. The abbesses governed the city for close on 100 years and established the now famous Cathedral Treasury.

The rich history of the Ruhr region can be followed at the new Ruhr Museum, which is historically situated at what was once the Zoll­verein colliery in Essen and is now a World Cultural Heritage site. Both cities grew in the 19th century. Their coal and steel industry was the domain of dynasties such as Krupp, Haniel or Thyssen, whose economic activity and social responsibility shape the region to the present day. Other companies such as RWE, E.ON Ruhrgas, Hochtief and Evonik are likewise headquartered in the region.

Two Cities: Duisburg & Essen

Iron, steel and the port still characterise Duisburg and the life of its 500,000 inhabitants. Half of all Germany's pig iron is produced here, along with a third of the country's crude steel. As the largest inland port in Europe, Duisburg is not only a logistics hub but also a hub of cultural activity, with restaurants, museums and cultural venues located on the city's inner harbour. A lively pub culture also thrives in the university district of Neudorf and the area known as the Dellviertel.

In Essen, the district of Rüttenscheid enjoys similar status and attracts large numbers of students and academics. The Ruhr city is home to some 580,000 people in all and is probably best known as an exhibition and healthcare centre, thanks in no small part to the University Hospital and its reputation for specialisation in cardiology, oncology and transplantation. From the Zeche Carl cultural centre in one of Essen's former coal mines to the Hüttenwerk, a disused smelting works set in the Landschafts­park Duisburg-Nord, both cities have retained their past industrial charm and transported it to the present day.

Amongst Duisburg's other attractions are its legendary zoo with pandas and dolphin shows, and for art lovers the city's Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum. In Essen, the refurbished Folkwang Museum shows exhibitions of important romanticists, impressionists and expressionists. Both cities have an excellent, critically acclaimed theatre and music scene of European standard. And for anyone wishing to try their luck, the new Mercatorhalle in Duisburg city centre now houses an elegant casino.

The centres of both cities have become stylish shopping areas with plenty of culinary highlights. The Limbecker Platz mall in Essen has raised the city's profile as a shopping destination considerably, and the same is true of the Forum on Duisburg's Königstraße, where the famous Lifesaver Fountain is located. Nearby recreational areas such as the Sechs-Seen-Platte in Duisburg and Essen's Baldeneysee are also very popular with visitors.