“Any old iron?” Much more than that: Industrial heritage in Dortmund

Industry and cultural heritage – how are they supposed to go together? Well, I guess the terms “industrial culture” or even “industrial heritage” do sound a bit strange, but if you come to Dortmund and get a feeling for the town today, you will see just how much industry has impacted on the people and life here – it is our heritage and it is our culture.

Compared to most of the other cities in the Ruhr Region, Dortmund has been extremely successful in coping with what is commonly known as structural change. Over the last few decades the city has purposefully developed into a centre of IT, biotechnology and logistics. However, anyone who was born in Dortmund has also inherited a bit of the cultural heritage of the city, as somehow we have all got our roots in industry. Practically everyone here knows someone or has a relative who once worked down the pit or in the steelworks.

And anyway, you’re bound to come across traces of coal, steel and beer wherever you go in Dortmund.

Coal, steel and slagheaps

The Romans? In Dortmund? Not really, it’s just a slag heap!

Hansa Coking Plant: Dortmund’s largest oven

Steel: Skywalk at the blast furnace

Our industrial heritage?

Dortmunder U in the dusk. The big U on top is illuminated and the sky is coloured violet.
© DORTMUNDtourismus The night starts over Dortmunder U.

For three or four generations heavy industry played a fundamental role in the city and changed the way it looked. Nowadays, many children don’t even know what a blast furnace is. But every day we make our way through this backdrop. Some bits of it are too interesting to demolish or are just too big – or the ground underneath is too contaminated to work or live on today.

Dortmund never had an Empire State Building, but it has got the Union Brewery’s cooling tower. Never heard of it? Course you have! The tower is now called the “Dortmunder U” and it’s a prime example of how difficult it can be to deal with former industrial edifices, but also of how successful it can be.

The tower is so big you could use it to fill the gap in a city’s budget deficit! But it has been a loyal city landmark for so many decades. And now, as a Centre for the Arts and Creativity, it is a true symbol of what industrial heritage and culture is. 

You can find former industrial sites like this all over the place, although often enough only the name of a street or a business park will remind you of the industrial heritage that created them.

Maybe we’re a bit funny in the Ruhr Region, we think it’s quite cool to have our wedding photos taken in front of a former blast furnace or to get married at an old pit. The marriage of his daughter Veronika at Zeche Zollern was “A great visiting card for the city”, said no other than Bavaria’s former Minister President Edmund Stoiber, and he lives just around the corner from Schloss Neuschwanstein!

Extraschicht: The long night of Industrial Culture

logo of ExtraSchicht, Night of Industrial Culture
© RTG ExtraSchicht

Once a year we give the old iron a good polish here in the Revier. It’s “Extraschicht” time. From Moers in the west, to Hamm in the east, old sites from the industrial age are brought back to life with concerts, light shows or theatre productions. That’s when we really put “culture” into industry.