Germany's industrial basin, `Der Ruhrpott', a victim of closures and financial crisis, has been reinvented as a colour-saturated cultural centre for the 21st century. Photographs by Thomas Pflaum
The lights have been turned back on in Germany's industrial region, the Ruhrpott. The area, which since the Sixties has been tormented by financial crisis and the closure of so many of its factories and works, has reinvented itself as a cultural centre and adventure park.

The dream began five years ago when plans were announced to take over 300sq km of land in the west of the country, near Essen, and completely redesign it using ecological and aesthetic criteria. By the end of this year, 118 projects will have been funded at a total cost of 5m marks, two-thirds of which has come from taxpayers' money. The barren landscape of a mine in Oberhausen has been covered by a so- called "people's golf course", a giant sundial keeps time where once a slag heap stood. A disused plant near Bergkamen now houses a wine distillery, and elsewhere mines have been converted into parks and health farms. But business remains firmly at the heart of the Ruhrpott. Spinnrad, an environmentally friendly mail-order firm has arrived, and Bottrop gleams with the mirror finish of the new Emscher sewage works' silver structure.

Blue has become a recurring theme throughout the redevelopment, and buildings have been bathed in this colour of hope, the blue of Europe. The same neon hue decorates the new Academy of Higher Education in Herne-Sidingen and adorns the entrance to the adventurous world that is the CentrO in Oberhausen, Europe's largest shopping centre. Where once the unemployed would be left to stand under a perfect sky and stare into the wide blue yonder, there is now a bright blue future to which the people of the Ruhrpott region can look forward.

The new heart of Oberhausen

With 200 shops, a turnover of a billion marks, 10,500 parking spaces and 30 restaurants, Oberhausen has become the pride of city planners and politicians alike. CentrO opened in 1996 with a plan to lure consumers into the old steel and coal mining town by being Europe's biggest shopping centre. Critics, however, blame Oberhausen's success for the desertion of neighbouring towns.

Music festival in Auguste

The Ruhrpott is now home to an abundance of concert halls, most of which have only just been discovered. The sheer size of the closed mines and works means they are perfect for musical use. People come to hear Brahms and Bizet in the old Auguste Victoria colliery. The Stahlhausen Enterprises Theaterkollektiv rehearses Hanns Eisler in Bochum's Jahrhunderhall (Century Hall).

Deeply resonant

Mozart never sank this deep. The New Westphalia Philharmonic plays the Haffner Serenade in the kilometre-long Romberg shaft in Werne. The musicians, and their conductor, Johannes Wildner, donned mining clothes and hard hats for the occasion. The concert, held on 20 September 1998, closed the final chapter on the Romberg shaft. A week later it was filled in.

From scrap heap to cultural showpiece

Ever since the Duisburg-Meidrich steel works, founded in 1902, were closed down, it had been nothing but a monstrous scrap heap. Today, however, it is once again in business as an adventure park and cultural centre. Celebrations take place amid steel pipes and compressors, conferences are held and music is made. At weekends, the light artist Jonathan Park sets the blast furnace backdrop ablaze with technicoloured lighting as a symbol of a new era for the Ruhrpott.

No longer a white elephant

Back in the days when all the chimneys puffed smoke, many areas of this region had been off-limits to inhabitants. Factory premises, danger zones and deserted dump rooms were all out of bounds, but that has all changed. Now audiences flock to the Ruhr Classical Music Festival held here. The Maximillian colliery in Hamm has been transformed into a glass elephant by artists. Images of the future

The past may have been transformed, but it has not been forgotten. Pictured middle right is a multimedia project called Ruhrwerk, or "Ruhr works", that marries an awareness of the old heavy industries of this century with a vision of employment in the future. Images of technological progress are projected onto steel plates beyond wet coal which lies scattered across the stage in front.

Flying high in a gasometer

Up until 1988, Oberhausen's gasometer was still being used to store gas fuel. It is the largest building in the area and it was probably most effected by the closures in the region. This 117 metre-high hollow structure was due to be demolished, but according to artists it has now found its true raison d'etre, as an exhibition centre and adventure park. A glass elevator takes visitors to the very top for a breath-taking view into the abyss, and the outside walls are used by artists for lighting installations. Duisburg's gasometer has also found a new fate, this time as a practice pool for sports divers.

Underground clubbing at Krupps

It has never been easy to get into the Krupps, neither in its steel manufacturing days nor today. Would-be members of the Mudia Art club are required to make a written application and have a one in 12 chance of being accepted. Once inside, visitors can admire bears, praying monks, naked men and women in cages, all to the sound of hip-hop, dance and classical music. Mudia Art does not merely have bizarre spectacles on offer, but also Andre Heller's magical, fairytale-like installation Meteorit, a multimedia adventure room. Words by Jorg-Uwe Albig/`Geo' magazine