Ruhr that shook the world

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'HERE lies the heart of Germany's industrial might. This area should not only be stripped of all existing industry there, but so weakened and controlled that it cannot for the foreseeable future become an industrial area again.' Thus wrote Henry Morgenthau junior, US Treasury Secretary, in a memorandum to President Roosevelt in 1944.

For 150 years, the name Ruhr, taken from the river flowing through the heart of the region, has symbolised Germany's economic power. Abroad, as Morgenthau's words highlighted, it prompted mixed emotions: admiration - and fear of the enormous potential of this vast armoury of the Reich. The Ruhr's industrial growth goes back to the coal boom in the first half of the 19th century, exploiting the rich depositsof north-western Germany.

Even though the region had no iron ore, the sheer abundance of coal encouraged the development of an iron and steel industry, led by Alfred Krupp, the 'Cannon King'. To prove the quality of his steel, using technology imported from Britain, he turned to making guns. As a result of their performance during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1, the Krupp concern became known as the 'Arsenal of the Reich'. By the time of his death in 1887, Alfred Krupp had armed 46 countries. Krupp also built housing, hospitals, schools and churches for his employees, who showed him extraordinary loyalty. During the 1988 demonstrations against the threatened closure of Krupp-Rheinhausen, Duisburg citizens toppled a statue of Krupp, an act still seen as an unprecedented break with the past.

The other great dynasty founded in the 19th century, and which along with Krupp literally transformed the Ruhr, was that of August Thyssen. By the outbreak of the First World War he was employing 50,000 and producing a million tons of steel a year, running his own railways, ships and docks.

These industrial barons relied heavily on the region's waterways to ship in ore and move out coal and finished products. Duisburg's position today as the biggest inland harbour in the world, at the junction of the Rhine and Ruhr, dates back to these times.

Between 1870 and 1914, as chemicals, textiles, coal-mining, steel, engineering and power generation all flourished, the Ruhr developed into the world's most highly integrated industrial region. During both the first and second global conflicts, it sustained Germany's military efforts, and its fate became the focus of bitter disputes among the victorious powers. After the First World War, the Versailles Treaty left the Ruhr defenceless, and the French occupied it for a few years. During the Second World War, Allied bombing destroyed about 75 per cent of it.

Although the Morgenthau plan, to curtail German industry's ability to rebuild itself, was never put into effect, the occupying powers tried for some time to control the Ruhr's output. But West Germany's massive reconstruction effort after the war quickly revived the rebuilt Ruhr factories, such was the demand for steel. The effect, however, was to set the region in its heavy-industry mould.

(Photograph omitted)