Cities in Germany's Ruhr Valley presented an impressive cultural line-up as part of the Ruhr2010 culture capital program. Activities drew people from around the world to the former coal-mining region.
Essen's Zollverein coalmine celebrated Ruhr2010
The Ruhr2010 culture capital program went out with a bang on Saturday, with fireworks, breakdancers, and brass bands performing in four cities of the Ruhr Valley Region.
It was an event of superlatives - the Ruhr2010 culture capital year kicked off in January with a fulminant, televised opening show outside, despite a major snow storm and well-below freezing temperatures. The spectacle demonstrated the Ruhr Valley's aim of changing its face from being a region that produced coal to one that produces culture that goes beyond mining museums.
Ruhr2010 continued to impress throughout the year - drawing over 10 million visitors, offering 5,500 events and tallying up costs of around 60 million euros ($79 million) for cultural events.
Closing down the highway
The major A40 highway was closed down during one event
Major events have marked the program highlights. One such event, "Shaft Signs," saw over 300 gigantic yellow balloons hovering 80 meters (262 feet) above the ground for a week, marking the location of former coalmine shafts. Thousands of people visited the places to learn more about the history of the coal-mining region.
Another major attraction was "StillLife A40," in which part of the Ruhr's main traffic artery - the A40 highway- was vacated of cars for an entire day. Visitors were invited to stage their own performance or party along the 60-kilometer stretch of highway. They showcased their best in poetry, song, dance or story-telling.
The "!Sing - Day of Song" event saw the Ruhr region transformed into a metropolis of choirs - with over 600 concerts, in which thousands of singers and visitors were invited to sing along.
Small but mighty
There were also other, smaller events, such as the "Twins" project. "One hundred sister-city partnerships were created in which intense exchanges took place," noted Oliver Scheytt, managing director of the Ruhr2010 company. "Look at the group of young people from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia and Essen, who hooked up and turned letters from a soldier on the war front in 1942 into a theater project."
The Ruhr Museum displays the area's coalmining history
Like "Twins," all of the projects of the culture capital year have delved into the identity of the Ruhr Valley and its inhabitants. But the colorful cultural program of Ruhr2010 has also been successful in going beyond its borders, said Thomas Laue, head dramatic adviser at Bochum's Schauspielhaus theater.
"This Ruhr2010 year has really grabbed major attention to this region," he said. "The culture capital year has heightened awareness among the residents for the area where they live, but I think it's pepped up the image and importance of the Ruhr Valley in the minds of people beyond here."
Tapping young people's potential
In cooperation with other theaters, Laue organized a project aimed at the future called "The Next Generation."
"We worked with young people to establish nine 'houses of the future' in very diverse districts in Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Herne," he explained.
One of the "Shaft Sign" locations
"We asked them how they envisioned a place where they would want to live in the future based on how and where they were currently living," Laue added. "We asked them what their wishes, dreams, and aspirations were and what made them feel desperate. How should this future place be designed?"
The young people searched for answers to those questions together, with their work turned into a theater piece that premiered in October. It is now a part of the Bochum Schauspielhaus program.
If left up to Ruhr2010 organizers, this year's experiences should continue to inspire cultural events and projects in the future. Dieter Gorny, creator of the music fair PopKom and former CEO of the music channel Viva, is artistic director of the theme area of creative economy at Ruhr2010. Originally hailing from Essen in the Ruhr region, his aim - also as a cultural and media studies teacher - is to promote creativity both in economic sectors, as well as in the Ruhr metropolitan areas.
Creative mind Dieter Gorny
He said he wants to tap into branches of the economy that have been overlooked by common business development plans. Part of his project consists of creating spaces where designers and musicians can work productively in his "City of Creativity."
"One can certainly say that we have pointed to the fact that these creative areas have already existed - we have just made people more aware of them," Gorny said.
A look to the future
Future cultural projects and expansion of cultural networks, of course, cost money, managing director Scheytt noted.
"We are discussing ways of securing permanent funding for the culture capital program, and the state of North Rhine-Westfalia is considering whether it will contribute," he said.
Despite all of the "positives" of this year's Ruhr2010 culture capital activities, a cloud still hangs over the project: the mass panic tragedy that claimed the lives of 21 people and injured around 500 others during the Love Parade music festival in Duisburg in July. This sober event is also to be commemorated during the closing ceremony of Ruhr2010 on Sunday.
Author: Conny Paul (als)
Editor: Sean Sinico