As the last vehicle left the production line at Bochum's Opel car factory, some 3,000 employees have been left with an uncertain future. It was a bitter day in a city already struggling with high unemployment.
The last car went off the production line at the Opel factory in the western German city of Bochum in the early hours of Friday morning.
"The heart of Opel has ceased to beat," one employee said. The company will close the 52-year-old factory next year due to overcapacity. The last Opel from the Bochum factory - a Zafira compact van - will not be sold regularly, but instead dedicated to a "social purpose," details of which Opel was due to announce later on Friday morning.
Around 3,000 Opel employees in Bochum, a former major mining center in the Ruhr area, now face an uncertain future. Most of them will go into a transitional employment scheme for a maximum of two years. Only 700 employees will remain at the huge factory premises to work in Opel's spare parts store.
Over the next few years, however, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia aims to bring in new business to the region. The development company "Bochum Perspective 2022" will be providing some 50 million euros (62 million dollars) in funding over eight years.
In the meantime, Opel's withdrawal has come as a blow to the region. The decision was "very bitter" for the city and those directly affected, Bochum Mayor Ottilie Scholz recently said.
Bochum's unemployment rate is currently 9.4 percent, above the national average. And with about half of Opel workers living in Bochum itself, a further increase in unemployment is expected.
The city has already suffered heavy blows in the past, including the withdrawal of mobile phone manufacturer Nokia, which had 2,300 employees, in 2008.
Bochum-born musician Herbert Grönemeyer now wants to show his solidarity with a concert. "There are concrete plans to play a concert for the Bochum Opel workers or to invite them all," said tthe 58-year old singer. "The challenge now is to give them courage."
The closure of Bochum's Opel factory also ends a former flagship project of structural change in the Ruhr region. The plant was built on former mining properties, as pits began to close in the area. After opening in 1962, the factory provided jobs for some 10,000 people - many of whom were former mining workmates.
In addition to the transitional employement scheme, there is also a redundancy payment for departing employees. According to different calculations from the union and work council, the total cost of the plant closure will be 550 to 700 million euros (681 to 866 million dollars).