North Rhine-Westphalia: an overview | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.11.2009

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North Rhine-Westphalia: an overview

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia is born of the synthetic union of two provinces. But that hasn't held it back from developing into a successful, politically powerful melting-pot of a state.

Zeche Zollverein coal and steel works; it has been turned into a museum

The state was once the center of coal and steel production

"Operation Marriage" was the name of the questionable action undertaken by the British military government on August 23, 1946, when the northern Rhineland province was wed to the province of Westphalia.

What grew out of the union has provided fodder to German political comedians. They like nothing better than to comment on the socio-psychological differences between people from both of these regions.

Solidarity in the Ruhrpott

Clown smiling at the Rose Monday parade

Rhinelanders are known for having fun at Carnival

The Rhinelander is supposedly incorrigibly upbeat and festive - see Carnival - as well as irresponsible. By contrast, people from Westphalia have been accused of being slow to emote (read: dull). Moreover, Westphalians are known for telling the truth - but at the wrong time.

Despite or because of these dual character traits, denizens of the Ruhr Valley - an industrial region at the heart of North Rhine Westphalia - made history. After 1945, nowhere else in the country exhibited such feelings of solidarity and togetherness as the steel-and-coal region known as the Ruhrpott.

Between Dortmund in the east and Duisburg in the west are some 5.5 million ancestors of those who once worked in the coal mines and steel mills there. The region is known for being full of honest, hard-working folks.

Center of the "economic miracle"

The Social Democrat slogan in the state of North Rhine Westphalia was "We, NRW" - a slogan that came straight from the Ruhr Valley. It was born of a time when the German "economic miracle" was going strong, largely thanks to the region's coal and steel industries. Today, however, you can mostly just visit the ruins of these buildings.

Rhine River with Cologne Cathedral in background

Cities like Cologne have displaced the Ruhr Valley in economic importance

A long time ago, though, the region's economic strength moved to the cities that lie along the Rhine River - Duesseldorf, Cologne and Bonn. The Ruhr Valley is limping along in the aftermath of structural economic changes that saw the demise of mining and steel. Unemployment in the region is now extremely high. Many towns have become nearly permanent social-welfare cases, in spite of themselves.

Political heavyweight

North Rhine-Westphalia is nonetheless a heavyweight state when it comes to national politics. Some 25 to 30 percent of representatives in Berlin are sent from NRW, regardless of party affiliation. A quarter of the 100 top German companies have their headquarters somewhere in the state.

Culturally, too, the state can keep pace with Berlin - if you look at it in a decentralized way. Nowhere else in the country is there such a proliferation of theaters, opera houses, cinemas, and small cabarets as there is in the most populous German state.

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