The Ruhr Area (German Ruhrgebiet or, colloquially, Ruhrpott) is a metropolitan area in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, consisting of a number of large industrial cities bordered by the rivers Ruhr to the south, Rhine to the west, and Lippe to the north. Southwest it borders the Bergisches Land. The area, with some 5.3 million people, is considered part of the larger Rhine-Ruhr metropolis of more than 12 million people.
Going from west to east, the area includes the city districts of Duisburg, Oberhausen, Bottrop, MŘlheim an der Ruhr, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Herne, Hamm, Hagen, and Dortmund as well as the "rural" districts Wesel, Recklinghausen, Unna and Ennepe-Ruhr. These districts have grown into a large complex forming an industrial landscape of unique size, inhabited by some 5.3 million people, the fourth largest urban area in Europe after Moscow, Greater London, and Paris (see also: Istanbul). The Ruhr area is often mistakenly perceived as a single city because many maps do not show the boundaries between the individual cities.
View of the northern Ruhrgebiet from Essen towards Oberhausen
Being small cities or mere villages for most of their history, the places of the area first grew during the Industrial Revolution, mainly basing their economy on coal mining and steel production. As demand for coal slowly decreased after 1960, the area went through phases of structural crisis and industrial diversification, first developing the traditionally strong manufacturing, then moving into service industries and high technology. The proverbial air and water pollution of the area are largely a thing of the past.
In World War II, the Allies mounted a campaign specifically to encircle and capture the Ruhr Area. This effort was successful, and succeeded in surrounding the entire area, as well as several hundred thousand Wehrmacht troops, forming the Ruhr Pocket. During the Cold War, it was anticipated that a Red Army thrust into Western Europe would begin in the Fulda Gap, and would have the Ruhr Area as a primary target.
The local dialect of German is commonly called Ruhrdeutsch, although there is a wide difference between the western and eastern part of the area. The influx of foreign workers has introduced new expressions arising from the circumstances of industrial work. There is no unified grammar or spelling of the Ruhrdeutsch variations available, yet a substantial amount of literature has been published, including translations of the famous Asterix comic books.
In the 19th century Ruhr area pulled over 1 million Poles from East Prussia and Silesia due to process called Ostflucht. Almost all of their descendants today speak German only and consider themselves Germans, with only their Polish family names remaining as a sign of their past.
In 1900, the main concentrations of Polish minority were:
- Gelsenkirchen, Landkreis (Provinz Westfalen) 13.1 %
- Bochum, Landkreis (Provinz Westfalen) 9.1 %
- Dortmund, Landkreis (Provinz Westfalen) 7.3 %
- Gelsenkirchen, Stadtkreis (Provinz Westfalen) 5.1 %