Saturday, March 6, 2010

Germany's Ruhr Valley Looks Back to Its Future

In little more than 170 years, Germany's Ruhr Valley saw the rise and fall of an entire industry. With high unemployment and idle factories, the region is now hoping culture can help it get back on track.

When Joachim Seifert talks about his life, he begins in 1864, "Anno 1864," as he says. His concise, pithy sentences are peppered with anachronisms and the regional pronunciations of a bygone era. He pronounces the German word for "day" (Tag) as Tach, and the word for mountain (Berg) as Berch, and when he mentions the weather (Wetter), he refers to it as Wetta.

"A helmet keeps you warmer than a cap," he says. As if to prove his point, this winter he is wearing a white miner's helmet with his parka. It's the same model that protected his head for 30 years, underground and above ground, and now, just as Seifert is about to turn 75, Germany's erstwhile industrial Ruhr region has been named Europe's Capital of Culture -- and the former life of this retired miner has become an item on the program.

He has already explained to thousands of visitors how he and his fellow miners brought tons of coal out of the earth, from hundreds of meters below ground, until the Zollverein coal mine was finally closed. And when they ask why he chose such a difficult line of work, he replies that it all goes back to the year 1864. "That was when my wife's grandpa came here. He was the first member of the family to work at Zollverein."

It is a first this year, that an entire region in Germany is being honored as a Capital of Culture. The jury also awarded the title to Istanbul and the Hungarian city of Pécs. When they were making their decision, the jurors were impressed by the way the Ruhr region has struggled and come to grips with its structural transformation -- from coal to culture.

To read more:,1518,681791,00.html

Photo Gallery: From the Mines to Modernity:

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