Mysteries of the Ruhr and Beyond

I had two of my friends, Wouter and Pieter join me on a little roadtrip to Germany. Our aim was to visit some strange, out-of-the-ordinary places, of which there seemed to be a lot in the Ruhr area and beyond, according to Atlas Obscura.

Still located in Belgium, on the way to Germany, “The Tower of Eben-Ezer” aka the “Musee du Silex” is a bizarre construction by the hand of now deceased-artist Robert Garcet. I’m not exactly sure what he all stood for as he is presented as artist, scientist, pacifist and many more, but essentially the tower and surrounding artwork is a monument for peace.

Near the ghost town of Immerath (not all that interesting), a town being demolished for the ever-expanding browncoal mine of Garzweiler, I made a little flight to see the bucketwheel excavtors of the mine. This one is devouring the landscape where once the village of Borschemich was. Soon even a stretch of the mighty Autobahn will have to make way for the excavators.

Atop an old slag heap (a recurring theme on this journey) stands a strange construction best summarized as a “walkable rollercoaster”. No, you can’t walk in the loop. It’s official name of Tiger and Turtle – Magic Mountain” only fuels the imagination more.

At that point we’d arrived in the Ruhr area and would for the next days be surrounded by a landscape still showing many signs of the heavy industry once omnipresent here. Even our hostel was inside an old, repurposed smelting plant.

The next morning a hike up Halde Haniel, a large slag heap, took us to an impressive open-air amphitheater. Another monolithic artwork, rows of rail beams line the hill’s crest.

Looking closer at the central amphitheater space, it turned out somebody with more sinister beliefs had marked the place with runes and evil symbols.

The Tetraeder looms above the landscape, another bizarre creation atop a mound of industrial waste, now repurposed. Icy winds generated howling tones when they blew through the steel structure.

A climb to the top viewing circles is daunting and fascinating at the same time, especially in this cold winter weather.

The view from hill forms an integral part of the experience, with it’s man-made jungle as far as the eye can see.

Zeche Zollverein, Unesco World heritage for being the most beautiful minesite in the world is clean and quiet, with all spaces serving a new function than what it was originally constructed for.

We visit the Ruhr Museum, dedicated to past, present and future of this area. While the museum does not present anything world-shocking, the way it is integrated into the building and old industrial installations alone merits a visit. The temporary exhibition of Josef Stoffels’ Ruhr-area photography from the 50’s and 60’s is also very much worth seeing.

The smelting plant of Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord provides a backdrop of rust and decay during the sunset, right next to the hostel where we sleep a second night.

It is my third and Pieter’s second visit, but the accessibility and sheer scale of the place means it’s not worth passing up on a visit.

The morning lights proves perfect for some early aerial photography, before the others wake up and we head out again.

We encounter the most impressive monument so far atop the Schurenbach Halde where we stand in awe of the “Slab for the Ruhr”. Strong winds force my drone out of the sky and us off the hill sooner than we’d like to.

The final monumental slag heap we visit, Halde Rheinelbe, is crowned with a jagged staircase to the skies, the Himmelstreppe. From here we set off to the furthest point of our expedition.

Wewelsburg castle is infamous for its Nazi-past. Chosen by Heinrich Himmler to become the centre of the world, it was renovated using concentration-camp labourers. Never finished, Himmler had much greater plans for it than what materialized before the war ended.

The free museum lets you into the two most controversial spaces, converted by the Nazis. The lower crypt contains a sort of fireplace, while the upper SS General’s Hall has a wheel symbol, the Sonnenrad or Black Sun in it’s centre. Photography was forbidden, even uncovering the Black Sun from beneath the haplessly strewn bean bags and chairs was not allowed. While definitely the most interesting exhibition of the trip, there’s still a clear undertone of the struggle with how Germans preserve and deal with this part of their past, something difficult to grasp as foreigner.

Our final point was the site of the Externsteine, a remarkable rock-formation, known since the middle ages as a site of special meaning and perhaps earlier for Pagan worshipping. The paths around it were mostly frozen solid, and the ticketing office for access to the top was unmanned.

After four days of immersion into strange and bizarre landscapes, we headed back to Belgium.

If you’d like to visit some of these sites yourself, here is the map we used:

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