South of Münster lies the Ruhr area, an industrial and urban center made up of several large cities that have more or less grown together. The Ruhr area is not only Germany’s most important industrial center, but also impresses with its fascinating, wide-ranging cultural offerings. Countless museums, theatres, art galleries and operas make it one of the cultural centers of Germany. In 2010 the Ruhr area was the European Capital of Culture. Large, green parks offer relaxation within the industrial landscape. Well-preserved or lovingly restored old buildings are reminiscent of the times when the cities on the Ruhr were still small towns surrounded by farmland and rolling hills. The largest cities in the region from west to east are Duisburg (Germany’s largest inland port), Essen, Bochum and Dortmund, the brewery center of the Federal Republic. South of the Ruhr, on the border to Siegerland, lies Wuppertal, whose unique suspension railway is the best-known public transport system in the region.
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Industrial monument at the Völklingen Ironworks
The blast furnace of the disused Völklingen Ironworks is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several hundred thousand visitors come to this industrial monument every year. The nearby Saarschleife and the traditional porcelain factory Villeroy & Boch in Mettlach are also worth a visit.
The Rhineland is Germany’s oldest cultural region. Here you will find the wide, fertile lowlands of the Lower Rhine, the crater lakes of the Eifel, the Bergisches Land with its lakes and the Altenberg Cathedral, as well as the Siebengebirge. Vineyards cover the sunny slopes of the Rhine Valley. In spring, when the fruit blossoms, people like to stay here. The famous car racing track Nürburgring is nearby. Among the many castles in the Rhine Valley, Stolzenfels, Marksburg, Rheinfels near St. Goar and Schönburg near Oberwesel are among the most beautiful. Between Good Friday and the end of October, KD Deutsche Rheinschifffahrt operates boat trips between Cologne and Mainz.
Founded by the Romans, Cologne is now an important cultural and economic metropolis, where many trade fairs take place every year. The city’s landmark is the Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also worth seeing are the golden shrine of the Three Kings, the medieval city walls and the many Romanesque churches such as St. Pantaleon, St. George, St. Apostein, St. Gereon and St. Kunibert. The most beautiful Gothic churches are St. Andreas, the Minoritenkirche and the Antoniterkirche. Numerous Roman remains such as the Dionysus mosaic, the praetorium, the gullies and the catacombs have been preserved. The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum (important collection of paintings) and the Kunstmuseum Ludwig as well as the Roman-Germanic Museum, the Schnütgen Museum (medieval church art), the zoo and the Rheinpark with its “dancing fountains” should also be seen. The city is an ideal starting point for Rhine trips and, together with Düsseldorf, the stronghold of the Rhenish carnival. The old town has been lovingly restored and, like the large shopping streets, is a pedestrian zone.
Aachen is the ancient capital of Charlemagne’s empire and is known for its hot mineral springs. Sights include the world-famous Imperial Cathedral (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the marble throne of Charlemagne, the octagonal chapel, the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum (paintings and sculptures) and the fountains with sulphurous water. The town hall was built between 1333 and 1370 on the ruins of the imperial palace, the coronation hall and the beautiful frescoes depicting Charlemagne are particularly worth seeing.
Bonn is the former capital of the Federal Republic of Germany and, even after the seat of government was relocated to Berlin, it is the seat of many ministries, authorities and embassies, some of which have been converted into branch offices or consulates. Along with Vienna and Geneva, Bonn is one of the three European UN cities. In the beautiful city center, the Bonn Minster with its cloisters, the Remigius Church, the market square with the baroque town hall, the Poppelsdorf Castle and the botanical garden are particularly worth seeing. On the other side of the Rhine in Bonn, the beautiful two-story church in Schwarzrheindorf is a tempting attraction. Along the Adenauerallee/Friedrich-Ebert-Allee is the museum mile with the art and exhibition hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, the art museum, the house of history and the German museum. Beethoven’s birthplace is also a museum today. Those who are drawn to the countryside can seek relaxation in the city’s parks or walk along the Rhine promenade.
The unique panorama of the Siebengebirge begins at Godesberg in the nature park of the same name. The most famous mountain in the Siebengebirge is probably the Drachenfels, from whose castle ruins you have a wonderful view of the Rhine Valley in both directions. The Petersberg with its hotel, which once housed high-ranking state guests from all over the world as a guest house of the Federal Republic of Germany, is a well-known landmark. The Kottenforst and the Venusberg are popular local recreation areas for the people of Bonn.
Mainz is the state capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, a university town and a bishop’s seat for 2000 years. The city lies on the rivers Main and Rhine and has many beautiful old half-timbered houses. In the Gutenberg Museum you can learn everything you need to know about book printing. Mainz Cathedral is 1000 years old. The Electoral Palace, the Roman Jupiter Column (67 AD) and the citadel with the monument to General Nero Claudius Drusus are well worth seeing. The Mainzer Fastnacht (carnival) and the wine market (late Aug – early Sept) are highlights of the city’s events calendar.