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The Ruhr Valley was a major industrial and coal mining region in the valley of the Ruhr river in northwestern Germany. For the final bit of production of Lean, Mean & Green, we spent two days shooting industrial sites that have been transformed into recreational spaces and developed for new business. While I knew we were going to photograph these sites and I had done my research on-line and talked to people who had been there, I wasn’t really prepared for what it would feel like traveling through and photographing these environments.
From our base in Düsseldorf, we spent the first day at the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, which used to be a smelting plant. The entire site is open to the public to explore and many areas have been developed into recreational spaces like playgrounds for children, climbing walls, gardens, bike paths and water-parks.
The second day we shot at the Ruhr Museum at Zollverein in Essen. This museum combines a natural museum, archaeological and historical museum all in one place. We didn’t spend much time inside, but on the grounds of what used to be the Zollverein Coal mine and it all makes up what they call a “World Heritage Site.”
You’d think that having grown up in Dearborn, Michigan, where my first real job was at Greenfield Village, I would have made the connection from industrial ruins to industrial heritage a bit quicker and it wouldn’t take me going to Germany to do it. I live just a few miles from the Packard plant and it never occurred to me to view it as a cultural heritage site.
The other thing I’m still wrapping my head around is the entire Emscher Landscape Park. I’m really looking to John to help explain it all in the movie, as this “park” is really the entire redeveloped region with associations and municipalities working together to increase tourism to the area and make it all more livable. They have this motto. ““Change through culture – culture through change” and the resulting work is visible. These 53 communities are connected by bike paths!
If you’re planning a vacation, North-Western Germany may not be at the top of your list, but I really encourage you to take a look. Düsseldorf, where our gaffer/guide/driver Patrick “Paddy” Dosanjh (see video below) was from, is a vibrant city on the Reine River for a more typical tourist experience, but you can easily travel to many of these other areas. I certainly hope to go back for a film festival in the area, and I can only hope this part of the story will help demonstrate the enormous potential for post-industrial cities!