The German city of Essen, representing the wider Ruhrgebiet region, is one of Europe’s capitals of culture in 2010. The EU-sanctioned designation is enabling Germany to showcase the social and economic transformation of an area that just a few decades ago threatened to become a Rust Belt. Essen’s experience could have practical lessons for some of the former Soviet Union’s down-and-out industrial centers.
Twenty years ago, the Ruhrgebiet – a string of industrial cities situated along the Ruhr River, constituting one of Europe’s most urbanized areas -- was known for its desolate factories, and was synonymous with economic dislocation brought on by the decline of industrial production. Since that time, the area has reinvented itself as a core part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, a route that includes dozens of factories, buildings and other curios. It now draws hordes of tourists, not only Germans. For example, Zollverein, a former coal mine in Essen, draws a million visitors a year and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Richard R. Dion has been working with Karakalpakstan on realizing its industrial heritage potential.