European Capital of Culture

Metropolis – Culture – Capital of Culture: the 38th volume of the UDE journal “UNIKATE” (edited by Professor Jörg Engelbrecht) was dominated by Ruhr 2010, the year for which Essen and the Ruhr had been nominated European Capital of Culture. The volume, which appeared in March 2010, unites a variety of contributions on urbanism and metropolitan research from a number of ­different perspectives that are specific to the ­humanities. The introductory article by Professor Jens Martin Gurr is mainly concerned with highlighting the necessity of interdisciplinary ­research from a humanities angle. In this context Professor Gurr also problematizes the concept of “Metropolis Ruhr”. It is obvious that this self-definition of the region is open to critical questioning. However, it is certain that a variety of tendencies manifesting themselves in the Ruhr are also to be globally observed in other metropolitan areas. The opportunity the Ruhr has in playing a leading role in certain areas is discussed by the Protestant theologian Professor Thorsten Knauth, who refers to the example of interreligious learning in his article entitled “Pot(t)pourri of Religions”. The tolerance vis-à-vis cultural difference and the need for integration, over and above religious problems, are the dominant themes in a region traditionally marked by immigration and migration. Dr. Karin Kolb, Professor Jens Loenhoff and Professor H. Walter Schmitz (Communication Studies) in their article emphasize the strategies employed by the city of Mülheim an der Ruhr in order to be perceived by its inhabitants as a “City for all Citizens” and the crucial part played in this process by symbolic communicative participation.  In the 1970s the members of the sub-department of “German as a Second and/or Foreign Language” were “Pioneers in German Language Acquisition”, as the title of the article runs. In his contribution, Professor em. Rupprecht S. Baur traces the development of this branch of research from the very beginnings of Essen University up to the present day. Within the discipline of Geography, Professor Wilhelm Kuttler, Professor Rudolf Juchelka and Professor Hans-Werner Wehling have researched phenomena as diverse as economic and structural change, the problem of climate change as well as aspects of mobility and logistics. The Ruhr area has close links, both in terms of infrastructure and, above all, for linguistic and historical reasons, with the Rhine-Maas region. For more than ten years the “Institute for Lower Rhine Cultural History and Cultural Development” (InKuR) has devoted its efforts to cross-border research on the neighbouring areas of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Professor Jörg Engelbrecht’s portrait of this rather unique institution is the article concluding volume 38 of Unikate entitled “Contributions on the ­Occasion of Ruhr.2010.” 

Undoubtedly a major event like Ruhr.2010 has provided a lot of impulse to both the region and the University, and yet, once the Year of the European Capital of Culture was over, the processing and critical evaluation of its effects began. “To whom is a project like the Capital of Culture actually addressed?” asks Professor Rolf Parr (Literary and Media Practice) by investigating “The Example of ‘Essen for the Ruhr’”. In this article he addresses the problem that a project like this, considering the long period elapsing between its initiation and realization, has to appeal to all kinds of diverse interest groups. In this process it not only frequently happens that the local public is not sufficiently taken into consideration, but that a dual cultural division also occurs: firstly in terms of the split between high-culture events and the free art scene, and secondly in ethnic terms. This in turn leads to closed local or ethnic milieus within urban space, thereby inhibiting the cultural exchange which is the declared aim of such a project.

The historian Dr. Korinna Schönhärl, a member of the Global Young Faculty, addressed questions concerning two of the 2010 Capitals of Culture, the Ruhr and Istanbul. To what extent are ethnic or religious minorities regarded as economic ­potential in the economy and in urban policies? How can the economic potential of minorities be utilized in the economy, in urban planning and urban development? The collection of essays “Ruhr Area and Istanbul: The Economy of Urban Diversity” (jointly edited with Professor Monika Salzbrunn, Lausanne, and Dr. Darja Reuschke, St. Andrews) provides an innovative as well as an interdisciplinary perspective on these problems that are of primary sociopolitical relevance. The researchers involved in this project are consistently pointing out links between the historical past and the prese


Welcome, Welkom, Hoşgeldiniz, Bienvenu – Willkommen im Ruhrgebiet

The sign for the tram stop “Zeche Zollverein” greets visitors in German, English, Dutch, ­Turkish and French. A lot of ticket machines ­offer a choice of languages ranging from German and English to Turkish. Graffiti is also to be found in a variety of languages. These indicators of visible as well as visual multilingualism are the object 

of research in the project “Signs of Metropolis: Visual Multilingualism in the Ruhr Metropolis” headed by Professor Evelyn Ziegler, in which ­linguists, urban sociologists and integration ­specialists are cooperating (with the participation of the departments of German and Turkish from the UDE and the department of Sociology from the RUB, funded by MERCUR). As part of this, a sectional study of the cities of Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund along the “social equator” of the A40 freeway is undertaken with the aim of finding out to what extent the cultural ­diversity  of the population as well as ­cultural and consumer tourism find their expression in visual multilingualism at street level. What is the significance of such signs? Can they be ­interpreted as the expression of identity and ­emplacement, of belonging and ­recognition? How is this visible multilingualism appreciated by the residents?

The lack of organizational unity in the Ruhr and its variously having been divided up into separate administrative districts over the last 200 years have led to the absence of a reliable record of ­statistical data covering the entire period. This deficit is to be remedied by the volume “The Ruhr Area 1812–2012”, funded by RVR, that geographer Professor Hans-Werner Wehling is working on. In his research he is also focusing on a city which, in perceptions of the Ruhr Metropolitan Area, often comes across as rather disadvantaged. On the one hand, the city of “Gelsenkirchen” is one of the few administrative units within the Ruhr whose mining and steel-making origins have resulted in a functioning urban community, even though it has always lagged behind the urban development of the big cities along the ancient trade route of the Hellweg. On the other hand, in the course of the International Exhibition of Architecture (IBA Emscher Park) the city has experienced the first steps in a profound transformation. Finally, as a result of the concluding stages of de-industrialization due to the decline of coal mining and steel production, Gelsenkirchen in socioeconomic terms is at the very bottom of the league table of cities in the Ruhr. Because of all these factors Gelsenkirchen is currently a prime example – ­socioeconomically, functionally, and architecturally – of the tensions and divergencies that are typical of the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial urban structure.


On the Rhine and the Ruhr

The river after which the Ruhr area has been named is at the centre of an integrated project entitled “Safe Ruhr”, which is funded by the BMBF (with the participation of Professor Jo Reichertz, Communication Studies). The purpose is to make the Ruhr, or, more precisely, the quality of its water, safer. On the one hand, the safety of supplying and processing water from the Ruhr is to be enhanced, e. g. by filtering out pathogenic organisms. On the other hand, researchers want to find out if and when the Ruhr can be officially declared safe for swimming. In order to achieve this aim, 13 partners from 10 institutions are cooperating. The specific aspects of this project from a communications studies angle include participatory strategies/civil involvement, risk-communication and raising the awareness of the Ruhr as a cultural asset. At the same time, a stakeholder and discourse analysis of water-risk communication is currently being established. On the basis of all the findings, a general concept of risk communication and a guideline for bathing in the rivers will be finalized, which can also be transferred to other bodies of running water.

The research on the region has not been confined to the university. The project “Life Amid Ruins” (InKuR) also involved some schools in the area. For one year four high schools in Wesel, Kaiserswerth, Geldern and Oberhausen looked into the reconstruction of their respective cities after World War II. Supported by university researchers and other partners (archives, museums), they investigated such diverse categories as food, childhood and youth, decision-makers, living conditions and everyday life in their towns, which had all been differently affected by the war, all of which resulted in a comparative exhibition. The central aspects of this commemorative project, which was initiated in 2011 and funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, were the familiarization of pupils with the methods of historical research, interviewing contemporary witnesses and processing the results for the exhibition, which opened in the university ­library of the Duisburg Campus and subsequently went on display in all the four towns involved.