Footie, coal, beer, and chippies – many other regions in Germany can boast of living up to as many clichés as the Ruhr, but this area certainly does it the best. Saturday afternoons are dominated by football, and locally brewed beers aren’t just consumed after work – and yes, there are a few morally dubious corners to be found. Nevertheless, its deeply rooted history as an industrial Moloch is just that – history.
Once littered with heavy industry, new structural changes and creative uses are usurping these relics of the mining age. I’m not really selling it as much of a biker’s paradise, am I? Wrong: “Deep in the west, where the sun turns to dust, it’s better, much better than you think,” sang Herbert Grönemeyer on the topic of Bochum, the starting location for our ride. With ‘Blume im Revier’ [Flowers in the Coal District], he wasn’t referring to the urban beauties nor the mined gold, but rather the unvarnished, honest nature of the locals and the scenery. People in the Ruhr region wear their heart on their sleeve and don’t mince their words – and this is exactly why it is finally time to speak frankly. If you are looking for an amazing fun-filled weekend with sick trails, beer, chips, and women, then forget the Alps and head to the Ruhr!
Inspired by Joe Breeze and Gary Fischer shredding the mountains of California on their steel bikes in the 70s, the mountain bike scene in the Ruhr region began to take shape early on. There are even rumours flying around that our grandparents purposefully built these small, black mountains for their grandchildren – the tailings! The remnants of the coal mines, these hundred metre-high Ruhr hills have been carved out over the decades to contain countless trails through the forests in the Ruhr valley, and they’ve since grown into a giant playground for trail riders.
But before we head to the trails, we decide it’s time to drop by and visit some friends…. More than five million hugely different people live side by side in this one area. And, as a consequence, there are hugely differentiated opinions, although the distinctive and honest regional sense of unity is unflinching. The tough fight for survival shown by the miners unites and binds the locals. Posers don’t have it easy here, as fur – according to the regional saying – is worn inwardly in the Ruhr.
OK, and just not at all by some. However, there are certain areas where fur coats are regarded with approval. And when it comes to organizing parties and acquiring fast cars or other big boy toys, you need to have the networking skills. In short: the night is ahead of us!
#Trailparty – We head along the Ruhr from Bochum to Witten. Back at the end of the 90s, the tailings in Witten became home to lots of illegal downhill races, and have since developed into a veritable trail paradise. Even the names of the trails – everything from Moonwalk, Pauls Welt [Paul’s World] or the Grüner Grat [The Green Edge/Ridge] – are testament to the popularity of riding here, proving that it isn’t just football that attracts youngsters. You might not be riding through breathtaking Alpine panoramas, but you’ll shred along massively varied and fresh trails with a huge grin. It boils down to what really counts: satisfying your passion, and having a great time while riding with your mates. If you want to shorten the transfers, just cross the Ruhr for a donation of a Euro on the ferry and enjoy a quick beer at the pub on the banks of the river.
Talking of taking a refreshment break, this is where another vitally important cultural treasure of the Ruhr can be discovered. Known to a large part of the population as a kiosk, these are dubbed ‘Bude’ here. Often no bigger than two square metres, they sell everything you could ever need for a trail ride or even daily life. And, what’s more, you can find a Bude on every corner! Refreshing drinks, fresh coffee, sandwiches, newspapers, toiletries, colourful bags full of sweets, and God knows what else. So fill up your bottles and bladders and off you go…
Over the years, bicycle tracks and old railway lines have linked many of the former industrial and cultural relics turned tourist spots. So if you’re interested in touching up your local history knowledge, you can make a short detour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Zeche Zollverein (Coal Mine Industrial Complex) in Essen. The entire area can be discovered on mountain bike and with a bit of creativity, industrial culture and sporting feats can easily be combined.
Take a moment to refuel during this ride of discovery through the Ruhr area, and you’ll be introduced to yet another cultural treasure – the chip shop, aka Die Pommesbude. While most of the other German cities are welcoming one organic vegan restaurant after the other, the Ruhr has long been a grand consumer of chips, or more specifically – currywurst pommes! Herbert Grönemeyer even dedicated an entire song to this culinary highlight, singing: “Biste richtig down brauchste wat zu kaun ´ne Currywurst!”, which goes something along the lines of ‘If you’re feeling really down, then you need a thing to chomp, a currywurst!’ And this is exactly the motto that’s followed: morning, noon, trail ride, or night, you’re never far from a currywurst. “Lasset Dir schmecken!” Buon appetito!
The tour is now coming to an end, and it’s time to head ‘back to the roots’ ready for the sunset. We cane along dirty, black trails heaped up by hands. The opportunity to watch the sun setting with the backdrop of remarkable former industrial giants and motorways isn’t one that’s easily beaten, and surely counts as another of the Ruhr’s highlights. Back in the undulating landscape of the Ruhr’s slag heaps and tailings, this is shredding at its finest. For a more romantic and back-to-nature sunset, take one of the many trails that lead down to the river, pop open a bottle of cool Fiege beer, and say hello to the mosquitoes. Cheers!
The day is almost over, but there’s more in store. We take a brief moment to think of our friend with the fur coat and what the night can offer us: pommes currywurst, beer, and a lot of colourful stories… “Mein lieber Scholli, oh my days, isn’t it great here!”
Accommodation:Art Hotel Tucholsky Bochum (in the middle of Bochum’s nightlife district, with the best breakfast around and amazing coffee)
Pommesbude/Chip shop: Bratwursthaus in Bochum’s nightlife district (Bermuda Dreieck), a cult kiosk and the inspiration for Herbert’s Currywurst song – open pretty much 24/7. Or just head to one of the many shabby-looking kiosks.
Trails: Everything around Witten…dream riding!
Halden: Hoppenbruch in Herten (Ruhrpott bikepark), Halde Haniel
Beer: Fiege Pils from Bochum
Words: Stefan Kudella Photos: Paul Masukowitz
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