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Ruhr Museum

Basic Information

The Ruhr Museum understands itself as a memory and showcase of the Ruhr region. In an integrative concept that combines natural and cultural history, it shows the entire history of the Ruhr region, from the origin of coal over 300 million years ago to today's structural transformation into the Ruhr Metropolis. The three exhibition levels of the museum are assigned to the categories Present, Memory, and History. In addition to multilingual guided tours, the Ruhr Museum offers an extensive educational and didactic programme.
The Ruhr Museum first opened at Zollverein with a temporary exhibition in 2008, and was then closed prior to its official opening in 2010 that coincided with the European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010. Also in 2010, the institution was extended by the addition of a depot and office building located directly across the street from the main site. Furthermore, the Ruhr Museum has several external branches, including a mineral museum and a geological trail.
The Ruhr Museum has developed as a main attraction of the Zollverein World Heritage Site. This is likely also influenced by its location in the former coal washing plant, which is the largest building of the Zollverein complex, and which also functions today as the main tourist information centre — the international Ruhr.Visitorcenter — and as the starting point for most of the Denkmalpfad Zollverein guided tours. In 2017, approximately 200,000 visitors attended Ruhr Museum exhibitions at Zollverein, not including events and visitors to its external branches. 

Long-term perspective: Numerous educational partnerships, between the Ruhr Museum and various schools in the Ruhr region, have been concluded in recent years and will continue to be expanded. The museum's extensive collections invite further research, inter alia concerning the photographic collections in cooperation with the Folkwang University.


The Ruhr Museum's research is characterised by its broad contextualisation and its emphasis on urgent current issues relating to the impacts of industrialisation and urbanisation. 
The Ruhr Museum has extensive collections on the geology, archaeology, history, and photographic records of the Ruhr region, consisting mainly of artefacts from the collections of the former Ruhrlandmuseum. All collections are continuously being enhanced, in particular with regional artefacts. 
Particularly remarkable are the natural history collections, comprising approximately 400,000 artefacts from the fields of general geology, palaeontology/stratigraphy, and mineralogy. Besides the collections' great interest to general visitors, a large part of the collection is of scientific importance for international experts from various institutions; numerous objects are regularly on loan for research purposes. The archaeological collection contains more than 50,000 objects from various periods, cultures, and materials, and is steadily increasing with the addition of newly found archaeological artefacts from excavations in Essen. The cultural and social history collections of the Ruhr Museum focus primarily on the production processes of heavy industry, and everyday life in the Ruhr region during the industrial age, but they also document the region's structural transformation. The photo collection, consisting of around 2.5 million negatives and several tens of thousands of photographic prints and slides, functions as a visual memory for the Ruhr region. The collection is open to all interested parties, and essential parts of the photo archive have been published online since 2009. 
Since the Ruhr Museum is understood as the memory of the region — and therefore as dynamic, contemporary, and process-orientated — the museum also contributes to structural transformation by being a place of active communication and debate, and by setting exhibition themes. One example was the temporary exhibition "Green in the City of Essen", which was shown in parallel with the European Green Capital Award 2017.


The former Ruhrlandmuseum was transferred in 2008 into the Ruhr Museum as a dependent foundation within the Zollverein Foundation. The operating costs are publicly funded, partly by city, regional, and federal funds.
The decision in favour of the location was already promoted in 1999 at the end of the IBA Emscher Park exhibition, leading Essen City Council to support the relocation of the Ruhrlandmuseum, from its location adjacent to the Folkwang Museum in Essen to Zollverein, on condition that an appropriate building would be provided there. 
The decision to locate the Ruhr Museum in the coal washing plant rather than a combination of the mixing plant and a new building, as proposed by OMA within the 2002 (urban) Masterplan, required an adaptive reuse conversion starting in 2003, for which an architectural joint venture with OMA and Böll/Krabel was commissioned.
The Ruhr Museum Foundation was able to start its work on 1 January 2008 under the aegis of the newly constituted Zollverein Foundation. Zollverein Foundation is also responsible for maintenance of the whole former coal washing plant, which currently houses the Ruhr Museum, the Ruhr Visitorcenter, and the Portal of Industrial Heritage.
Since 2018, there has been a personnel overlap between the Ruhr Museum and the Zollverein Foundation in the person of director Grütter, thus enabling synergies for both institutions.
During the entire process, common planning instruments were used, generally in collaboration with conservation authorities, e.g., an architectural competition, conservation masterplan, (urban) masterplan, inventory of and preservation guidelines for the machinery, environmental impact assessment, and the building consent process.


The coal washing plant was designed by Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer and erected between 1930 and 1932. During operation, the coal washing plant, at 34 m wide by 91 m long and 37 m high, functioned as a large-scale machine for sorting, classifying, buffering, and distributing coal. Generally, these stages ran from top to bottom, requiring large quantities of water. The overall concept was completely subordinate to these functions and offered only four internal levels for access to the machinery.
With this building, Schupp and Kremmer combined unclad concrete components for the lower bunkers, with steel framework with brick infill for the upper machine floors. The dividing line between these two construction systems runs horizontally at approximately mid-height. The exhibitions of the Ruhr Museum are located in the lower concrete part of the building.
Large parts of the facade, in particular of the steel framework and brick infill, had already been replaced during the building's operational phase, and after coal production ceased, the facade suffered further extensive damage while the building lay vacant. Thus, not only due to this damage but also the proposed museum's thermal and technical requirements, the facades were dismantled and rebuilt but are similar in appearance to the originals.
The installation of a museum within the complexities of the coal washing machinery required extensive interventions and the loss of large parts of the machinery, following the concept of adaptive reuse with sensitive enhancement, such as adding exhibition levels or openings to make the bunkers passable, seeking and achieving a high architectural quality.
ICOMOS representatives and regional conservation authorities accompanied the overall conversion, and several compromises had to be found. 


The building is entered via a long escalator on the 24-metre level, which houses all visitor orientation functions: the international Ruhr.Visitorcenter, foyer, and shop of the Ruhr Museum, meeting point for Denkmalpfad Zollverein group tours, and a café. In a metaphorical sense, visitors follow the path previously taken by the coal: The 24-metre level is the reception level: where once coal and rock were separated and sorted, visitors are now distributed around the museum. In general, the concept places visitors as close as possible not only to the artefacts in the exhibitions, but also to the remaining machinery throughout the building.
The permanent exhibition, planned by the architectural office HG Merz in Stuttgart, is housed on three levels of the building — analogous to the route taken by the coal: the 17-metre level, previously where conveyed materials were distributed, is first on the route, under the title "Present", which defines the exhibition's main theme and describes the current situation in the Ruhr Metropolis. The 12-metre level was once a coal bunker and today stores objects with cultural and traditional “Memory” of the pre-industrial era. Furthermore, this floor also houses temporary exhibitions. The 6-metre level is assigned to the “History” of industrialisation in the Ruhr region: In the past, coal was distributed and loaded at this level; today, metaphorically speaking, the exhibition presents knowledge, gathered from various disciplines, about the history of the Ruhr region, closing again with the “Present” time.
The Ruhr Museum is open to all visitors: adults, children, young people, and people with disabilities. The calendar of events and the half-yearly programme provide information about regular events that are open to all visitors (these usually require registration).

Communities Engagement

The Ruhr Museum is not only a place of active communication and debate in a social and political context, but also attracts visitors by offering museum talks, guided tours, workshops, excursions, courses, forging demonstrations, action days, and mobile museum animations that involve active participation.

Sustainable Development & Climate Change

Locating the Ruhr Museum at Zollverein mainly meets two of the UN SDGs (sustainable development goals): 
1. Quality education: The Ruhr Museum is the core element for informing and educating visitors about the Ruhr region — from the formation of coal several hundred million years ago, through pre-industrial times, the coal age, and up to the present day. The Zollverein World Heritage Site is thus embedded in a broad contextual setting.
2. Sustainable cities and communities: The Ruhr Museum attracts visitors from near and far, thus reviving the area and contributing to higher urban densities.
The permanent exhibition combines nature and culture and is dedicated in particular to the topics of sustainability and climate change. The exhibition section titled "Phenomena", about the present day, includes information on industrially formed landscapes; tailings, piles, and mining subsidence; the rivers Ruhr and Emscher; processes of transformation; post-industrial habitats; and the green Ruhr region.


The Ruhr Museum is the central element for informing and educating visitors about the Ruhr region, complementing the Denkmalpfad Zollverein, which is central for educating visitors specifically about Zollverein. 
The Ruhr Museum offers diverse tours addressing various audiences: in addition to the usual public tours, there are special guided tours such as those led by curators, dedicated to specific topics; those addressing teachers, seniors, or people with dementia; and tours in sign language. Audio guides and the "Rätsel-Reise Ruhr Museum" museum bag are available to guide individual visitors on their tour of the Ruhr Museum. The museum bag targets families with children aged six and older, inspiring them to actively engage with the exhibition themes and objects. In addition to hands-on exhibits, research manuals are provided, which accompany the children home.
The Ruhr Museum established educational partnerships with various schools in Essen, thereby closely linking teaching in local schools with the museum as a place of learning, providing direct experience with the original artefacts and the authentic Zollverein site. A huge number of guided tours and workshops are offered, which address different age groups and subjects. Moreover, the partnerships include advanced training for teachers. 
Furthermore, a free app titled "Biparcours — The Ruhr Museum at Zollverein" targets all school classes aged 12 and older who are making a first visit to Zollverein. In four half-hour interactive quests, pupils are guided through the Ruhr Museum and Zollverein Park using their own smartphones.

Urban Development

The Ruhr Museum supports the revitalisation of the entire site and serves as an anchor element. The museum has developed a unique synergetic concept of authentic industrial spaces, providing a narrative of the region from the past to the future.
The museum immediately developed into a tourist attraction and understands itself as being dedicated to two main tasks: education and tourism. In a 2015 visitor survey conducted throughout the entire World Heritage Site, 15% of respondents cited the Ruhr Museum as their reason for visiting Zollverein. Of those, most were from the Ruhr metropolis. However, 36% of museum visitors surveyed were international tourists. The survey also revealed that the former coal washing plant is the most important and first point of interest for visitors to Zollverein.
At the district level, the local integration of the tourist infrastructure is improving. As a future option, the availability of infrastructure of potential interest to tourists, within the surrounding districts, could be better communicated on-site.