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Tourism: European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH)

Basic Information

The European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH) is primarily an information platform for industrial heritage tourism in Europe, and also functions as a brand for industrial cultural tourism. ERIH strengthens awareness of the common European heritage of industrialisation and its legacy, and establishes regions, sites, and objects as excursion and travel destinations. The ERIH network was launched in 2004, based on the regional scenic Route of Industrial Heritage (Route der Industriekultur), which was launched in 1999 as one of the outcomes of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) Emscher Park. Both systems feature a variety of route options, selectable, for example, by diverse themes (“theme routes”) or by "anchor points" that represent the most attractive and historically significant sites. In addition, since 2009, both routes are presented at the Zollverein anchor point in an exhibition, titled “Portal of Industrial Heritage” (Portal der Industriekultur). ERIH includes more than 1,600 sites with more than 100 anchor points that include almost all European countries (47 of 51). The ERIH website has developed rapidly, with an average of more than 3,500 visits per day in 2017.

Long-term perspective: The general structure of ERIH enables a variety of synergies, allowing members to strengthen their sites through ‘cross-marketing’ within the network, and to intensify exchange, learn from good practice, and establish partnerships between sites.


The educational field can be structured at three main scales:
1) European: The ERIH website is the main resource for informing and educating tourists on Europe's industrial heritage. Information ranges from lists of service facilities, opening hours, and brief descriptions, up to links to related regional or European routes, further information on the respective sites, and biographies that portray life during the industrial revolution. The website offers anchor point routes (highlights), regional routes, and thematic routes. Zollverein, for example, is part of the thematic clusters on "Mining", "Housing and Architecture", and "Xtra: World Heritage Sites". In addition, a continuously updated list has been compiled of events, conferences, colloquia, trade fairs, and cultural festivals on industrial heritage throughout Europe. Generating more publicity for industrial heritage, ERIH itself organises and promotes an event celebrating the European Year of Cultural Heritage, particularly addressing young people, to enliven former industrial sites. 
2) Regional: The website of the regional Ruhr route (Route der Industriekultur) details anchor points (25) and thematic routes (30). Zollverein, listed first and probably the most prominent anchor point, is linked to the themed routes: "Industrial Landscape Zollverein", "Rhenish Mining Route", "Chemistry, Glass, and Energy", "Ruhr Area Myths", "Industrial Nature", "Panoramas and Landmarks", and "Water: Plants, Towers, and Turbines". Furthermore, the website describes panoramas of the industrial landscape (vantage points), settlements from various eras, and bike routes. The thematic routes in particular have been elaborated in detail to serve as travel guides.
3) Local: The Portal of Industrial Heritage, located in the coal washing plant at Zollverein, hosts an exhibition on both the European and regional networks. The exhibition area includes a panorama view from the top of the building, an exhibition space, and an area in-between, which were formerly parts of the coal classification zone. There is a permanent exhibition on the European and regional industrial heritage routes, focussing on their respective anchor point sites, showing various aspects of the sites in detail, special exhibitions, and a 360° film about the transformations of the Ruhr area.

Urban Development

With around 1.5 million visitors per year (2011–2017), the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is the second most visited cultural and tourist destination in North Rhine-Westphalia after Cologne Cathedral. It is therefore not only the most popular destination of the Route of Industrial Heritage (“the anchor point among the anchor points”), but also a promoter of the route and a launching pad into the region. The transformation of the Zollverein site, initiated by the IBA Emscher Park, has been successfully implemented and is recognised and imitated internationally. 
The industrial sites are key, representing unique selling points through which the region and city distinguish themselves in seeking to attract investment, new protagonists, political support, and visitors.
The city of Essen also benefits from the World Heritage Site's prominence, as evidenced by a more than three-fold increase in the number of guest arrivals in the city between 1987 and 2016, with visitors staying for two nights on average. Conversely, the city of Essen has transferred major regional events to the World Heritage Site.
At district level, the local integration of tourist infrastructure is improving. As a future option, the infrastructure available within the surrounding districts, of potential interest to tourists, could be better communicated on-site.


Basic research is organised locally. ERIH compiles basic information and provides a collection of links to “experts and best practice databases”. Furthermore, ERIH develops online surveys, such as the Industrial Heritage Barometer, to gain valid data on the economic impact of industrial heritage in Europe.
For the regional theme routes, informed tourism guidebooks are commissioned and supervised by the Ruhr Regional Association (RVR). 
Photo-documentation was conducted in 2002 as part of the conservation masterplan (Denkmalpflegerische Rahmenkonzeption), and illustrates the situation at the coal washing plant prior to the conservation measures.


The ERIH network was established during 2003–2008 by eleven project partners, with financial support from the European Union (INTERREG III B - North-West Europe). In order to continue the network beyond the initial project funding period, the ERIH-European Route of Industrial Heritage e.V. was founded in spring 2008, with the legal status of a registered association under German law. The organs of the association comprise the board of management and the general assembly. The board has commissioned an external manager and nominated national representatives. The basic funding of the ERIH network is ensured by membership fees; in addition, major funds were provided by a European funding programme. 
At the regional scale the RVR is responsible not only for promoting the routes but also for partly funding maintenance of the exhibition at Zollverein. The Zollverein Foundation is responsible for management and maintenance of the Portal of Industrial Heritage. All stakeholders decide on the main issues through a steering group.


In addition to general accessibility, both originality and authenticity are important criteria for attracting tourist interest in industrial heritage. In turn, increased tourist interest contributes to awareness-building and helps to provide political support for heritage conservation. 
The exhibition space (Portal of Industrial Heritage) applies Zollverein's general concept of conservation through reuse. A large part of the exhibition space was formerly used for washing and separating the coal from mud and stones. Three circular, open tanks were arranged on the top of the roof. Two of the former three Dorr-type thickening tanks have been preserved: one exemplarily with technical equipment, and the other through adaptive reuse.


At Zollverein the implementation of ERIH and in particular the Portal of Industrial Heritage contributes to and supports industrial tourism, mainly in the Ruhr region but also beyond. The routes attract local, national, and international visitors. The ERIH website targets general visitors, members of the public, and also industrial heritage specialists, but is not primarily aimed at scientists. The Portal of Industrial Heritage revives certain areas of the coal washing plant, partly as an exhibition space and partly as a sightseeing platform. The formerly open sections of the roof of the coal washing plant were covered with shed roofs to house the exhibition. Minimal interventions were needed to connect the exhibition with the sightseeing platform, where the nearby landmarks of industrial heritage are signposted. 
Both the exhibition and the viewing platform are designed to provide universal accessibility.

Communities Engagement

The initiative to implement a regional industrial heritage route came from interested individuals, in particular historians, architects, and urban planners. As the ERIH network is a registered association (e.V.) its membership is open to industrial heritage sites, public or private organisations, company members, and individuals. Furthermore, a "Friend of ERIH" scheme provides further opportunities to support the ERIH network. 
Zollverein offers a special ticket for neighbourhood residents, which is promoted through outlets such as local shops or at festivals. This allows local residents to visit the sightseeing platform at a reasonable price and also aims to inspire their family and friends to become interested in the Route of Industrial Heritage. The permanent exhibition on the regional routes, hosted at the Portal of Industrial Heritage, utilises visual display screens to interact with visitors. These can be moved vertically, and display different content at each level, thereby alluding to the suspended cages within the mine shafts, which transported workers and equipment between the surface and the coalface.

Sustainable Development & Climate Change

ERIH and the Route of Industrial Heritage contribute to two of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs): 
1. Decent work and economic growth: Tourism, if it is locally embedded, offers the chance to benefit local residents and thus improve their identification with the World Heritage Site.
2. Sustainable cities and communities: To contribute to lowering CO2 concentrations, the regional route planners created bicycle routes. Networking between regional and European information platforms can provide co-benefits for all participants, for example by adapting best practice to local conditions. Local public transport information is offered for all routes.
As a future option, the topic of industry's responsibility toward sustainable development could be given greater prominence in the exhibition at the Portal of Industrial Heritage.