Structural Changes in the Ruhr Area from the 18th century until today

The economical boom in the Ruhr Area in the 18th Century

With the industrialization in Europe and the discovery of the “black gold”, how coal was called in the past, the region around the river Ruhr soon became the biggest industrial and metropolitan area in Europe, basing its success on mining, steel production and heavy industry. Even after the Second World War, in the period of reconstruction this area boomed because of the need for coal, steel and energy to rebuild the destroyed homes and industrial plants in Germany.

The coal crisis

After the German “Economic miracle” and the finalization of the post war reconstruction there was a worldwide oversupply of coal and steel, leading to a drastically decrease of prices. This made this business unprofitable in a very short time. An area with more than 5 million inhabitants at that time, specialized on mining and heavy industry for more than 150 years, lost its perspectives in just a couple of years. The triumphal march of the new “liquid gold”, the oil, at the same time speeded up this process.
In consequence, many coal mines and steel plants were closed and because of a lack of alternative sectors in the area, the state tried to avoid an economical collapse with high subsidies for coal and steel. But this led to a further delay of long overdue structural changes. Another reason was the hindrance of new branches by the very powerful montane industry, because they feared structural changes, making them a relic of the past. The area remained uncompetitive.
With the oil crisis at the beginning of the 70’s and a growing economical debt, the government could no longer afford to support the area to artificially keep the sector alive, so they slowly cut the subsidies, leading to an immense grow of unemployment.
The unemployed people had just limited chances on the labour market, because of limited education and qualification. Most of them just had eight years of school and no completed vocational education.
The government finally reacted with a “development program Ruhr”, targeting a specific settlement of growing industries in the area, supporting the further qualification of workers and founding of universities (there was not a single university in the huge Ruhr area until 1965).
This measures led to a significant improvement of the area in the 80’s, with a lot of foundations of new companies in the service sector. However, with the economical crisis after the German Reunion this process stagnated and the unemployment remained on a high level.

The situation today

Today, the process of structural change is almost completed. 55% of all employees are employed in the service sector, with a still increasing percentage. But the Ruhr area has a lot of remaining problems, resulting from the missed structural change in the 60’s. There are still a lot of former “workers families” with a low education and almost no chances to get integrated in the new labour markets. Another problem is the high rate of foreign workers that came to Germany during the boom after the Second World War and due to problems with the German language created parallel societies with almost no contact to German Citizens, the German language or education. The integration of those groups will be the hard main task for the politics in the future.



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