Post-industrial: compound-tragedy. Coal, iron, shipping, it was all here at one point. The landscape was scared and life was hard, but there was full employment and social cohesion. Today 28% of Duisburg’s 500,000 strong population are without work or under-employed, and the crime rate is among the highest in Germany. Marxloh, a northern neighbourhood, is openly referred to by the German media as ‘Germany’s no go area’. Grotty and seemingly without hope, is this German city Europe’s Detroit?
Duisburg sits at the confluence of the Ruhr and Rhine rivers, and is defined by this geographical fact. It was, itself, always a city of great industry, particularly well known for its steel mills. But being at the mouth of the Ruhr meant it was also a harbour city, and thus benefited from importing and exporting goods to and from the other great Ruhr cities. Its importance meant it suffered anormously from aerial bombing during the Second World War, during which is lost as much as 80% of its residential housing stock. The city was rebuilt, and due to an influx of Turkish guest workers, regained some of its formed economic might, if not its glory.
Heavy industry, though, struggles to sustain itself now in most places in Europe. Consequently, by most measures, Duisburg is in decline. The mines have shut, as have many of the steel mills. As the jobs have gone, so too have the people. Today Duisburg suffers from a declining population, with not only many abandoned factories but empty apartment buildings also.
But in the Duisburg Güterbahnhof something is blossoming. Under the yellowed, corrugated perspex glass of the old rail-yard roof, nature is reasserting herself. The air is heavily perfumed in this self-created botanical garden. The trees grow upwards from the old railway tracks, and in doing so they have created secret wildlife corridors and passageways along the old platforms. A city of decay -- a victim of history and brutal economic forces – surrounds this old goods yard. But in the old good yard itself in an abundance of nature wealth.
The sight was visited on the 16th of July, 2016.