Between Essen and Dortmund, Bochum is a city born on the back of the Industrialisation of the Ruhrgeniet at the end of the 19th century. The days of coal mining and steel manufacturing are mostly in the past, as the last big facilities closed down in the 1980s. But the heavy industry heritage lives on at the world-class German Mining Museum and Zeche Hannover, a colliery with steam-age equipment still in place.
Ruhr University Bochum is one of the biggest higher learning institutions in Germany and is runs a few museums and attractions around the city like the free botanical garden. For kids there’s also a zoo, cutting-edge planetarium and a man-made lake on the Ruhr for all sorts of outdoor fun in summer.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bochum:
1. German Mining Museum
The largest mining museum in the world and also one of the most visited museums in Germany, the German Mining Museum is also a vital research centre for the history and technology of the German mining industry.
An epic 71.4-metre headframe dominates the site, having been moved here from a mine near Dortmund, and has a viewing platform near the top.
Some of the best bits are the 2.5 kilometres of subterranean show tunnels putting you in the boots of a miner, a seven-ton fossilised prehistoric tree, mining equipment so heavy it has to be kept on lower levels, an 18-ton briquette press from 1901 and a 3,401-carat black diamond.
2. Bochum Dahlhausen Railway Museum
This museum is set at a First World War-era train depot, one of the last of its kind remaining.
Locomotives were maintained here until the 1960s and a lot of the facilities are intact, like a 14-track roundhouse, a crane and a fully functioning water tower.
There’s a fleet of 120 vehicles in all, giving you a perfect timeline of German rail travel from the 1850s to the present.
Some of the locomotives are the last remaining models of their kind and were rescued from the scrap yard.
Others like the DRG Class 01, the first standardised steam locomotive, are landmark machines.
If possible, the ideal time to visit is on Sundays when the narrow gauge railway operates, and there’s also a lever handcar to try out.
3. Zeiss Planetarium Bochum
The “Velvet-FullDome-Projection” system at Bochum’s planetarium is one of the most advanced of any planetarium in the world.
That projection equipment was upgraded in 2010 and screens high definition shows of all kind of heavenly bodies onto a dome 20 metres in diameter.
The circular corridor outside the projection room is reserved for complementary exhibitions about the shows currently screening at the planetarium.
The venue also welcomes leading astronomers astrophysicists for talks, and has special screenings with loose science themes for kids, and shows accompanied by music.
4. LWL-Industriemuseum Zeche Hannover
A colliery a few kilometres northwest of Bochum has been kept intact and turned into an industrial museum.
Coal was mined here from 1857 to 1973, and shafts descended 750 metres below the surface.
The outstanding feature is the Malakow-Turm, a tower, designed like a medieval keep that contained the mine’s conveyor system.
This was powered by a monumental steam engine, which you can see in the machine hall and dates to 1893. The ventilation building meanwhile has been repurposed as a cafeteria.
In the summer at the Zecheknirps zone, kids can put on mining overalls and learn firsthand how a mine works, with none of the danger.
5. Botanical Garden of Ruhr University Bochum
Managed by the Ruhr University Bochum, this botanical garden at their campus is open free of charge.
Since it was established in 1968 the garden has been constantly refreshed with new plantings and facilities.
There are now four greenhouses, for tropical vegetation, desert flora, plants from savannahs and Alpine plants.
Outside, the Chinese Garden is special and was designed over four years by experts from Shanghai’s Tongji University.
It was plotted in the southern Chinese style and inspired by a poem by the 4th-century Tao Yuanming.
A pond takes up around half the garden and is edged by pavilions.
The outdoor collections are arranged according to the terrain, and there are marsh, meadow, woodland, coastal and prairie zones.
6. Kunstmuseum Bochum
A good alternative on rainy days, Bochum’s art museum deals mainly with 20th-century art.
The museum is in the Historicist Villa Marckhoff-Rosenstein, built for industrialists in 1901 and acquired by the city in 1960, while a modern extension was created for the museum in 1980. As for the collection, the earliest pieces are Czech Cubism beginning in 1900 with the sculptures of Otto Gutfreund.
There’s Expressionist art by all of the main figures of the movement, either in the shape of drawings or paintings.
There are many drawings by Lovis Corinth, and, moving through the decades, a sizeable collection of Surrealist art by the Dutch COBRA group.
Post-1960s there are pieces by Francis Bacon, Nam June Paik, Frank Stella and Cy Twombly.
7. Tierpark und Fossilium Bochum
This attraction, which was overhauled in 2012 combines a wide array of animal enclosures with exhibitions of fossils.
There are almost 4,000 animals at the park from approximately 330 species.
For a quick summary of the park’s inhabitants, there are exotic animals like lynxes, Seychelles giant tortoises, white buffaloes, lace monitors, ring-tailed lemurs, but also a petting zoo with goats sheep and lemurs.
The Nordseewelte (North Sea Worlds) exhibit has outdoor pools for harbour seals and Humboldt penguins.
That fossil collection meanwhile is 400-strong and housed in both the aquarium and the terrarium buildings.
8. Situation Kunst
The noble residence Haus Weitmar was destroyed in the war, and its ruins have been adapted as a sort of contemporary art museum with outdoor sculptures and installations.
“Environments” designed by David Rabinowitch, Maria Nordman and Richard Serra are an important part of the complex and blend with the ruins of the estate and the nature of the grounds.
There are also interior galleries, one containing a considerable collection of East Asian art.
In 2015 a new underground exhibition space was set up, partly in recognition of Bochum’s subterranean mining heritage, and also to avoid interfering with the ruins and art installations.
About two thirds of the galleries are for landscape art from the 1400s to the present day, and the remaining space is for temporary shows.
So far works by Gustave Courbet and Roy Lichtenstein have been hung here.
9. Brauerei Moritz Fiege
Nothing beats a brewery if you want to understand the culinary heritage of the Ruhr area.
Moritz Fiege, best known for its Fiege Pils, has been based in Bochum since 1736. What started as a simple tavern business burgeoned into a large-scale brewing business in 1876 when the company was granted brewing rights by the city.
The brewery opens its doors to tours on evenings from Monday to Friday so you can see, smell and taste how Fiege Pils is made, and even make your way through the cavernous cold storage cellar.
The experience ends with a pretzel, serving of Currywurst and a cool glass of one of the brand’s 10 beer varieties.
Moritz Fiege also has a special agreement with the public transport network to provide free bus and train connections from the brewery to avoid drunk driving .
10. Stiepeler Dorfkirche
One of the oldest surviving buildings in Bochum was started as long ago as the 10th century.
It took on its current form in the 12th century when it was updated as a Romanesque basilica, while the choir was reworked in the Late Gothic style in the 1400s.
Since then the Stiepeler Dorfkirche has remained pretty much the same.
Apart from the interior, because hidden behind whitewash 300 years until the 1950s were amazing medieval frescoes.
These date to between the 1100s and 1500s.
They’re made up of ornamental patterns and sacred images, while the earliest depict bible stories like the Massacre of the Innocents, the Exodus and Cain and Abel.
When the RuhrPark opened in Bochum’s Harpen district in 1964 it was only Germany’s second shopping mall.
In 2017 it is still one of the largest retail centres in the country, made up of more than 140 shops and employing some 2,500 people.
So if the weather isn’t cooperating or you’re up for an afternoon browsing shops, RuhrPark has all the big international chains like Levi’s, H&M and Mango, along with trusted German retailers like s.Oliver, Deichmann and Karstadt.
“Via Bartolo” is the name of the food court, which has 13 dining choices, while RuhrPark also has a cinema showing the latest releases.
12. Propsteikirche St. Peter und Paul
One of the 12 oldest churches in Westphalia, the Propsteikirche St. Peter und Paul goes back to the end of the 8th century and the rule of Charlemagne.
The Romanesque building that was here from the 1000s was partly destroyed by fire in 1517 and its choir was incorporated into a new Late Gothic design.
The 68-metre tower has been a permanent feature of Bochum’s cityscape ever since.
The church took some damage in the war, but was restored by the end of the 1950s.
In front of the building is a statue of a mourning woman as a memorial to the tragedy of the Second World War.
Go in to find the 12th-century Romanesque baptismal font, carved with reliefs of the Life of Jesus, a 14th-century wooden crucifix, a carved image of the Lamentations of Christ from the 16th century and a stone tabernacle from 1460.
Bochum is a rather flat city and the highest point for miles around is this prominence three kilometres north of the centre.
Tippelsberg is 150 metres high and a green recreation area for the city.
But the summit isn’t altogether natural and it is formed by landfill and rubble that was excavated for Bochum’s U35 U-Bahn line.
It all formed a plateau around 18.5 hectares offering a clean view of much of the Ruhr area.
There’s an orientation table at the highest point informing you about the landmarks you can see in the distance, like Dortmund’s Florianturm.
14. Kemnader See
The Ruhr to the south of Bochum has been dammed to create a water reservoir that most agree is one of the prettiest in the region.
The water is ringed by wooded nature, which buzzes with outdoor activity in summer.
There’s a golf course on the north shore, along with two long (10 km and 8.3 km) circular walking trails.
Families can play a round at the mini-golf centre or rent a pedal boat, while the reservoir has a windsurfing centre that rents out stand-up paddleboards . And at the start of June you can catch Kemnade in Flammen, a festival with a fair and live music on the shore.
15. Dahlhauser Heide
In just 50 years up to 1900 Bochum’s population increased from 4,500 to 100,000. So it fell upon the mines to build new neighbourhoods for their workers.
Influenced by the Utopian ideals of the period, and to stave off the threat of organised labour, these neighbourhoods were comfortable and had everything workers could need.
The best example is Dahlhauser Heide, which was created for miners at Zeche Hannover to the northwest of the city.
Between 1906 and 1915 a total of 715 housing units were built here according to the principles of a garden city.
The buildings were designed in idyllic historical styles, enveloped by greenery, and this tangle of lanes now looks more like a village than an industrial housing estate.