On the south bank of the Ruhr, Hagen is a city that mixes culture, industrial history and wide open parks. In fact Hagen is the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a lot to do with the hilly local landscape and the two water reservoirs on the Ruhr River.
One person who made an impression on Hagen was the industrialist and art patron Karl Ernst Osthaus. He commissioned the Art Nouveau luminary Henry van de Velde to build him a museum and villa, both of which are much-loved cultural attractions 100 years later. The 20th-century painter Emil Schumacher was born in Hagen, and a museum for his work opened in an eye-catching glass building in 2009. In Germany the city is famed for the FernUniversität, Germany’s only state-owned distance teaching university.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Hagen:
1. Hagen Open-Air Museum
In the narrow Mäckingerbach Valley at the foothills of the Sauerland, an ensemble of 60 traditional workshops and factories has been reconstructed to preserve bygone crafts and trades.
In these old half-timbered houses you can watch brewers, blacksmiths, bakers, tanners, rope-makers and printers going about their work, using skills that have mostly been forgotten.
In the trip hammer workshop you can learn (and hear!) how farm tools were manufactured in the 18th century.
In the museum’s upper reaches the houses are configured around a village square with shops where you can buy handicrafts made at the museum, and a restaurant preparing traditional food.
The museum is only open in the summer, but on the first weekend of December it does have a superb Christmas market.
2. Osthaus Museum
This attraction is in a building designed by Henry van de Velde, one of stars of the Art Nouveau movement.
It was intended as a museum for the collection of Hagen-born patron Karl Ernst Osthaus.
But when Osthaus passed away in the 1920s, the city of Essen outbid Hagen for his collection and the museum was empty until after the war.
Since then the Osthaus Museum has assembled its own array of art from the turn of the 20th century and the last few decades.
There are pieces by Kirchner, Otto Dix, Karl Albiker and Erich Heckel, and more recent German artists like Ansgar Nierhoff and Franziskus Wendels.
3. Emil Schumacher Museum
Right behind the Osthaus Museum and making up Hagen’s Kunstquartier (Art Quarter) is a museum for the Hagen-born 20th-century Abstract Expressionist Emil Schumacher.
The attraction opened in a modern glass construction in 2009 in time for the Ruhr’s stint as European Capital of Culture in 2010. Emil’s son Ulrich set up a foundation in 2001, and this is the source of most of the canvases, gouaches, ceramics and paintings on porcelain.
There are more than 500 works in all, from all of Schumacher’s creative phases.
The museum curates a lot of temporary exhibitions for both Emil Schumacher, other 20th-century artists, as well as cinema screenings and regular concerts for jazz and classical music.
4. Schloss Hohenlimburg
Defending the entrance to the Lenne Valley is a hilltop castle dating back to the 1240. Schloss Hohenlimburg was in fact the political centre of the former county of Limburg until the start of the 19th century, and was caught up in constant fighting until the end of Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s.
Both the inner and outer bailey (Vorburg and Hauptburg) are intact, along with the keep, gatehouses, walls and residences and workshops from the 1500s to the 1700s.
One grisly exhibit is the mummified hand of a man.
It has been carbon-dated to 1546 and probably belonged to a murder victim.
The hand would most likely have been used within the castle signify a truce between two feuding parties.
5. Bunkermuseum Hagen
As a railway town and major armaments manufacturer, Hagen was a target for bombing raids and almost three quarters of the city was razed in the war.
By the end of the war this Hochbunker (over-ground bunker) was one of the only buildings left standing.
It was a shelter for up to 3,000 people during air raids, but was also used as a warehouse for bombed-out shops and became accommodation for people without homes.
The museum has restored the basement of the bunker to its 1940s appearance.
At the time the ventilation system was state-of-the-art, and the bunker also had a medical and its own well, so people could be self-sufficient down here for weeks.
Among the Second World War curios on show are the tip of a V2 rocket and an intact V1.
6. Wasserschloss Werdringen
West of Hagen by the left bank of the Ruhr is a moated castle in protected countryside.
That moat is a habitat for a rare diversity of amphibians, as well as Europe’s largest dragonfly species.
In the 13th century the castle was in the hands of the Archbishops of Cologne before being claimed by feuding noble families.
One skirmish during the Soest Feud in the 1400s saw the castle obliterated by a bombardment, and it was rebuilt as a Late Gothic palace.
The handsome building is now a museum for prehistory and early history.
In the galleries are human remains from the Mesolithic period (11,000 years old), primitive tools, ceramics, fossils from five different ages and a taxidermy of a mammoth, 3.7 metres high and 6.5 metres long.
Henry van de Velde also designed Karl Ernst Osthaus’ private home, which went up in the Gartenstadt Hohenhagen next to the Kunstquartier in 1908. Now open as a museum, the house is a Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), in which every item of furniture and fitting was conceived by van de Velde to complement his vision.
Even the cutlery and crockery were designed and produced especially for the villa.
Osthaus lived at the house until he passed away in 1921 and he had wanted the property to be the base for an art colony in Hagen.
At the highest point in Hagen, in the Haspe district is the first of three memorial towers in the city.
This structure was raised for the German Emperor Frederick III, who died in 1888, only 99 days into his rule.
As Crown Prince, Frederick III had distinguished himself in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars in the 1860s and 1870s that helped bring about German Unification.
The sandstone tower was inaugurated in 1911 and replaced an earlier wooden one that was struck by lightning and burned down.
The 17-metre tower is 372 metres above sea level and there’s a six-kilometre walking trail linking this tower with the Eugen Richter Tower and Bismarck Tower, also on this list.
9. Lange Riege
In the Eilpe district is a terrace of half-timbered houses from the 17th century, and the oldest worker settlement in Westphalia.
The Lange Riege was built for swordsmiths who had left the city of Solingen in the west following the turmoil of the Thirty Years’ War.
They reached an agreement with Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg to forge blades in Hagen, and he built these workshops in the 1660s at his own expense.
By the 18th century the forges had a reputation for workmanship that went far beyond Hagen, and they contributed to the development of the city before industrialisation before demand waned in the 1800s.
10. Theater Hagen
Constructed in the Art Nouveau style in 1911, Hagen’s theatre is as popular as ever, attracting 180,000 people a year to its diverse programme of shows.
There’s comedy, musical theatre and drama, but the venue is also home to the Hagen Orchestra, and stages symphonies, chamber concerts, opera and ballet.
So in the space of a couple of nights there could be a performance of Tosca and a musical version of the Blues Brothers.
In the build-up to Christmas there are also family-friendly performances of fairytale stories.
And above the entrance, take a moment to appreciate the four statues of muses by the Expressionist sculptor Milly Steger.
Above Hagen’s Wehringhausen district is a tower memorial for the influential liberal politician Eugen Richter.
The Eugen-Richter-Turm is 23 metres tall and stands at elevation of 285 metres.
The Medieval-style tower was built in 1911 and 86 steps up the spiral stairway lead to a observation platform with a clear panorama of Hagen.
Richter represented the Hagen-Schwelm constituency in the Reichstag from 1874 to 1906 and the Prussian House of Representatives from 1869 to 1906. He was one of the leading critics of chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
12. Stadtgarten Hagen
A natural boundary to the south of Hagen is the Goldberg hill, rising to 266 metres and riddled with gold and silver mines from the 12th century onwards.
In 1884 the city purchased land just west of the hill as a recreation space for residents from all social strata.
The park was landscaped over the next few years and the lawns, groves and lake look much today as they did more than a hundred years ago.
On the west side, look for the Bismarckturm, built from Ruhr sandstone in 1900-01, to commemorate Otto von Bismarck shortly after he died in 1898. It is one of 173 Bismarck Towers still standing around Germany.
This memorial faces off against the Eugen-Richter-Turm on the other side of the valley.
13. Burg Altena
About 20 minutes into the Sauerland range by car is one of Germany’s most beautiful mountain castles.
The castle was founded at the start of the 1100s by the Counts of Berg and by the end of the 14th century had become more of a palatial estate than a fortification.
Down the years the castle has housed a garrison, hospital and prison, while in 1914 one of building in the inner bailey became the first youth hostel in the world, still open today.
There are three museums on the property, one for metalwork (Märkische Schmiedemuseum) and another for hiking (Deutsches Wandermuseum). But the priority is the Museum der Grafschaft Mark, about the history of the surrounding County of Mark, spanning prehistory to the Middle Ages and painting a vivid picture of life at Burg Altena.
14. Zwieback Museum Hagen
Hagen is the base for Brandt, a food brand famous in Germany for making Zwieback.
This is a crunchy baked product, similar to English rusk or Italian biscotti.
Zwieback (literally “twice-baked”) is pretty versatile and is often enjoyed at breakfast with butter and jam.
On Enneper Straße in the Haspe district Brandt has established a Zwieback museum in a half-timbered building dating back to 1750. In ten rooms you can learn everything there is to know about Zwieback, how it was invented and how it’s manufactured today.
There’s a factory shop next door, as well as a bistro operated by Brandt.
15. Hengsteysee and Harkortsee
Two of the six water reservoir on the Ruhr act as a northern boundary between Hagen and neighbouring municipalities like Dortmund.
Hengsteysee and Harkortsee were dammed in 1929 and 1931 respectively.
And although they still perform important jobs like water purification, both lakes are much-loved recreation areas in summer.
Upriver, Hengsteysee has a 6.5-kilometre walking trail around its hilly, wooded banks, while the south shore is incorporated into the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route.
In summer the Freiherr vom Stein passenger boat does round trips on the lake and on the north shore you can rent pedal boats and rowboats.
Downstream, Harkortsee has its own boat, the Friedrich Harkort, and there are also boat rental facilities and a mini-golf course.