The easternmost stop on the Ruhr’s Industrial Heritage Trail, Hamm is a quiet, former coalmining town that has now switched to manufacturing and logistics. Where most cities in the Ruhr area were only founded in the 19th century Hamm goes right back to the 13th century and was even a member of the powerful Hanseatic League of trading cities in the 15th century.
Coalmining took over in the 1800s, and in the last 30 years the old industrial sites have been reconfigured.
The Maximilianpark is one such place, which today is a visitor attraction that has the world’s largest building in the shape of an animal! That honour goes to the Glaselefant, a converted coal washery that was given the massive head and trunk of an elephant by the artist Horst Rellecke.
Here are the best things to do in Hamm:
On the Ruhr’s Industrial Heritage Trail, this park is on the site of the former Zeche Maximilian coal mine.
The mine was only in operation for ten years before closing in 1914. After that the space remained empty until it was resuscitated for the North Rhine-Westphalia’s Landesgartenschau (Regional Garden Show) in 1984. Now it’s a kind of a natural theme park: After paying a small fee you’ll have access to a wealth of gardens, the largest butterfly house in North Rhine-Westphalia and an array of playgrounds for kids.
There’s also a programme of shows for grown-ups and little ones, both in the open-air and at the park’s theatre.
The centrepiece though is a big glass elephant, which we’ll talk about next.
In 1984 the artist and architect Horst Rellecke adapted the Maximilian mine’s old washery with a 35-metre-high head of an elephant made up of hundreds of glass panels.
These were made using the carbonic deposits from the former mine.
Together it forms the largest animal-shaped building in the world.
You can take an elevator inside the elephant’s trunk up to a palm garden, which also houses wacky kinetic installations created by Rellecke.
In 2009 the whole structure was given a makeover and fitted with LED lights that can change colours.
Something you may not expect to see in a former mining city in the Ruhr is Europe’s second largest Hindu temple.
There has been a temple for Hamm’s Tamil Hindu population since 1989 after thousands arrived in the region fleeing war in Sri Lanka earlier in the decade.
The new Sri-Kamadchi-Ampal-Tempel opened in 2002 at Siegenbeckstraße 4 and has become a source of affection in Hamm.
Masons flew in from India especially for the construction, creating seven shrines inside loaded with mythological figures and ornaments.
The goddess on the central shrine looks east, towards the rising sun.
The monumental tower above the entrance (Gopuram) climbs to 17 metres.
At the end of the 19th century brine groundwater was discovered just east of Hamm and was found to have healing properties.
From that time until 1955 Hamm was officially a spa town and permitted to call itself “Bad Hamm”. The Kurpark (Spa Park) is a gorgeous reminder of that time, encompassing more than 66 hectares beside the Lippe River.
The space was designed as an arboretum and botanic garden, and though the flowerbeds are now meadows, the mature trees hark back to the foundation of the spa more than a century ago.
The Art Nouveau Kurhaus dates to 1898 and is now a listed monument used as an events venue.
On Sunday afternoons in summer concerts of all descriptions are staged at the music pavilion in front.
The main historical landmark in Hamm is this 13th-century church declared a German historic monument in 1985. The 80-metre pyramid-shaped church tower could claim to be one of the prettiest in Westphalia, and is visible from almost anywhere in the city.
The building has come through a host of calamities since the Middle Ages, including numerous fires and bombing in the Second World War.
The interior is simple but imposing, set off by the powerful circular pillars down the central aisle of the nave.
There are three epitaphs to track down from the 17th and 18th century: The stone for Johann Diedrich von Lemgow on the south wall of the choir from 1653 was found during the restorations in the 1950s.
6. Gustav Lübcke Museum
Hamm’s city museum is named for a turn of the century businessman and art collector who donated his paintings, Egyptian artefacts and medieval art to the city in 1917. The museum moved to modern premises in 1993 and in the last few years has been given an upgrade.
Maybe the best displays here are the Expressionist paintings and graphic art by Emil Nolde, August Macke, Erich Heckel and Christian Rohlfs.
In the applied art galleries there’s some avant-garde 20th-century design by Ettore Sottsass from the Memphis group and French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.
And as for the Egyptology collections you can peruse jewellery, amulets, sculptures in bronze and wood, and, most exciting of all, two mummies.
7. Tierpark Hamm
Littler members of the clan will have a fun day out at Hamm’s zoo.
Although not as large as Germany’s heavyweight zoos, Tierpark Hamm has about 550 animals from 80 species and is open all year round.
The park’s strong point is primates like Lar gibbons, mandrils, crab-eating macaques, lemurs and Javan monkeys, but also has the only Sri Lankan leopards to be found in a German zoo.
There are also Siberian tigers, fossas from Madagascar, zebras and blackbucks.
And kids can interact with animals at the petting zoo, feeding a small herd of tame goats.
8. Schloss Oberwerries
In the Hamm-Heessen district to the northeast of the city is Hamm’s most noteworthy piece of pre-Industrial heritage.
Schloss Oberwerries is a moated Baroque castle, which has expanded into a large complex of buildings on the right ban of the Lippe.
The oldest of these is the gatehouse, which in its present form dates to 1667 although could be much older given the presence of a Gothic ogival window where the chapel used to be.
The moat, grounds and courtyard are all lovely, and there’s a cafe for indoor and outdoor dining.
The castle has a hotel and conference rooms, as well as educational facilities used by local schools.
Cyclists call in while riding the 449-kilometre Römer-Lippe-Route that weaves through North Rhine-Westphalia between Xanten and Detmold.
9. Waldbühne Heessen
Not far from Schloss Oberwerries is one of Germany’s most beloved outdoor theatres.
The Waldbühne Heessen was actually founded in the castle courtyard in 1924, but moved to a separate venue in 1928 when it ran out of space.
After a restoration in 1996 the theatre is as popular as ever, it can seat 3,000 spectators and puts on amateur shows with sensational production values.
There are three productions every season, which runs from May to September.
These tend to offer something for all ages, and in 2017 included Cabaret, Dr Dolittle and the kids’ show Rabatz im Zauberwald (Ruckus in the Magic Forest).
Hamm’s one-kilometre pedestrian zone is centred on the historic marketplace, which is as old as the city, dating back to 1226. The fact that an ample space for trade was included in the city plan helped develope trade in Hamm, to the point where it became a member of the Hanseatic League in 1469. The square’s gabled merchant’s houses were lost in the Second World War.
But on warm days the square is still a good place to end a shopping trip, with a cold drink or coffee at one of the cafe and restaurant terraces.
11. Zeche Heinrich-Robert
If you have a thing for the Ruhr’s industrial heritage, Hamm’s last operating coal mine Zeche Heinrich-Robert is still a monumental fixture on the landscape to the southwest of the city.
The facility shut down in 1997 and a decade later was sold off to a Chinese mining company, which dismantled its conveying machines and pump systems and shipped them to China.
The mine is mentioned on the Ruhr’s Industrial Heritage Trail: The best view of the 30-metre-high washery building can be had from the slag heaps, to the north east of the site.
Twenty years after the mine closed down, these are now covered in foliage and used as a recreation area.
12. Sights around Hamm
If you have some time to kill in Hamm, there are a few curios around the centre of town that are worth finding on a tour.
One is the gabled Haus Stuniken at Antonistraße 10. Now, a lot of Hamm’s historic architecture was lost in a fire in the 1700s and then the destruction of the Second World War.
This beautiful five-storey Renaissance house is a glimpse of what came before.
Also very handsome is the Haus Vorschulze, built in 1744 for Hamm’s mayor and now an events venue.
And finally Hamm’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) is from 1912 and considered one of the most beautiful in Germany, and could easily be mistaken for a noble palace instead of a train station.
Just south of Hamm’s pedestrianised zone is a cultured promenade dating back to the start of the 20th century and restored in 2011. The Ostring replaced Hamm’s southern defensive walls, and is a long lawn flanked by straight, tree-lined paths.
At the western end is a raised terrace, with an Art Nouveau-style music pavilion between two wooden pergolas.
And several hundred metres away, at the eastern end of the garden is the Bärenbrunnen, which has three bears and a cupid around Doric column.
14. Christmas Market
From the end of November to around December 22, a miniature Christmas village springs up around the Paulus kirche on Marktplatz.
For that month the fragrance of roasted almonds and mulled wine fills the air, and you can potter around 50 stalls for handicrafts and festive treats.
The market’s food stalls stay open until 22:00 during the week and then 23:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Kids will be thrilled with the skating rink, which covers almost 400 square metres and opens for child-only sessions early in the day.
15. Industrial Heritage Trail
For more heavy industry, Hamm is at the far eastern end of the Ruhr Industrial Heritage Trail.
So a brief drive west will bring you into contact with the 19th and 20th-century marvels that are now listed monuments.
Close by in Unna there’s the Lindenbrauerei, a brewery founded in 1859 and which began making its distinctive beer again in 2002 after production halted in the 20th century.
Further afield are all sorts of industrial museums, beautiful Art Nouveau colliery buildings, titanic headframes, converted water towers, 19th-century worker settlements, inland waterways and dozens of panoramic viewpoints on slagheaps that are now clean natural spaces.