Once a mining city, Lünen in the east of the Ruhr area now has a new vocation in manufacturing and green energy. The remnants of the mines are clear to see, in the enormous headframes of the Zeche Minister Achenbach and Gneisenau collieries.
But the grim side-effects of the industrial age have been forgotten: A once open sewer is now a sparkling river with green banks, while the post-industrial wasteland of the Zeche Preußen colliery is the pristine park and bathing lake, Seepark Lünen.
In the city centre there are some sweet half-timbered houses from long before the industrial days, and you could also plan a day out to Dortmund, which is only 15 minutes from Lünen on the train.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lünen:
1. Seepark Lünen
In the 90s an industrial wasteland from the old Zeche Preußen mine was regenerated for the Landesgartenschau (State Garden Show) in 1996. Now, almost 90 years after the mine shut down, you have to look hard in the undulating Seepark to see what came before.
The Seepark’s green amphitheatre is on what looks like a natural dip in the landscape, and this is in fact the Horstmarer Loch, a 12-metre depression caused by mining activity.
The main draw at the Seepark is of course the 10-hectare swimming lake.
The south shore and its islands are a nature reserve, while trimming the north shore is a wide beach fringed by lawns.
Facilities on hand at the Seepark include a snack bar at the beach, football pitches, a disc-golf course and an apothecary garden.
2. Schloss Schwansbell
Right across the Datteln-Hamm Canal from the Seepark is a palace going back to the end of the 10th century.
For 700 years the moated castle that used to stand here was in the hands of the Lords of Schwansbell.
After a fire a new house was constructed in the 1870s, in an English Gothic Revival style.
This monument, topped with octagonal towers, is illuminated at night and sports the coat of arms of the noble Westerholt-Gysenberg family above its main portal.
After having a variety of uses in the 20th century the palace is now an apartment and office building, while the quiet wooded park beside the old moat is open to the public.
3. Museum der Stadt Lünen
Schloss Schwansbell’s “Gesindehaus” (servants’ house) has held Lünen’s city museum since 1982. You can step into five decorated rooms, each documenting a different facet of life in the city between 1840 and 1930. There’s a working-class kitchen, and the living room of a well-to-do civil servant’s family.
The most recent room is a study from 1930 belonging to a colonial official whose career took him to German East Africa, and there’s interesting memorabilia from the period.
Lünen’s cast iron industry is remembered with a set of furnaces from the 19th and 20th centuries, and objects like lampposts and other street ornaments, while there’s also an array of vintage toys and dolls.
The ceramics exhibition deals with local pottery from Lünen, but also imported ware from Hesse, the Lower Rhine and Lower Silesia.
4. Evangelische Stadtkirche Lünen
The main protestant church in Lünen was first built in the 1360s and then restored in the Late Gothic style in the 1510s after a fire.
Though compact in size the church is beautifully formed, with relatively low rib vaults held up by circular columns.
Just above the entrance to the chancel you can spot 16th century frescoes uncovered at the start of the 20th century.
The choir has a valuable winged altar painted in 1470 by the Master of Liesborn, showing Jesus’ Crucifixion and Entombment.
Some other pieces to appreciate are the triumphal cross (1470), carved wooden gallery (1607), baptismal font (1500), stone candle sculptures of angels (late-1400s) and the tabernacle with tracery and sculptures of Peter and Paul (also late-1400s).
Maybe the most interesting things about mining in the Ruhr is the lives of the miners themselves.
In the Brambauer district you can visit the pre-planned Neue Zechenkolonie (New Mining Colony) for the Zeche Minister Achenbach colliery, on the Industrial Heritage Trail.
Here half of a block (two apartments) is a museum about the domestic life of mining families in the first half of the 1930s.
The decoration and fittings have been frozen in time, and the kitchen amenities, outhouse toilet, appliances and piped plaster decor are exactly as they were 80 years ago.
The furniture has been curated from local antiques dealers or donated by local residents.
6. Half-Timbered Houses (Fachwerkbauten)
Although a lot of historic buildings were pulled down for Lünen’s urban redevelopment in the 1960s, a handful of half-timbered houses are still standing in the city centre.
The oldest of all awaits at Roggenmarkt 3, and is a classic Low German “Dielenhaus” (hall house) dating from the year 1600. Close by on Silberstraße is a quaint pair of houses with triangular gables at 3 and 5, and built in 1664. Finally, on Mauerstraße where the southern city wall used to be there’s a romantic street scene of low timber-framed buildings, well worth viewing on foot.
7. St. Marien
Lünen’s chief Roman Catholic church is a Neo-Gothic basilica that went up quickly between 1894 and 1896. The first church here on the north bank of the Lippe River was Romanesque, and was redesigned in the Gothic style in the Late Middle Ages.
By the late 19th century that building was deemed too small for the city’s exploding population and this new one, 66 metres long and with an 86-metre tower, took its place.
The old church’s art was moved into the new building, so there’s a triumphal cross and baptismal font from the 14th century, but best of all is a Romanesque oak sculpture of Mary with Child carved in the 1260s.
8. Cappenberger See
On sunny summer days, Lünen has another idyllic recreation area, this time for activities like boating and angling.
You could rent a pedal boat for €5 and indulge in a slice of cake at the cafe.
The lake came about in the 1920s when clay was excavated for the Prussia – Münster railway line and the pit was filled in with water.
To the north is the sparsely populated landscape of the Cappenberger Wald, coursed with hiking trails in oak and beech forest.
And even though the lake isn’t suitable for swimming, the municipal outdoor pool is right on the east shore and has large lawns for sun-seekers, shaded by tall trees.
9. Schloss Cappenberg
Moments up the road from the lake is a former monastery, cresting a hilltop and looking down over the Lippe plain and the eastern Ruhr area.
The monastery was run by the Premonstratensians from the 12th century, taking over the property from the Counts of Cappenberg who had family ties to the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperors.
The current Baroque architecture is from the early 1700s following extensive damage during the 30 Years’ War.
On an average day you could visit the historical exhibition in the west wing, amble around the forest and parkland and contemplate the long vistas to the south.
There are also regular performances of Renaissance and Baroque music in the collegiate church.
10. Zeche Gneisenau
You don’t have to travel far for a monument to the local mining industry, as the immense machinery of a 20th-century colliery can be seen from far and wide to the south of Lünen.
Zeche Gneisenau is actually in Dortmund city limits, but is only five kilometres from Lünen’s old centre.
When this hundred-year-old mine, power plant and coking plant shut down in the 1980s there were plans to turn the complex into a museum, but these were later scrapped.
Instead the two headframes, Englische Bock and Tomson Bock are preserved monuments and watch over the site like giant sentinels.
Tomson Bock warrants a closer look for its scaffold construction and the steep, almost vertical position of its supporting struts due to the lack of space at the time.
One of the headframes for the Zeche Minister Achenbach mine in the Brambauer district was given a bizarre new design in 1995 by feted industrial designer Luigi Colani.
He placed a circular chamber at the top, resembling a UFO. The monument is on several themed routes on the Industrial Heritage Trail and encapsulates the Ruhr’s changing relationship with its industrial machinery.
The building is used as a conference and events venue for the Lüntec technology park, which was founded on the old mine in 1991.Come by at night, when this captivating structure is lit up.
Even in the Ruhr, which has gone through amazing upheaval over the last two decades, nothing has been transformed as completely the Seseke River.
This left tributary of the Lippe was an open sewer until 1984, and since that time all the waste water (from 75 sources) has been channelled back underground.
You’d never know what came before in this decontaminated landscape, and there’s now a cycling path on the course of the river for 20 kilometres from the municipality of Bönen to Lünen.
Trees native to the Ruhr’s floodplains, like ash, hornbeam, wild cherry and field maple have been planted on the grassy banks.
There are also regular rest points with information panels about the local environment and history.
13. Lünsche Mess
From the second Thursday of September to the following Sunday Lünen’s pedestrian zone is filled with 100,000 revellers for the city festival.
The celebrations are opened by the Mayor on the Thursday and for the next four days there are fairground rides and amusements, along with market stalls, beer gardens and snack bars for international cuisines.
The evening brings live music, while the during the day are weird and wonderful events like a rubber duck race on the Lippe for instance, as well as shows and activities to keep children entertained.
The other big festival on Lünen’s calendar takes place on the last weekend of June when the Willy-Brandt-Platz in front of the town hall becomes the largest beer garden in the city.
The event is organised in partnership with Dortmund’s famous Union brewery.
And once again, the mayor gets the whole thing underway on the Friday night when he opens the barrel tap.
From that moment until late into Saturday night there’s merrymaking, live music and colourful entertainment.
In the last few years there’s also been an alternative stage on Pfarrer-Bremer-Parkplatz with rock and electronic music for younger party-goers.
A Regionalbahn train from Lünen will take 15 minutes to reach Dortmund Hauptbahnhof.
Football fans will already be aware of Dortmund’s sporting heritage, and will make a bee-line for the 80,000-capacity Signal Iduna Park, a sporting venue of astonishing magnitude.
You could up a tour by calling in at the new German Football Museum to remember World Cup-winning teams and the Bundesliga’s Europe-conquering sides.
At 70 hectares, the Westfalenpark is one of Europe’s largest urban parks, scattered with gardens and things to do, like a chairlift and the 220-metre Florianturm, which you can go up to.
If you really want to fit in, order a “Stößchen”, which is a small glass of beer, and a Salzkuchen, a roll with raw pork and onions.