One of the last mining cities in Germany, Marl is at the very north of the Ruhrgebiet in North Rhine-Westphalia. As Marl is in a conurbation you have quick connections to big industrial cities like Gelsenkirchen and Bochum, but a brief drive north and you’ll be in the bucolic farmland and forest of the Münster region.
Even though it’s a city of just 90,000 Marl has a sculpture museum that can compete with the best, and is furnished with art by Giacometti, Picasso and Rodin displayed indoors and outside around a modern outdoor precinct.
The performing arts centre, Theater Marl is also a big-hitter, and Germany’s most prestigious television award is handed out here every March.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Marl:
1. Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten
Around Marl’s city hall and Stadtpark you’ll happen upon a host of modern sculptures.
These are owned by the city and curated by the sculpture museum, housed in the substructure of the council chamber.
The name Glaskasten (glass cases), comes from the design of the building and its vast window panes.
The indoor exhibition is made up of more delicate and smaller pieces, by Matisse, Man Ray, Rodin, Giacometti, Joseph Beuys to name a few.
Outside on the square and in the Stadtpark are 70 more, mostly Abstract and Deconstructivist works from the 50s to the 1980s.
2. Stadt- und Heimatmuseum Marl
To get up to speed on Marl’s folklore and social and natural history there’s a museum at an old half-timbered watermill from the 1600s.
A mill has stood at this location since 1415, and the current mill continued to grind wheat on a commercial level until as recently as 1927. In the mill’s basement is a reconstruction of a mining tunnel from the Zeche Auguste Victoria colliery, while above there’s domestic furniture and craft tools from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The threshing floor meanwhile has agricultural equipment and specimens of the various grains cultivated around Marl.
3. Rathaus Marl
In the same complex as the sculpture museum is Marl’s city hall, drawn up by the Dutch architects Johan Hendrik van den Broek and Jacob Berend Bakema and built in the first half of the 1960s.
There’s a series of buildings here, including two strange tower blocks, with narrow ground floors and the low-rise Ratstrakt council chamber, which has a 60-metre pre-stressed concrete pitched roof housing the museum.
If you’re inspired by mid-20th-century architecture it’s a sight to behold, and is up for renovation over the next few years.
To the west is the Stadtpark, with a large pond the City-See and lawns.
4. Theater Marl
Marl’s cultural beacon is a highly rated venue for concerts and theatre performances built in 1953. Theater Marl has gained a national reputation and in recent years host some of the program for the Ruhrfestspiele one of the oldest theatre festivals in Europe, taking place in May and June.
The offer is very broad, from symphony concerts to comedy shows, musical theatre, modern dance, readings, “Boulevard” theatre and shows for kids.
But main big event on the calendar is the Grimme-Preis ceremony in March.
Named after Adolf Grimmer, the first general director of Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR) the Grimme-Preis is the most prestigious award in German television.
Past recipients have included Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Petzold and the Danish director Lars von Trier.
5. Halterner Stausee
Touted as one of the most beautiful lakes in the Ruhrgebiet, as well as one of the most popular recreation areas, the Halterner Stausee is a reservoir barely 10 kilometres from Marl.
The lake is at the very north of the Ruhr area, where it transitions into the more rural landscapes of the Münster region.
And as Halterner Stausee’s drinking water isn’t taken directly from the lake, water activities like sailing and rowing are available in the north basin.
On the hottest days that may seem like a lot of hard work and instead you can park yourself on the broad strip of golden sand at the Seebad and take dips in the shallow water.
On land, the dense beech forest around the Stausee is criss-crossed by walking and cycling trails.
Anyone curious about architecture and urban planning will be keen to see these pyramid-like apartment buildings in the Kreuzviertel area.
These odd, gabled constructions answered the need for living space in the city in the 1960s.
As a way to avoid building high-rise apartment blocks, Hügelhäuser allowed for numerous residential units, together with elevated garden courtyards.
There are four Hügelhäuser in total in Marl, and they’re still some of the most striking landmarks in the city, blending modern residential configurations with the triangular gables and tiled roofs of traditional houses.
7. Atlantis Dorsten
One idea for a family day out if you have small children is this pool attraction a stone’s throw away in Dorsten.
Mostly indoors under a large glass dome, Atlantis Dorsten is more like a small water theme park than a simple swimming pool.
If you are here purely for fitness there’s a training pool.
But there’s also a shallow play area with obstacles for toddlers, outdoor and indoor adventure pools for bigger kids, as well as five slides with a total length of almost 400 metres, more than any other water attraction in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Add to these a river, waterfall, authentic Baltic cutter sailboat and series of whirlpools with massage jets at no extra cost.
8. Kletterwald Haltern
In the beech woods on the east shore of the Halterner Stausee is a high ropes centre with courses for both youngsters and grown-ups.
There are ten courses in all, with a total of 115 obstacles, some of which are more challenging than others and require teamwork to complete.
Children as young as five can take part, clambering over a shaky wooden bridge, through a tunnel and up a rope climbing net, all without needing any help.
There are eight options for bigger kids and adults, ranging from white for the practice course to purple for the vertigo-inducing Höhenweg, 12 metres above the forest floor and with clear views of the reservoir.
The blue course meanwhile has no gruelling climbing challenges but instead features ten consecutive zip-lines.
9. Zeche Auguste Victoria, Schacht 4/5
The Zeche Auguste Victoria colliery was established in 1899 and finally closed down for good in December 2015. Until its closure it was the second to last mine still operating in the Ruhr, and the third to last in Germany.
For visitors, the most relevant section is shaft 4/5, which rather than coal was mined for lead, silver and zinc ore after underground deposits were discovered in 1925. The 800-metre-deep shaft was decommissioned in the 1960s, but its Bauhaus-style machine hall and titanic headframe have been preserved as monuments and merit a look if you want a taste of Ruhr industry.
The steam turbine is still intact inside, and is part of a small mining exhibition.
10. Chemiepark Marl
The Ruhr’s Industrial Heritage Trail abounds with monuments to former mines and factories.
But at the Chemiepark Marl (1938) you’ll face to face with living, breathing industry, employing 10,000 people at several different chemical facilities in one spot.
And while this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, people who want to see the Ruhr in action and learn about chemical production could put their name down for a tour of the complex.
The Feirabendhaus in the park has an exhibition about the history and present of the site, and the tour takes in a nine-storey high-risen building, allowing you to look over the gigantic plant, the city of Marl and the Münster region’s countryside to the northeast.
The oldest district in Marl grew around the Church of St. Georg from the 11th century, and has its share of half-timbered houses.
You can start at the church, which was given a Neo-Gothic makeover in the early 1860s and has a beautiful cup-shaped baptismal font from the 1200s.
On Hochstraße there’s a windmill dating to 1850, which was turned into a functions venue in the 2000s.
Other monuments to take in are the altes Amtshaus (old guildhall), and the Menuhin Haus (1908), a gabled Art Nouveau house, once occupied by Yehudi Menuhin, a musician for the Phliarmonia Hungarica orchestra, which used to be based in the city.
12. Haus Lüttinghof
Just across Marl’s southern boundary, in the neighbouring Hassel district is a moated castle from the 14th century.
As is often the case for these old fortifications in the Ruhr, Haus Lüttinghof became a palace once gunpowder was adopted.
At the start of the 1700s the property was reconfigured in the Baroque style.
The gardens are the best reminder of this time and have solemn sandstone sculptures in the ornamental fashioned in 1713. These represent figures from Roman and Greek mythology like Bacchus, Heracles and Pan, while there are also smaller busts for Holy Roman Emperors, four obelisks and four sundials.
The palace is hired out for events, but you can come on Sundays for coffee and cake, indoors in winter, and out in the gardens in summer.
13. Marler Stern
The shopping mall in Marl dates to 1974, and may have seen better days, but still has a cluster of stalwart high street brands like H&M, Deichmann (national shoe brand), Gamestop and the electronics retailer Saturn.
These are found beside smaller businesses like hair and nail salons and jewellery shops.
Maybe the thing that will hold your attention is the building itself, namely the roof.
Instead of using glass or metal, six gigantic air cushions give the mall the appearance of a UFO. This is the largest roof of its kind in Europe and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.
14. Naturschutzgebiet Loemühlenbachtal
Walkers could also get a hit of fresh air and chlorophyll at this 60-hectare nature reserve in the valley of the Loemühlenbachb stream to the southeast of the city.
The stream gets its name from the old Loemühle water mill, which is still standing in the south of the reserve at Herten.
In the reserve you’ll come by ponds, meadows, pasture and wetlands, providing a habitat for a variety of plant species that are on Europe’s red list.
15. Day Trips
One of the neat things about the Ruhr is that the next city is only a few kilometres away, and everything is linked up by commuter railway (RB 42, RE 2), or the S-Bahn (Haltern – Essen- Wuppertal). So it won’t take more than 20 minutes to get to some heavyweight visitor attractions like the Movie Park Germany theme park in Bottrop, or the Zoom Erlebniswelt zoo in Gelsenkirchen.
For culture Recklinghausen has an engrossing museum for Balkan, Russian and Greek icons, as well as Coptic artefacts from Egypt.
Castles like Beck, Berge, Horst and Wittringen are ten-a-penny, and you can’t forget epic industrial artefacts like spoil tips, water towers and headframes.
The German Mining Museum in Bochum, and Essen’s Zeche Zollverein colliery are two of a plethora of museums inside half an hour.