The northernmost municipality in the Ruhr industrial area, Recklinghausen is a former mining city on the north bank of the Rhine-Herne Canal. In the south of Recklinghausen, closer to the canal, there’s a lot of industrial heritage, from the tallest spoil tip in the Ruhr to the headframe of the Zeche Recklinghausen II mine. But as you head north industry is left behind and you enter a landscape of arable farms and idyllic villages.
When Recklinghausen was bombed in the Second World War, nearly all the damage was sustained by the industry outside the city. Unusually for the Ruhr area, there’s a preserved old town that has gabled burgher houses on the historic market square, and half-timbered houses from the 16th century.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Recklinghausen:
Opposite the Church of St Peter in the old town is a museum in a handsome 18th-century townhouse.
This holds the largest collection of icon paintings outside the Orthodox world.
There are 3,500 icons in all, from Greece, Russia, the Balkans, Ethiopia and Egypt’s Coptic community.
Accompanying the paintings are miniatures, metalwork, wooden sculptures and embroidery.
The Coptic exhibition is especially interesting as it captures the transition from paganism to monotheistic religion in Egypt and has pieces from the 1st century up to the Middle Ages.
Here you can peruse crosses, sarcophagus portraits, fabrics, bronzework and carved reliefs.
2. Zeche Recklinghausen II
In the Hochlarmark district not far from the Rhine-Herne Canal are the immense remnants of a colliery that was founded in 1883. Zeche Recklinghausen was operational up to 1974, and some of its immense machinery has been left behind as a monument to what used to be Recklinghausen’s biggest employer.
Above the second shaft, Zeche Recklinghausen II is a towering headframe.
Beside it is the machine house, which has a steam-powered winding engine dating to 1967. This is significant because it was the last steam-powered machine to be produced for German industry.
There’s also social history at the Dreieck-Siedlung Hochlarmark, the community built for the colliery’s workers at the turn of the 20th century.
3. St Peter
Although Recklinghausen’s old centre escaped major damage in the war, its most valuable piece of heritage, the Church of St Peter, received a direct hit in a raid in 1944. The sacristy was destroyed but the church was quickly restored after the war.
This Gothic and Baroque building is easy to spot for its square tower near the historic market place and dates back to 1247. If you come around to the north side you’ll see the building’s oldest elements in the Romanesque style.
Inside, seek out the Gothic baptismal font, crafted in 1400, and the 17th-century baroque high altar.
This has paintings produced by the studio of Peter-Paul Rubens, and the same goes for the painting on the west wall of the nave showing the investiture of a bishop.
4. Museum Strom und Leben
Recklinghausen’s substation is a remarkable Bauhaus building from 1928 and is just the venue for Germany’s largest museum about electricity.
This attraction on the Ruhr’s Route of Industrial Culture was created when the switchgear was modernised, freeing up space inside the hall.
In fun and engaging ways you’ll be introduced to the breakthroughs by 18th and 19th physicists like Ohm, Faraday, Siemens, Volta, and see how electricity transformed lives when it was commercially harnessed at the start of the 20th century.
The museum has a host of those early applications, from an electric tram to all manner of vintage household appliances.
You can see Europe’s largest plasma globe in action and learn what the future holds for electric transport.
5. Halde Hoheward
Between Recklinghausen and the city of Herten, Halde Hoheward is an enormous 152-metre spoil tip.
This mass is waste material from three different mines: Zeche Recklinghausen II, Zeche Ewald and Zechhe General Blumenthal/Haard, giving us the largest spoil tip in the whole of the Ruhr area.
Halde Hoheward is on the Route of Industrial Culture and part of a 7.5-kilometre landscape park.
There are promenades and stairways on all sides of the hill.
If you can manage the calorie-burning 529-step climb to the northern summit you’ll arrive at an observatory where two great arches mark out the meridian and equator.
Checking the horizon on a clear day, you can see as far as the Rheinturm, 50 kilometres away in Düsseldorf.
6. Tierpark Recklinghausen
At little more than the size of a football pitch Recklinghausen’s free-admission zoo is by no means large.
In the past there were large numbers of exotic animals at this park, but the zoo has moved with the times and due to its compact size it now has mostly domestic animals and wildlife from Central Europe.
The only exotic species here now are the rhesus monkeys, and these are among 50 other species that include goats, sheep, steppe foxes, ferrets, donkeys, pigs, as well as a variety of birds from finches to parrots in a walk-in aviary.
There’s also a playground for youngsters and a petting zoo with rabbits and guinea pigs.
7. Institut für Stadtgeschichte
After Recklinghausen’s history museum closed down a few years ago, the municipal archive started hosting exhibitions about the city’s past.
The centrepiece here is the Retro Station, which is a complete timeline for Recklinghausen, starting with the Imperial decree that certified its city status in 1236. There are other medieval documents, as well as a range of artefacts, maps, photos and firsthand accounts from industrialisation and the mining period.
You can also uncover the story of the Vest Recklinghausen, the district under the control of the Archbishopric of Cologne in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, and the scene of fierce fighting during the Cologne War in the 1580s.
Something worth knowing about Recklinghausen is that it originally had no access to the Rhine-Herne Canal and had to swap land with the neighbouring city of Herne to be able to set up a harbour.
The canal was vital to the Ruhr area’s industrialisation, linking the Rhine to the Dortmund-Ems Canal to the east.
Recklinghausen’s harbour is also still in use, long after heavy industry had its day in the city: A large grain terminal for United Mill popped up here just ten years ago.
The harbour has also been revitalised lately.
In summer, beneath the historic crane there’s an artificial beach where you can unwind on a deck chair beside the canal and sip a drink from the bar.
9. Westfälische Volkssternwarte und Planetarium Recklinghausen
Sharing the Stadtgarten with the zoo is an observatory and planetarium founded in 1953. The facility is part of the community, offering public observations of the night sky using the Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, as well as lectures on astronomy by respected figures from the field.
The planetarium meanwhile can hold 75 spectators and displays around 6,000 stars up to the sixth magnitude.
Outside there’s a three-kilometre-long Planetenweg (planetary path), which puts the dimensions of the solar system into perspective.
On the “Grüne Hügel”, a hill in the Stadtgarten is Recklinghausen’s most prominent cultural venue.
This Bauhaus-style building was constructed in the early-1960s and then reworked into its current design between 1996 and 1998. The Ruhrfestspielhaus is used year-round, but its main purpose is to stage the Ruhrfestspiele, one of Germany’s most celebrated theatre events, starting on 1 May and running through to mid-June.
The festival organises performances by important theatre companies from across Europe, aiming to be both multilingual and multicultural.
The event is now more than 70 years old and has welcomed luminaries of the stage like Corinna Harfouch, Kevin Spacey and Cate Blanchett in recent years.
In front of the venue, see the sculpture, Reclining Figure No. 5 by Henry Moore.
11. Kunsthalle Recklinghausen
The municipal art gallery is opposite the Hauptbahnhof (Main Station) and is actually a remnant from the Second World War.
The Kunsthalle is in a former Hochbunker (overground bunker), and was labelled for art exhibitions as early as 1945. The building was redesigned in the 1950s and puts on exhibitions to coincide with the Ruhrfestspiele in May and June.
There are thematic exhibitions and retrospectives for the rest of the year.
In summer and autumn 2017 the main show was for the 20th-century artist and holocaust survivor Rosemarie Koczy.
And for fresh talent, the Kunsthalle shows off the winning entries for the Kunstpreis Junger Westen, a prize for under 35s.
The award is named after the Junger Westen artist’s group, which was based in the Ruhr area directly after the war.
Halde Hoheward is just one of 20 spoil tips around Recklinghausen.
Only a few decades after the last collieries closed you’ll be impressed by the comeback that nature has made, as wildflowers and trees have sprung up across the landscape.
To make the most of its industrial holdovers, the city has drawn up a network of interconnected walking trails to help you scale these peaks.
Under the label “Halden-Hügel-Hopping” (Heap Hopping) the system has about 185 kilometres of paths on 12 themed trails.
For people who want to know more about the industry that came before there are almost 150 stations explaining the almost forgotten industry that came before.
13. Rodelberg an der Mollbeck
Around five kilometres north of Recklinghausen’s old town is the Rodelberg hill, one of the highest prominences in the area.
The hill is criss-crossed by walking trails, and from the top there are satisfying vistas of Recklinghausen and the Ruhr area.
In summer you could visit to have a barbecue at the designated area on the north side, while in winter this is the best place to be if you want to go tobogganing.
And if things really heat up in summer, at the base of the hill is the Freibad Mollbeck, where there’s a 50-metre pool complemented by sun loungers and sun shades, as well as a paddling pool for little ones.
14. Outdoor Market
If you’re staying at your own place in Recklinghausen you could do your grocery shopping the old way and head to the market at Dr.-Helene-Kuhlmann-Park.
The market is right on the southeastern edge of the old town and trades on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 07:00 to 13:00. As well as fresh fruit and vegetables you can stock up on cheese, meat, regional honey and jam.
Dr.-Helene-Kuhlmann-Park is also right behind Palais Vest, Recklinghausen’s mall, which has more than 80 stores, from the electronics retailer Media Markt to international fashion brands like Mango and H&M.
15. Local Delicacies
There are a few companies in Recklinghausen using traditional methods to make typical specialities.
Suberg’s bei Boente is a craft brewery, which opened in the former Boente distillery (1830) in 2011 and makes its own light, dark and Märzen (Bavarian-style lager) beer.
The Boente brand is still based in Recklinghausen and produces schnapps and a range of other spirits and liqueurs, from coffee to rhubarb.
The same goes for another distillery, Kornbrennerei Dörlemann, whose factory shop is located in Recklinghausen-Essel, a few kilometres east of the city.
And if you’re keen to know how very different German treats are made there are factory tours at Sindern confectioners, making chocolate, marzipan and pralines by hand.