Emscher Cycle Path in the Ruhr Area: A tour on the hidden river

WOh, please, is this going to the Emscher? I got lost in the west of Dortmund – and I’m looking for a river that has been avoided for a long time, yes, of which one is ashamed. But the Emscher has not been forgotten, an elderly lady can help me. It points down the street and then to the right. There I soon come across a bridge on the A40; heavy trucks thunder down the highway; including rail tracks, a lot of green – perfectly trimmed in a few allotments, uninhibitedly sprawling around it.

And the Emscher? A jogger slows down slightly and points in the direction from which she has just come. The search for the Emscher continues until a racing cyclist accompanies me for a short while. No, the river doesn’t exactly make it easy for you.

But then: wind rustles in the willow bushes, birds chirping, flowing water. And in front of it a fence. Because the Emscher is canalised over 80 kilometers. The river has its source in the northern Ruhr area near Dortmund and flows into the Rhine near Dinslaken.

Source: WORLD infographic

Since mining subsidence as a result of coal mining made the construction of underground sewers impossible in many places, the Emscher remained an above-ground river – and was misused as a drain for decades. Cycling along the Emscher opens up new views of the Ruhr area, but nobody should expect unspoiled nature.

The Emscher was once a notorious sewer

As well as? After all, domestic sewage from 2.3 million residents once flowed through the Emscher and the concrete channels of connected streams, not to mention the industrial water used by industrial companies.

Before the construction of extensive sewage works, the Emscher was a notorious sewer that often stank to the heavens; Since 2010, however, the upper reaches of the river and its tributaries in Dortmund have been largely renatured over a length of around 24 kilometers and – according to the Emsergenossenschaft – also completely free of wastewater. Good to know, because in front of me there are twin tubes in which the cycle path and the Emscher disappear. Three bridges have to be passed under.

also read

Renaturation of a lip loop at Kraehenbusch near Olfen, 08.08.2019, aerial view, Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lehmhegge, Olfen |  renaturation of river Lippe ar Kraehenbusch at Olfen, 08.08.2019, aerial picture, Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lehmhegge, Olfen

Trains screech over tracks, tires rush over expressways. It’s gloomy, deserted, it smells of damp dust, an inflow gurgles into the Emscher, which is just reappearing next to me. Then finally, behind a fourth bridge, the air improves; it smells of freshly mown grass; Chestnuts and birches cast extensive shadows.

To the north of Dortmund, the Emscher is surprisingly clear, and plants also thrive in the river bed. Behind the motorway there is even a rural idyll; Oak trees, grain fields, lilacs and benches line the path. From here on it’s a tour of contrasts; Swans swim in the newly built retention basins, a cuckoo calls, the lapwing, kingfisher and blue goblet rest. It seems as if nature claims the new infrastructure for itself.

In parts the Emscher has already been renatured, animals and plants can reclaim the area

In parts the Emscher has already been renatured, animals and plants can reclaim the area

Quelle: pa / Rupert Oberhäuser

Only the river is inaccessible behind the fence, at least for humans. The Emscher remains locked away for almost its entire length, because it still has no chemical water quality classification and consists of more than 80 percent wastewater, albeit treated.

The bike tour starts near Dortmund

The conversion of the Emscher to a clean body of water began around three decades ago, when the northward migration of the mining industry reduced the risk of subsidence. since then, underground sewers have been built. The aboveground streams were freed from sewage, the concrete inverts disappeared and the natural remodeling could begin.

Where space permits, the once painstakingly straightened watercourses are now given a naturally winding course again – the multi-billion dollar project is one of the largest hydraulic engineering measures in Europe.

The Dortmund-Deusen sewage treatment plant was built on the river as part of the Emscher conversion

The Dortmund-Deusen sewage treatment plant was built on the river as part of the Emscher conversion

Quelle: picture alliance / Rupert Oberhäuser

Cycling on the Emscher is literally a journey through time: you start in Dortmund’s industrial age, cycle past its “monuments” such as the Hansa coking plant, and approach today’s showcase project of urban structural change, Lake Phoenix. It is an artificially created body of water on the former Phoenix-Ost steelworks area – over 1200 meters long, 310 meters wide and now approved for water sports.

The Emscher flows past not far from Lake Phoenix. During the current flood disaster, the lake was used as a rain retention basin for the Emscher for the first time. The Phoenix level rose by up to one meter due to water flowing in from the Emscher.

Sheep protect the dike

Unlike the river water, which finds its way to the lake without detours, it is sometimes difficult for cyclists to follow the Emscher-Weg due to the many construction sites and sometimes confusing signs. It is a bike tour that challenges the body and mind. Not paying attention for a moment and you have already missed the next diversion; you end up somewhere, but not again on the Emscher.

Fortunately, there are always friendly residents who can help you. There is, for example, Klaus-Dieter Tesch from Castrop-Rauxel. He lives directly on the Emscher and for that reason often has to help cyclists.

Tesch is also a co-founder of the “People on the Emscher” association and likes to tell anyone who is interested about the past: “In summer you couldn’t open the windows or sit in the garden when the weather was nice – that’s how it stank here.”

Experience the Emscher: A biker is out and about in the Nordsternpark near Gelsenkirchen

Experience the Emscher: A biker is out and about in the Nordsternpark near Gelsenkirchen

Source: picture alliance / blickwinkel / S. Ziese

Behind Henrichenburg, the Emscher-Weg is suddenly closed, excavators and trucks are spread over a huge area, because at the intersection of the Rhine-Herne Canal and Emscher, an area of ​​floodplain will be built by the end of 2022. When the cycle path leads back along the Emscher a little later, the landscape has changed; Dykes dominate the scenery. “And wherever there are dikes, there are also sheep,” says Schäfer Steffen Görlich.

He moves south of Recklinghausen up and down the Emscher with a 750-strong herd. The animals keep the grass short and the bushes small, protecting the dike. Just drinking, the animals don’t do that from the Emscher, Görlich has his own water cart with him as a drinker.

The river was black with coal dust

In Hochlarmark, Robert Herzog helps to find the way back to the Emscher. He too is a child of the Ruhr area; The former miner has become a guide who shows tourists the region, including the less beautiful things like mountain subsidence: “Some roofs are just protruding over the dike, entire streets have sagged,” he says.

also read

HANDOUT - On the topic service report by Bernd F. Meier from January 21, 2021: Bodelschwingh Castle in Dortmund is an old eagle seat in the style of the Renaissance period.  Photo: Knyphausen'sche Verwaltung / dpa-tmn - ATTENTION: Only for editorial use in connection with the text mentioned and only if the above credits are mentioned in full - free of charge only for subscribers to the dpa topic service +++ dpa topic service +++

Behind the colliery settlement, the Emscher flows past spoil heaps, there are huge industrial landscapes, Ruhrpott in its purest form. “Schwatte Emscher” was the name of the river here, because not so long ago it was black with coal dust.

Then suddenly gas flames in front of dark clouds and chimneys sky high, old heaps like mountains, the scrapyard smells of rust, the substation hums and excavators are working on the open flank of a landfill. And there is the Emscher again.

A woodpecker flies over the river and disappears into a broken oak forest. A crow fetches something from the Emscher. On hot summer days, the Emscher still smells of rotten eggs in some places.

A different world awaits bikers near Oberhausen

The cycle path leads south of Bottrop in the immediate vicinity of Autobahn 42; in the underpasses there is booming traffic, stormy gusts roar between the pillars. Children ride scooters, the girls’ hair blows in the wind. You are on your way to a playground in a former sewage treatment plant that has been converted into a leisure center.

North Rhine-Westphalia: The canalised Berne is still used today for the discharge of wastewater, but is also being renatured

The canalised Berne is still used to remove wastewater, but is also being renatured

Quelle: pa / Rupert Oberhäuser

A few steps further, the Berne flows through its concrete corset, it is a body of water like there used to be here: raging, grayish shimmering, unpleasant smelling, just an open sewage. At the end of 2021, it should flow directly into the sewage treatment plant through a new channel. Only then will the Emscher be completely free of dirty water.

The tour comes to an end near Oberhausen, where something new has emerged from the old coal pot, where instead of a former 143 hectare industrial site, the “Neue Mitte Oberhausen” with its leisure park and shopping center attracts residents and tourists. The area is only a few steps away from the Emscher and yet another world.

The strollers hardly have a look at the still slightly dingy looking river. Not so the Emscher bikers – they greet the river one last time with Glückauf.

Ruhr area, North Rhine-Westphalia: Renatured, the Alte Emscher runs through the Duisburg-Nord landscape park;  it is connected to the Emscher cycle path

Renatured, the Alte Emscher runs through the Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park; it is connected to the Emscher cycle path

Quelle: picture alliance/Rupert Oberhäuser

Tips and information

Getting there: The Emscher cycle path officially starts at the Emscher Quellhof in Holzwickede. You can easily get there by public transport from Dortmund.

Route: The 100-kilometer cycle path leads from Holzwickede to Dinslaken, where the river flows into the Rhine. Along the route there are water-technical systems, walk-in dumps and industrial wastelands converted into landscape parks – a total of over 40 adventure sites as well as rest areas, information at emscher-weg.de. The association “People on the Emscher” offers excursions menschenanderemscher.org.

Information: ruhr-tourismus.de; radtourenplaner.ruhr

Participation in the trip was supported by Ruhr Tourismus. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.

Other parts of the series “Secret Places”:

Batteries biggest weakness in e-bikes

Electric bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. In 2020, almost two million e-bikes were sold in Germany and there could be even more in the future. But what about the longevity? Problems often arise with the batteries in particular.

Source: WELT / Peter Haentjes


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.