Essen lies in the heart of the Ruhr Metropolis, home to about 6 million people, the largest conurbation in Europe after London and Paris. With 570,000 inhabitants, Essen is one of Germany’s nine biggest cities. The coal and steel industries played a major role in shaping the city and the region was the centre of the German economic miracle in the 1950s and 1960s, when annual growth was 9%.
Allied bombing in World War II destroyed 90% of the city centre and 60% of the suburbs, which were rebuilt in the 1950s. Today, the old industrial enterprises remain big employers, though the unemployment rate is 12.4% and as high as 18% in the north of the city, compared with Germany’s national rate of 5.5%. The city has lost around 120,000 inhabitants in the past 30 years, and foreigners, including Lebanese, Turks and southern Europeans, represent 12% of the population. Although the city has around 40,000 students, the population is ageing, with 57.9% aged over 40 and 42.4% over 50.
Essen and Ruhr see culture as a revitalising tool, capable of stimulating growth as well as halting migration. “Change through Culture, Culture through Change” is the slogan for this region in a process of transformation from the industrial past to the economy of the future. Essen, along with the Ruhr District, won the title of European Capital of Culture 2010. Since then, the city has launched a creative and urban regeneration strategy, which includes the creation of a Kreative Quartier North Essen close to the city centre.