Ruhr Valley’s European culture celebrations to defy deep freeze

Ruhr Valley's European culture celebrations to defy deep freeze
Photo: DPA
After three years of preparations, Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley will kick off its year as a European Capital of Culture this weekend with elaborate celebrations aiming to withstand a looming winter storm.

Organisers said they hoped the region’s doughty denizens would defy freezing temperatures, gusty winds and an expected heavy snow to come to the opening ceremony at a former coalmining facility turned culture centre in Essen on Saturday.

“There’s about a one-percent chance that the ceremonies will be postponed,” said Ruhr.2010 spokesman Marc Oliver Hänig. “If the blizzard happens to roll through right in the afternoon, we’ll wait a bit, dust the snow from our coats and get things going.”

The worst-case scenario would involve pushing back the official opening of the Ruhr’s year of culture by German President Horst Köhler to the evening. The head of state and other special guests will be given “survival kits” including a wool blanket, rain cape and hand warmers. But no matter what the weather’s like, organisers will press ahead with outdoor celebrations expected to draw 100,000 visitors this weekend.

Essen is the third German city to be crowned a European Capital of Culture after Berlin in 1988 and Weimar in 1999. But this is the first time an entire region – the densely populated Ruhr Valley is a collection of 53 cities and municipalities – has been awarded the title.

Around 300 major projects and some 2,500 individual events will highlight the music, theatre, arts and architecture of the Ruhr – a place hoping to become known as a cultural hub – rather than Germany’s once grubby industrial heartland. Fritz Pleitgen, the head of Ruhr.2010, has planned an eclectic mix aimed at encouraging the public’s participation including a cultural day on a closed section of the A40 motorway.

Bochum’s favourite son, pop singer Herbert Grönemeyer, also plans to sing a specially composed ode to the Ruhrpott accompanied by the city’s symphonic orchestra during Saturday’s opening ceremonies.

Whether Europe’s two other cultural capitals this year – Istanbul,Turkey and Pécs,Hungary – would be prepared to celebrate through a blizzard is unclear. But Pleitgen was showing gritty Ruhr determination as the storm bore down on Germany.

“Dress warm – this is going to happen,” he said.

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