Welcome to North Rhine-Westphalia

Learn more about the land of new opportunity and cultural diversity

North Rhine-Westphalia is thrilling. Nowhere else in Germany are industrial and rural regions so close to each other. There is hardly any other region on earth with a similar concentration of museums, theatres, opera houses and concert halls. Discover the "diversity state".

When you hear North Rhine-Westphalia, you think of Cologne Cathedral, a major landmark in Germany. And of the ‘cathedrals of industry’ such as Zollverein, a colliery turned World Heritage site. Another feature of North Rhine-Westphalia: the many universities. No other region has such a large concentration of higher education facilities. We live with culture, and we are sometimes compared – quite rightly – with big international metropolitan centres. Our research establishments are of world renown.

Thinking of North Rhine-Westphalia also means thinking of the big rivers. Of the grassland, the forests, the lakes that stretch between the Eifel hills and the Teutoburg Forest range. The land along the Rhine and Ruhr rivers is built on labour and work. It is also ideal for rest and recreation. The history of the Federal Republic of Germany would not be complete without North Rhine-Westphalia and the city of Bonn. The same goes for the history of Europe. As a state in the European heartland, we fully embrace the idea of a united Europe of free peoples.

Whilst our state has a rich history, it is also well positioned for the future. On an international scale, we are amongst the strongest economies, thanks to innovating enterprises and a broad-based small and medium business sector. Come and discover the Diversity State!

History

The British Military Government’s ‘Operation Marriage’ created the State of North Rhine-Westphalia on 23 August, 1946, by merging the northern part of the former Prussian Rhine Province with Westphalia, another province of the now defunct state of Prussia. On 21 January, 1947, the new state was joined by the territory of Lippe. Karl Arnold, a Christian Democrat, became the first democratically elected State Premier. The values embraced by the people of North Rhine-Westphalia were very neatly summarised when he said, ‘We are Germany’s social conscience’.

Never again was the Ruhr to become the centre of German arms production. At the same time, the Ruhr’s heavy industry was needed for rebuilding North Rhine-Westphalia – and Europe. With a view to overcoming the political and economic obstacles imposed by the International Authority for the Ruhr, the European Coal and Steel Community was set up in 1951, driving forward the country’s economic recovery and laying the groundwork for European integration. That same year, the Coal and Steel Co-determination Act came into force, giving shareholders and workers an equal say in how a coal or steel corporation is run.

The ‘Economic Miracle’ created the basis for wealth for all. A major contribution came from the fourteen or so million immigrant workers, or ‘guest workers’, many of whom were eventually to stay in the country. ‘They called for labourers, and it was people who came’, Swiss writer Max Frisch once commented on the need for a change of attitude towards the new arrivals. The Coal Crisis of 1964 brought the first cracks.  The problems were addressed – albeit only temporarily – through special legislation, referred to as ‘Concerted Action’, and the establishment of the Ruhrkohle AG corporation. This first coal crisis heralded the onset of painful structural changes that were to last several decades. In 1987, steelworkers went on strike for the first time in fifty years. Four years later, the death knell sounded for the Rheinhausen Rolling Mill in Duisburg – which came to symbolise the burgeoning crisis in the Ruhr.

In 1978, Johannes Rau was elected to succeed Heinz Kühn as Premier. During his twenty years at the helm, he was the face and voice of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 consigned socialism to the bin of history and led to Germany’s reunification. Berlin became capital whilst Bonn remained the ‘Federal City’. 

Culture

North Rhine-Westphalia has changed in recent decades like no other German region. And like no other region, the state is banking on culture to do its bit to lessen the impact. The results can be viewed across the country, and especially in the Ruhr. Today, the creative industries employ more people than the mining sector. Industrial heritage sites have been turned into workplaces for designers, artists and the advertising industry. Every year, the Ruhrtriennale festival attracts visitors from all over the world.

North Rhine-Westphalia has an unparalleled concentration of museums, cultural centres, concert halls and theatres. Film festivals in Oberhausen, Duisburg, Cologne, Lünen, Münster, Bonn, Dortmund and other places in North Rhine-Westphalia provide quality of the highest standards. Buildings designed by top-notch architects have earned international renown. Artists and performers of the first rank include Pina Bausch, Max Ernst, Emil Schumacher, Joseph Beuys or Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Whilst, in terms of culture, North Rhine-Westphalia is right up there with London or Paris, there is a big difference: although we have a long tradition of culture and heritage – in fact, the cathedrals in Aachen and Cologne, the Zollverein colliery and Augustusburg Palace in Brühl are World Heritage Sites - North Rhine-Westphalia was never the land of castles, dynasties and landed gentry. North Rhine-Westphalia was, is and always will be a society dominated by the working and middle classes. We did not inherit our cultural wealth, we worked for it very hard. Culture in North Rhine-Westphalia is therefore the great facilitator of change.

Economy

Among Europe’s metropolitan regions, North Rhine-Westphalia has one of the most powerful economies. Were it an independent country, it would be a world leader in terms of exports. The state is also a national leader. North Rhine-Westphalia has always been Germany’s powerhouse. 

North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s No. 1 industrial region. Our livelihood depends on industry. Industry sustains and drives forward research, growth and wealth in our state. Of Germany’s top 100 corporations, 37 are based in North Rhine-Westphalia. We are home to the global players.

At the same time, NRW is not only the home of large companies; it also hosts a significant small and medium business sector. SME account for 99 per cent of business enterprises, 70 per cent of employees and over 80 per cent of employees. Small and medium-sized enterprises is the pillar on which our economy rests. If you think you can only become a market leader if you are based in New York or Tokyo, come to North Rhine-Westphalia and think again. Hundreds of thousands of small and medium businesses are daily proof that North Rhine-Westphalia is an SME powerhouse.

NRW.Global Business

Planning to invest in North Rhine-Westphalia? Get assistance from NRW.GLOBAL BUSINESS, the business promotion agency.

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