As the most populated area in Germany, the Rhine-Ruhr region is a conglomeration of cities, towns and villages - each with its own heritage, history and culture. Here is a brief overview of the main cities in the region. On a satellite photograph of Europe at night, the Rhine-Ruhr region appears to be a single large spot of light extending along the Rhine River from Cologne to Düsseldorf, as far north as Duisburg and Gelsenkirchen, and extending eastwards past Essen and all the way to Dortmund.
Taken together, the Rhine-Ruhr region has 11.5 million inhabitants and is easily Germany's most populated area. The region has a dense network of 2,200 kilometers of highways, has seven airports and accounts for the largest GDP of any region in Germany. It can be compared, without overstatement, to the conurbations of Paris, New York, London and even Tokyo. The Rhine-Ruhr region has traditionally been Germany's industrial heartland. Thanks to its rich natural resources, it was also the main mining and energy-producing area of Germany. Blast furnaces and steel mills can still be found throughout the region, in addition to factories for chemicals, textiles, heavy machinery, electrical equipment and precision instruments.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the entire Rhine-Ruhr region went through a major restructuring phase because of the high costs and declining competitiveness of many its industries, particularly the coal and steel operations. What has emerged from this industrial renewal is a highly competitive, greener Rhine-Ruhr region, which still has a strong industrial base but also has been transformed by modern technologies and the services sector. Today, 20 of the top 50 German companies are based in the region, including such names as Deutsche Telekom, E-On, Metro, RWE, Thyssen-Krupp, Deutsche Post / DHL, Bertelsmann and Aldi.
The so-called work-life balance is growing increasingly important, and the Rhine-Ruhr region has a rich cultural heritage. Indeed, there are four UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area: Aachen Cathedral, Cologne Cathedral, Augustusburg Castle in Brühl, and the Zollverein coal mine in Essen. There also eight universities in the region, located in the cities of Aachen, Bielefeld, Bochum, Bonn, Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Münster.
What follows is a brief overview of the major cities in the Rhine-Ruhr region.