A large percentage of the tourists who come to Dortmund are there for one of two reasons – work or football. These two issues certainly characterize the city that was once a very important industrial center in the fields of steel and coal, and today has become a modern and innovative high-tech city. The football team “Borussia Dortmund” is also considered a global phenomenon and in recent years has been responsible for exciting football displays on the biggest stages of Europe.
Beyond the huge office buildings and skyscrapers that the city boasts, you might be surprised to know that this vibrant city also contains a very large art and culture scene. Parks and gardens, restaurants and pubs are scattered throughout the city in droves. You will find museums, galleries and special festivals dedicated to football of course, but also to the heavy industry that grew Dortmund, to modern art, animals and even beer! The city is suitable for a trip for children and adults alike, and it is also possible to reach it as part of a trip to the Ruhr region and in West Germany in general.
There are quite a few interesting sites in Dortmund, which will allow you to experience the city in all its shades. The secret is to combine them correctly and build a route that will help you learn about the city, its history and also the local culture it offers.
Borussia Dortmund Stadium – Signal iduna park
Dortmund has gone through many incarnations over the years. After its rise in the Middle Ages, it experienced a slow decline that was stopped only with the industrial revolution. Deposits of steel and coal mines, plus its strategic location at the eastern end of the German Ruhr region, made the city an important industrial powerhouse and a true metropolis. In World War II, Dortmund was almost completely destroyed and only after years was it restored and became the city it is today – a modern and innovative high-tech powerhouse.
The reconstruction of the city after the war included an unequivocal (but controversial) decision to create a new and modern city and disconnect from the city’s historical past, therefore many buildings from the Middle Ages to the pre-war days were not restored and modern skyscrapers were built in their place.
There are still quite a few interesting sites in the city, relics of this rich period. Here are some of them plus a warm recommendation to come and experience a bit of Dortmund’s fascinating past.
The old market of Dortmund is the historical center of the city and one of the oldest squares in it. In the ninth century, the city expanded a lot and turned from a small town into a real city, and apparently that’s when this central market was also established. The market has been a commercial but also social center of the city since these years and continues to be a source of interest and life in the city even today. One of the remains from this period is the fountain in the center of the square, the “Blower Fountain”, or in German – blaserbrunnen, which was used to kill the animals and reminds us that it was the commercial center of the city where farmers and residents would come on horses and donkeys and sell their goods in the market.
Today it is a bustling complex, full of stalls and interesting shops. The location of the market right in the center of the city makes it the center of things throughout the year (one of the significant events in it is the Christmas market, which I will touch on later). The small cafes fill the old market square and turn this square into a magical and active gem in the city center. When the evening falls, the bars and nightclubs open, and on days when the city’s successful soccer team, “Borussia Dortmund”, participates in a soccer match, the square is completely painted in the team’s colors – yellow and black. Crowds of fans come to the cafes and bars to watch the games being shown. If you get to be there on one of the evenings when the team wins the trophy, you will witness a huge celebration that also includes a rare spectacle – the fountain water is dyed bright yellow as a sign of victory.
St. Reynold’s Church, the “Reynoldkirche”, is the oldest church in Dortmund and is named after the person who was considered the patron saint of the city in the Middle Ages – St. Reynold. The church was established in the 13th century and served as the spiritual center of the inhabitants of Dortmund in the Middle Ages. It is located right on the old trade road between Cologne and Bremen, a location that later became very central in the city and today forms the old market complex in which the church stands in the center. Since its original construction, the church building has undergone many incarnations. Fires, an earthquake that caused the steeple to collapse, and the signs of time that damaged the church required renovation time after time and created a structure that merges different design styles that correspond with the architectural periods in which they were built.
The last time the church was damaged was of course during the bombings in World War II, when 98 percent of the buildings in the city center were destroyed. The church is one of the only buildings that was decided to be restored, but in accordance with the decision to modernize the city and erect modern high-rises, it was decided to restore the church in the same way as the original building, only to raise it several meters so that it would be harmonious and fit in with the renewed skyline of the city.
This impressive structure, which dominates the Dortmund skyline, has distinct Romanesque architecture and a pointed Gothic tower that can be recognized from a long distance. It is recommended to come see one of the only remains from this ancient period, to be impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows and the vaulted ceiling that creates a special atmosphere. Don’t forget to climb the stairs to the top of the 104-meter tower, from where you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
It is certainly possible to make a mistake and think that the building of the Zolern Industrial Museum, decorated with beautiful red facades designed with Gothic touches, belonged to a residential complex of one of the German aristocrats who lived here in the past. The truth is light years away from this – it is a former coal mine that has been converted into a museum dedicated to Germany’s industrial heritage. It is a central part of the Westphalian German Industrial Museum (LWL – Westphalian Insudtriemuseum) which includes seven other sites around Dortmund.
The Zollern is considered one of the most important and interesting museums in the city, and beyond its special architecture, it brings back to life in a beautiful and impressive way the industrial history of Germany, on its social, economic and personal levels. With the help of documents and photos, machines, miners’ personal belongings and even rock samples, you can experience a little of the life of the miners, the characteristics of their work, the difficult conditions and the constant sense of danger to which they exposed themselves.
Although Dortmund’s industrial occupation is a thing of the past, there is no doubt that it has much to do with the design of the city and society in the city and in Germany in general. It is highly recommended to come to this beautiful museum, where you can join a guided tour in English and meet one of the unique and impressive evidences of German industrial history.
If you are traveling with children, it is worth coming to this site. The “Eagle Tower” museum, the Adlerturm, is one of the places in Dortmund that was set up especially for children but will be a fun and educational experience for the whole family. The building itself is a reconstruction of a 30-meter-high tower of the city wall from the Middle Ages, built on pillars over the remains of the original tower.
The museum, on its six floors, focuses on the medieval period of Dortmund. It is full of interactive stations that allow children and adults to relive this ancient life – dress up in traditional clothing, wear armour, try swords, dig and build. The stations are accompanied by explanations and descriptions, and the highlight of the museum is undoubtedly a huge model of the medieval city, made entirely of Playmobil.
Steinwasha (translated into Hebrew: the keeper of the stone) is a museum and memorial site for those who died in this terrible place under the Nazi regime. This is the former police station of the city which was also used as a detention center, and in 1933 it passed into the hands of the Gestapo. From that moment tens of thousands of people were imprisoned on the site – opponents of the regime, Jewish citizens, representatives of Christian churches and more. They were tortured and confessions were extracted from them about things they did and did not do and most of them were later sent to concentration camps. Soon this place gained a reputation as Die Hölle von Westdeutschland – “The Hell of West Germany”.
The tour begins in the prisoners’ registration room and continues through the various exhibits scattered throughout the cells. Some of the cells have been preserved as they were during the regime and can be viewed. Photographs, texts and testimonies complete the tour and provide additional information about the place.
This memorial site is a reminder that the Nazis were everywhere, terrorizing their own people as well. The building was not damaged in the war and was converted into a memorial site in the early 1980s. Of course, this is not a particularly pleasant pastime, and you may even come out of it with a gloomy feeling, but there is no doubt that this is an aspect that is important to remember in the history and culture of Germany and of Dortmund. The site hosts guided tours, seminars and lectures that you can join as you wish.
The top of the famous “U” tower that houses the Museum of Modern Art
Dortmund is now considered the art and culture center of the German hinterland, and there is no doubt that you will find many ways to explore and enjoy it. Impressive museums, concert halls, Hamad corners, art galleries, gardens and attractions are scattered in the city in droves. A large part of them is of course dedicated to football – stadiums, the German Football Museum and of course the home team “Borussia Dortmund”, if you happen to be in town during their game you will have an outstanding sporting experience.
Many of these sites are housed in old buildings that were used in Dortmund’s industrial past as hangars or factories. This connection between the two faces of Dortmund – the old and industrial versus the new and modern – makes it very unique and is particularly evident in these places.
It is impossible to talk about Dortmund without talking about its home football team – “Borussia Dortmund”. This yellow-black team is considered second in its level in Germany, after Bayern Munich, and even if you are not a football fan, you should go visit its home stadium – Signal Iduna. It is the largest stadium in Germany and the seventh in Europe, with its 81,000 seats. The place inspires an electrifying feeling of power also due to its iconic architecture. The yellow columns of the stadium can be recognized even from a long distance.
It is highly recommended to take a tour of the stadium, you can go through the players’ dressing rooms, walk through the tunnels leading to the field and take pictures on the benches reserved for coaches only. In a tour of the four stands of the stadium, you will reach the southern tribune, which the locals call “the yellow wall” because it is the stand of the passionate fans of Borussia Dortmund. They arrive there regularly, fill the 25,000 seats and shake the stadium with tremendous cheers and singing.
The stadium hosts a game every second week, and it is definitely recommended to try to get a ticket and come watch the game with tens of thousands of other fans. Get ready for an electrifying experience!
A little more football and a must site for fans. Dortmund is very proud of its soccer team, Borussia Dortmund, and rightfully so. The team turned the city into a national soccer stronghold, and when it was decided to invest the profits from the World Cup held in Germany in 2006 in establishing a museum dedicated entirely to German soccer, Dortmund was chosen to host it.
The lion’s share of culture in the city today revolves around football, making this museum one of the most popular in the city. The German Football Museum, or the DFM for short, deals with domestic football as well as the “Mannschaft”, the national team. There you can view a number of exhibits dealing with the history of German football and covering the iconic games of the team (mainly the first German victory in the World Cup in 1945), the legendary players and the famous coaches. Beyond the entertainment value of the museum, there are also exhibitions that delve into the economic, cultural and social significance of sports. The most recommended of them is the exhibition dealing with football under the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s, where a study is presented regarding the impact of the historical events of the period on the world of sports. You can also learn from the representatives about fan culture, the relationship between sports and nutrition, and football as a role model.
The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly the hall of fame that displays the team’s trophy collection. When will you get to see the World Cup and European Championship cups up close?
A little south of the city center is Westfalenpark – the green lung of Dortmund. It is 70 dunams of a lush collection of trees and plants, a kind of oasis in the heart of this bustling city. It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, and basically for anyone who wants to spend a relaxing afternoon wandering the park’s wooded paths and its many different attractions. You can get on the miniature train that goes around the park and thus move between the attractions or simply choose a magical location for a picnic. Remember to visit the rose garden, the “rosarium”, where there are about 3000 different types of roses. Other complexes worth visiting are the bird complex with the lovely pink flamingos, and also the lake in the center of the park, where you can rent a rowing boat and go for a nice cruise.
On the north side of the park stands the Florian Tower, the Florianturm, which is Dortmund’s broadcasting and television tower and one of its symbols. This building, whose name is “Florian” (low in German) certainly does not correspond with its height – the Floriantoum is one of the tallest buildings – in Germany and with a short elevator ride you can reach the observation deck at the top and witness a spectacular panoramic view of all of Dortmund.
In short, whether you are traveling with children or not, in this park you will find everything you need to create a great experience. Attractions, food stalls, cafes, an adventure park for children and all this greenery around will definitely provide you with a perfect afternoon.
We already understood that Dortmund’s three main industries were coal, steel and beer. But while coal and steel have been replaced by technology and high-tech, beer remains a central feature that the city is very proud of. The tradition of brewing beer began in the city as early as the 13th century and with the beginning of industrialization in the 1950s it became one of the most profitable businesses in the country. Today, many boutique breweries are scattered in Dortmund and the local beer – Stößche, is served in any of the dozens of bars in the city.
One of the places where you can experience even a little of Dortmund’s heyday in the field of beer is the brewery museum, the Brauereumuseum. It was established in 1980 in one of the largest breweries in the city that stopped working. You should come and join the tour of the museum, which will start in the machine room with the huge generator and the cooling machines for the entire brewery. You will see fermentation tanks made of copper, original equipment and facilities, bottling machines and even a model of a car that was once used to transport the beer. The exhibition deals with the production and consumption of beer since the Middle Ages. You will hear about the entire process, from the level of production, storage, filling the barrels and bottles and finally the distribution of the beer. A collection of labels, vintage posters and old photos will put you in the atmosphere of the 1950s, and a beer tasting at the end of the tour will complete the experience.
Since beer is the “bird of the soul” of Germans in general and the people of Dortmund in particular, a visit to the brewery museum becomes a combination of a historical, scientific, cultural and historical exhibition.
The “U” tower in Dortmund beautifully represents the process the city has gone through in the last century. It has been associated with the city since 1927, just as the Eiffel is associated with Paris and Big Ben with London. This is the first high-rise building erected in the city, and was previously used as its largest brewery – “Dortmunder Union Brauerei”, which was actually the city’s flagship project. Hence the name of the tower and the huge “U” symbol that is placed on top and is a significant landmark in the city. The brewery was destroyed and this huge industrial building was transformed and in 2010 it was reopened as a center for arts and modern creation, a cultural space and a research institute that hosts events of all kinds – concerts, workshops, exhibitions, lectures and discussions.
The building also houses the Ostwall Museum of Modern Art, which, due to its focus on contemporary art, is constantly evolving and exhibits are constantly being added. The main exhibition in the museum includes works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall.
Another project that takes place in this special building is the youth art club that deals with innovative education for creativity in the digital age and is a partner in international and regional projects in the fields of art, creativity, research and education. The association organizes artist workshops in drawing and painting, lectures and meetings with famous artists and creators and special exhibitions. All of these are open to the public.
You can recognize the iron “U” placed on top of the building from almost any point in the city center. The place is a center of attraction for tourists and locals throughout the year, and it is definitely worth coming closer, checking the center’s schedule and joining one of the interesting workshops or exhibitions that take place there.
Dortmund’s Christmas market is an extremely popular attraction that attracts around three and a half million visitors every year! This is one of the largest and best known Christmas markets in Germany. On the frosty December evenings, in the run-up to Christmas, the old market area and its main square are flooded with charming traditional wooden stalls offering handicrafts, decorations and traditional foods. You can taste gingerbread (Lebkuchen), warm chestnuts, indulgent apple strudel and also Glühwein – mulled wine. The locals love this wine so much that it warms the body and soul in the December frost, that every year a special mug is designed for it that can only be bought at the fair.
The special atmosphere of the fair is created especially by the decorations found in every corner – the entire old market area is lit up with tens of thousands of light bulbs and above all rises the tallest Christmas tree in the world, at a height of 45 meters!
If you happen to come to Dortmund during the month of December, don’t miss this experience. The special atmosphere, the holiday songs and decorations, fairy shows for the children and hot wine for the adults definitely create a magical, lively and special experience.