Deep in the West

Though “deep in the West,” as the singer‑songwriter Herbert Grönemeyer sings, Land North Rhine‑Westphalia actually lies at the heart of Europe. It shares a border with both the Netherlands and Belgium. Almost 18 million people live there, more than in any other federal state.

Most are based in one of the state's 30 major cities, many of which in the Rhine‑Ruhr metropolitan region have long since merged into a conurbation. But North Rhine‑Westphalia doesn't only have a large population, it also has a great future. Where coal was once mined, ideas are now the most important raw material. All sorts of innovations are “Made @ Ruhr”.

North Rhine‑Westphalia is a great place to live, work and do business. It is also a particularly beautiful region, with 50,000 kilometres of hiking trails winding their way through nature from the Sauerland region to the highland moors, through the Bergisches Land region, the Teutoburg Forest, the Siebengebirge, and down to the long, idyllic Rhine valleys, with their vineyards, castles and spectacular views. The capital is the city of Düsseldorf, which is located on the Rhine.

A glimpse into the past

In August 1946, the British Military Government launched Operation Marriage, the code name for the union between the northern part of the Prussian Rhine province and Aachen, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Westphalia. The new name of the newly-weds was North Rhine‑Westphalia.

The spouses could not have been more different – and that was exactly what the British wanted. Their aim was to prevent communist majorities in Germany’s largest industrial region, so they wedded the Ruhr area to rural East Westphalia, the Lower Rhine and the conservative Catholic Eifel.

The Allies knew that Europe could not be reconstructed without the Ruhr area and its industrial prowess. In order to keep it under control, and to overcome the traditional Franco‑German rivalry, France, West Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg founded the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 at the suggestion of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. It laid the foundations for European unification.

Action! Start‑ups and hidden champions

Since the 1960s, North Rhine‑Westphalia has undergone unprecedented structural change, from a coal and steel region to an important centre of industry, science and services. The Land currently generates 21% of Germany’s gross domestic product, with one-third of the country’s top‑selling firms based there, including the energy giant E.ON., Aldi, Thyssen Krupp, the chemical company Bayer, and Deutsche Telekom. Small and medium‑sized enterprises also have a strong foothold, with 711,000 companies. With a variety of high‑tech products in their portfolios, North Rhine-Westphalia's hidden champions in Sauerland or Westphalia are global market leaders. Many new ideas come from North Rhine‑Westphalia as well: one in five German start‑ups are based there.

With around 460,000 employees, North Rhine‑Westphalia is also regarded as a leading location in Germany and Europe for the media and communications industry. The gaming industry is booming on the Rhine and the Ruhr. The most important gaming trade fair in the world, Gamescom, is held annually in Cologne.

World‑class: Culture, Beethoven, sport and carnival

Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in North Rhine‑Westphalia. These include Aachen Cathedral, where Charlemagne was crowned, Cologne Cathedral, which people from the region spent over 600 years building, and the Zollverein coal mine in Essen, once the largest coal mine in Europe.

One of the most famous natives of the state is the great Ludwig van Beethoven. Born in Bonn, he revolutionised European music. In 1985, “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony became Europe's official anthem.

North Rhine‑Westphalia regularly hosts top international sporting events, from handball to equestrian sports. There's no question that the heart of football beats between the Rhine and Weser rivers - and it beats particularly loud out on terraces across the Ruhr region.

The state is filled with colour and fun during carnival, without which one can hardly imagine North Rhine‑Westphalia. During the six days before Ash Wednesday, people celebrate the “fifth season” in carnival hotspots in the Rhineland and Westphalian regions with parades, traditional ceremonies, all sorts of costumes and high spirits.

To the state's official website: