You might not necessarily associate Recklinghausen – a former mining town in the Ruhr region – with the theatre. But you'd be surprised. Recklinghausen really comes into its own as an international city of culture during the festival season from 1 May to mid-June. The Ruhr Theatre Festival is one of the biggest and most highly acclaimed events of its kind in Europe.
The winter of 1946-47 was bitterly cold. Hamburg Theatre was facing the threat of closure because there was no coal for heating or running the building – and so two trucks, fuelled by wood gas, were despatched to the Ruhr region. They came to a stop in Recklinghausen, where workers at the King Ludwig colliery 4/5 quickly set about loading them with coal. This was repeated on a few more occasions until the military police put a stop to it. As a gesture of thanks, 150 members of Hamburg State Theatre performed that summer in Recklinghausen under the banner 'culture in exchange for coal'. The opening performance on 28 June 1947 was Mozart's Marriage of Figaro – a sign of hope in difficult times and a show of genuine solidarity between performers and miners. This sense of spirit can still be felt today at the Ruhr Festival Playhouse and at other venues across the city. Since Frank Hoffmann, artistic director of the Théâtre National du Luxembourg, took over the reins in 2005, the festival has reached new heights with a well-balanced concept that includes productions by notable directors, performances by celebrated stage stars and shows by young theatre talents – and which caters for up to 80,000 visitors.