Perched at the Ruhr’s eastern extremity, DORTMUND is a former free imperial city and Hanseatic League member that grew rich in the Middle Ages from its position on the Hellweg, a major trading route, before declining after the Thirty Years’ War. In the nineteenth century it re-emerged from provincial obscurity thanks to coal, steel and beer: at one point only Milwaukee brewed more. All three industries declined in the late twentieth century and there’s now just one major brewer, the Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei. Information and biotechnology are the economic motors of the “new” Dortmund, which seems to have mastered the transition from heavy industry relatively well; the old Union brewery with its giant illuminated “U” still looms over the city, but nowadays it houses art, not beer, and shares the skyline with a scattering of funky modern office towers. Nevertheless, the surviving medieval street pattern and a scattering of worthwhile sights ensure that Dortmund preserves a sense of its long history.

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