Hyperinflation, violence, economic standstill and abject poverty: the Ruhr Occupation not only stands for an exceptional situation, but is a central chapter in the history of the Ruhr region. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Ruhr Occupation, the gallery exhibition of the Ruhr Museum presents the everyday life of the occupation from 1923 to 1925, showing the experiences of the population and the occupiers as well as the events of these crisis years in six chapters. In the process, it also illuminates the moment in history when the Ruhr area emerged as a unified region and important foundations were laid for the Metropole Ruhr as an area of identification.
In addition to rare film footage, around 200 impressive exhibits such as photographs, postcards, leaflets, posters, identity cards and other documents, but also medals, commemorative plaques, weapons and uniforms depict everyday life during the occupation from different perspectives. Particularly impressive objects come from major European museums, such as a rare shooting target from the Historisches Museum in Berlin, uniforms and equipment of French and Belgian occupation soldiers from the Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux in France, and an original machine gun from the Musée Royal de l'Armée et d'Histoire Militaire in Brussels/Belgium.
The exhibition spans from the invasion of the troops in January 2023 to the celebrations on the occasion of the withdrawal in 1925. The occupation authorities intervened massively in people's lives with countless decrees and measures. Border barriers were erected between the occupied and unoccupied territories, making people's everyday lives considerably more difficult. In addition, there were arbitrary curfews, road controls and quartering. Around 130 civilians died in accidents and attacks by occupying soldiers.
The refusal to cooperate presented the French with considerable challenges, especially in the transport sector. For example, they had to implement a railway under their own control within a short period of time, which led to numerous accidents and breakdowns due to the complexity of the track system. The French and Belgian soldiers also found themselves in a difficult situation. They faced a predominantly hostile population and lived in fear of becoming victims of assassination. Supply and accommodation were often inadequate.
The passive resistance financed by the Ruhr industry and the Reich completely ruined the German currency. Hyperinflation led to the complete impoverishment of large sections of the population, and unemployment reached unprecedented levels. In many places, material hardship led to social unrest that threatened social cohesion.
In addition, the exhibition shows the propaganda war for public opinion, which is documented in mass-published leaflets and in partly racist posters.
The exhibition concludes with the withdrawal of the troops and the culture of commemoration that the Ruhr Occupation set in motion, especially in the run-up to the National Socialist seizure of power.
The signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty on 28 June 1919 marked the end of the "Great War" (1914-1918) under international law. Germany had lost this war and was obliged by the Allies to pay reparations.
Because the German side had fallen behind with the reparations, French and Belgian troops occupied the area in January 1923. The German population was fascinated by this economically and strategically important region.
The Ruhr Occupation marked the beginning of a year of crisis characterised by inflation, attempts of overthrow, violence, poverty and unemployment. The invasion of the Ruhr in the middle of peace had the characteristics of a wartime occupation: around 60,000 French and Belgians entered the cities of the Ruhr with tanks, infantry, cavalry, bicycle units and machine-gun units.
The invasion took place in a deeply torn and divided Ruhr area, which had already been marked by existential hardship and experiences of violence for almost a decade. The Franco-Belgian occupation thus took place in a permanently exceptional situation and brought the region, which had been so prosperous in the 19th century, to the limits of its economic and social resilience.
Immediately after the occupation began, the German government declared passive resistance and stopped all reparations payments. All cooperation with the occupiers was to cease. The occupiers' countermeasures, such as curfews, arrests and expulsions into unoccupied territory, were not long in coming. Bloody clashes between soldiers and the population were the order of the day, and a spiral of violence was set in motion. Although the occupation of the Ruhr ended in the summer of 1925 with the withdrawal of the occupying troops, it was to prove a heavy burden for the young republic.
An extensive cultural programme in German will take place during the exhibition. In addition to guided tours, it includes a series of lectures (from 17 January 2023), a panel discussion, a discussion and concert in cooperation with the Ruhr Piano Festival, film evenings and an interactive workshop on the topic of racism in the past and present.
Each tour from the programme can also be booked by you as an individual group tour. You can arrange the language, time, group size and topic with our colleagues in the visitor service.
You can also find all dates in our calendar or in the
Guided tours for teachers and school classes not only focus on the crisis years from 1923 to 1925 through expressive objects, but also examine posters, postcards and other exhibits as historical sources.
The catalogue for the exhibition "Hands off the Ruhr Area! The Ruhr Occupation 1923–1925" presents the most important phenomena of the Ruhr Occupation from different perspectives on 212 pages in eleven richly illustrated contributions. The catalogue is published by Klartext Verlag and costs €24.95. ISBN 978-3-8375-2555-7.
The catalogue is also available in our shop on the 24-metre level. You can find the opening hours here.
The Regionalverband Ruhr (RVR) is sponsoring the exhibition and the accompanying programme.
Three years after the founding of the Ruhr Coal District Settlement Association in May 1920, the forerunner of the RVR, the Ruhr Occupation also meant a boost for the unification of the Ruhr region. For the first time it brought the region into the public consciousness across party lines, both internally and in terms of national and international perception. As the Ruhr Association of Local Authorities and today's Ruhr Regional Association, the association has been the region's bracket for over a century. Since then, the RVR's legal mandate has focused on the well-being of the Metropole Ruhr - as a networker, coordinator, initiator, service provider or project sponsor. The Ruhr Parliament, directly elected for the first time in the anniversary year 2020, is the political representation for the Ruhr area.