The Ruhr Area (German: Ruhrgebiet), also called simply the Ruhr, is an urban area in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, consisting of a number of large formerly industrial cities, including Duisburg, Oberhausen, Bottrop, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Herne, Hamm, Hagen, Dortmund, Recklinghausen, Unna and Witten. It has about five million inhabitants and is thus significally bigger than Berlin, Hamburg or Munich.
Altough, there is a very high density of motorways, hitchhiking there is quite tricky because of the maze of minor motorways. Major motorways in this area are the A1, A2 and A3. If you hitch here make sure you stay on this major motorways, on the smaller ones it will be really hard to find transit traffic. Germany is a nice place for hitching, but the Ruhr Area is by far the most unpleasant part of the country from this point of view. Hitching in the Ruhr Area can be compared with hitching inside a big city like Istanbul and the cities are independent, but for the traveller they will all seem like districts of one big city.
On the one hand, there is a lot of local traffic and even though there will be a lot of cars and usually many traffic jams, the most cars won't go in your direction.
Even worse is the fact, that there are almost no service areas or gas stations directly at the motorway, which means, no good places to get dropped of, and no good places to start. The service areas that are there can be found on the site of Tank & Rast, click anywhere between Bielefeld and Aachen for the detail map of the Ruhrgebiet.
Long-distance traffic usually tries to drive round this area and this is what you should try when transiting, if possible.
When coming from the south, heading to north or east, you should take the A1 until Kamener Kreuz, and then follow the A1 for north or transfer to the A2 for east. Close before Kamener Kreuz, there is one of the few service areas (Lichtendorf), which is great to get a ride in direction of Bremen, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin and Cologne.
When coming from the East on the A2 and having a ride that goes to somewhere into the Ruhr Area, it's recommended to get dropped at Rhynern, a big service area close before the Ruhr Area. From there you can get a ride to south (direction Cologne), or maybe to the Netherlands.
When coming from the West, it is quite difficult to cross the Area. Resonable places are
- the service area Ohligser Heide, close to Düsseldorf, which is difficult to reach by hitching, but easy to reach by public transport.
- the service area Aachener Land, just east of Aachen, which is just after the Dutch and Belgian borders.
- the service area Frechen, close to Köln, if your driver, most likely coming out of the Netherlands or Belgium, goes past Aachen, but not further in your direction than Köln.
Good places to hitch out of the Ruhr Area are few and far between. You'll usually have to find a sympathetic person to drop you off there, or spend a bit of time on the VRR website to figure out what buses/trams to take and where to change.
South towards Cologne, northwest towards the Netherlands
The A52 runs through Essen and Mühlheim and joins the A3 running between the Dutch border in the North and Cologne/Frankfurt in the South. There's a good on-ramp onto the A52 near the Essen/Mühlheim air strip, reachable by bus (to a stop called "Abzweig Flughafen"); with dense traffic even on Sundays.
For Cologne, use a sign saying "A3 south". There are service areas before Cologne, so you'll have the chance to change rides there.
For the Netherlands, use a sign saying "A3 north".
Heading to Köln is quite easy from the A1 spot in Dortmund.
From the Westen part of the Ruhr Area the by far easiest spot to reach is a petrol station on the A2 in Bottrop, See that article for details.
Even better, especially to Bremen is the spot at A1 in Dortmund at the Western end of the Ruhr Area. See the page of the city to recieve detailed information.
The best spot to go East you can find in Hamm. The disadvantage here is that for a reason nobody knows Hamm is not a part of the Ruhr Area public transport network (VRR), what leads to the consequence that you can not use your VRR ticket and it will be much more expensive to get there.
The public transport in this area is coordinated in a transport network (called VRR), which means that you can take any bus/tram/subway/supension railway/train (execpt IC and ICE) with one ticket. For about 9€, you can get a ticket to get from anywhere to anywhere. Tickets for only one city are about 2.20€.
On working days between 7PM and 3AM and Saturday/Sunday the whole day students and owners of several other tickets can take a second person for free inside the VRR area. Just ask young people on the plattform or the bus stop and you should be fine.
Despite the area is very big and there is some kind of touristic infrastructure, it is good to know that most tourists are not staying over night. This leads to the problem, that there is almost no hostel network and those existing ones are pretty overpriced (like 20 Euro per bed in a dormitory). Try your luck with hospitality networks and you should find a host without a big problem. Hint: It will be even easier if you try it in a smaller city where are not tourists at all like Herne or Recklinghausen.
Sleeping on public places like train stations is not recommended, because they are never quiet.
If you have a VRR ticket you can sleep at the airport in Düsseldorf, it is no part of the Ruhr Area, but of this ticket network.