There weren't any other people there that evening, so I took the motorbike into tunnels and underground spaces that are ‘Verboten’ by day. Ears were filled with the silence of this post-industrial landscape, and the occasional grinding metal from inside the iron structures. As the Bauhaus-designed industrial architecture of Zollverein and it's peripheral buildings floated by in the evening sunlight, for some reason I felt strangely at home in this rusted iron forest, the smell of long-forgotten coal fired industrialism, still prominent in the air...
The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is situated in the north-east side of Essen, just two kilometres from my hotel. It has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since December 14, 2001 and is one of the anchor points of the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Good base to start from, for this trip...
The first coal mine on the premises was founded in 1847, mining activities took place from 1851 until December 23, 1986. For decades starting in the late 1950s, the two parts of the site, Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant (erected 1957−1961, closed on June 30, 1993), ranked among the largest of their kinds in Europe. Shaft 12, built in Bauhaus style, was opened in 1932 and is considered an architectural and technical masterpiece, earning it a reputation as the “most beautiful coal mine in the world” for obvious reasons.
The Zollverein site quickly gained notice for its simple, functional Bauhaus design with its mainly cubical buildings made of reinforced concrete and steel trusses. The shaft's characteristic Doppelbock winding tower in the following years not only became the archetype of many later central mining facilities, but a symbol of German heavy industry itself.
This symbol may have slowly been forgotten when German heavy industry started diminishing in the second half of the 20th century, but this shaft and especially its characteristic winding tower were to become a symbol of the Ruhr area's structural change. Zollverein survived the Second World War with only minor damages and by 1953 again placed on top of all German mines with an output of 2.4 million tons.
After an expansion in the early 1970s, Zollverein placed among the most productive coking plants worldwide, with around 1.000 workers and an output of up to 8.600 tons of coke per day (not Cocaine) on the so-called ‘dark side’. The ‘white side’ of the plant (not Cocaine either) produced side products such as ammonia, raw benzene and raw tar.
When it closed, Zollverein was the last remaining active coal mine in Essen. Whereas the coking plant remained open until June 30, 1993, mining activities in shaft 12 stopped on December 23, 1986.
I spent a couple of days riding through this post industrial landscape, as slowly as possible, stopping occasionally, to absorb nearly 200 years of progressive industrial development, and understand what it was that actually went on here... coal, iron ore and silver mines fueling global development, pushing humanity forward, some really hard physical work, a level and depth of which, we children of the revolution find hard to understand. You should experience it for yourself...
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex