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November 30, 2018

Germany: Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex

Shaft 12 at the Zollverein Coal Mine

The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is a large decommissioned coal mining complex in the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland. It is located near the city of Essen in western Germany about 60 kilometers from the Netherlands. Guided tours allow visitors to see the inner workings of the old coal mine; the associated Ruhr Museum is open for independent visits.

The first coal mine in Zollverein was founded in 1847. For decades, starting in the late 1950s, Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant ranked among the largest of their kinds in Europe. It is a massive complex. Mining activities ended after coal extraction was no longer economically viable. On December 23, 1986 the mine was shuttered.

New Objectivity Style

Coal carrying cars inside the mining facility

As industrial complexes go the exterior of the coal mine is reasonably attractive. Indeed Shaft 12 near the visitor center was constructed in the New Objectivity style in the 1930’s. It is considered an architectural and technical masterpiece, earning it a reputation as the “most beautiful coal mine in the world,” which hardly seems a high aesthetic bar. Nevertheless, coal mine or not, the complex is architecturally interesting.

Though the outside of the complex is attractive, the best part for me was getting access to the inside. The mine has been left much in the way it was when its workers closed the doors on its last day of operation. On the tour visitors are walked through facility as the guide explains the mining process from extraction, cleaning and sorting, to the production of coke.

Conveyor belts through the forest

The view from above

Visitors on the tours can get a sense of both the process and what it was like to work in a coal mine. In operation the inside of the facility was undoubtedly dusty, dirty, and loud. Coal mining is a nasty business with significant, long-lasting consequences to the environment and for the people who worked in the industry. It’s hard to believe that today some think that it is a good idea to bring coal mining back.

In 1994 the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Though adding a coal mine to a list of cultural heritage sites may sound strange, UNESCO has numerous former industrial sites on its list. Usually this means that they are open to the public, which is good for us as they can be very interesting to see. Indeed, our visit to Zollverein makes us want to explore the inner bowels of all of the disused industrial plants that we happen upon, whether they are open to visitors or not.

Hard hats…

…and tools


We visited and toured the mine in October of 2017.

The Independent has more about Zollverein.

Coal cars

No, not that switch!

A complicated network of tracks move the coal around.

The winding tower for Shaft 12

A conveyor belt has been converted to a raised walkway.

The view out over the industrial Ruhr Valley

Shaft 12’s winding tower and the associated buildings

Interior walkways

The entrance to the Ruhr Museum

Tracks take coal around the facility

Inside views

Rivets and steel

1 Comment »

  1. […] our visit Völklingen Ironworks we’ve seen three decommissioned coal and iron works in this area of Europe. Each is interesting in its own right. But if I had to choose one to see I’d choose […]

    Pingback by Germany: Völklingen Ironworks | Another Header — December 6, 2018 @ 6:28 pm

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