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Zollverein industrial heritage or: the most beautiful coal mine in the world

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

Zeche Zollverein Germany

Interested in visiting an industrial heritage site and an architectural masterpiece at the same time? Continue reading as this post will take you to the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, Germany. I have written this post because I understand that when traveling you sometimes want something different. And a visit to Zollverein is different; a coal mine that is out of operation for decades already! Great destination for a daytrip if you are in the area and a feast for the photographer who is interested in (industrial) architecture and design (like me!).

Zollverein photography post
Tour in Zollverein

The city of Essen lies at the heart of the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr) area, the former German coal mining region and still one of the largest conurbations in Europe. Due to the (former) accumulation of heavy industry I can honestly say the region suffered from a bad reputation. Luckily Germany made a (political) shift in direction from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, where since the 1970s coal mines were gradually closed. Now when you travel in Germany you see electrical windmills and solar panels all over the place, a true energy shift.

End of the coal mine industry and the rise of industrial heritage

The ultimate end of the coal mining industry is near as mining subsidies in Germany will be ended by 2018. Already from 1960 to 1980, the number of mines in Germany fell from 146 to 39. By 2000, only 12 were still operating.

Instead of demolishing the mines and factories the Germans decided they need to keep their industrial heritage alive. So rather than complete destruction, these places reincarnated into parts of a new and energetic cultural scene. A cultural scene loaded with major international events, such as the Ruhrtriennale, the Ruhr Piano Festival and the Ruhr Theatre Festival. Or what about the 400km Industrial Heritage Route that allows you to explore 54 striking monuments of Germany’s industrial past and present.

Tour in Zollverein

Zollverein architecture

From an industrial wasteland to a vibrant cultural scene

One of the best examples on this Industrial Heritage Route is Zollverein, a symbol for the entire region’s transformation and Unesco World Heritage. The Zollverein mine and factory are important examples of the German coal mining industry. For decades, starting in the late 1950s, the two main parts of the site were the largest of their kind in Europe! But not only size matters. Built in the New Objectivity style, it’s actually considered an architectural and technical masterpiece.

Tour in Zollverein

Zollverein architecture

In the past years, Zollverein has gradually turned into an entertainment and education park, currently offering an industrial history museum, a swimming pool, restaurants, meeting facilities and a place for start-up companies to kick-off their business. There is so much going on!

Since 1986, no coal is being mined at Zollverein anymore but the abandoned places are impressive: it (still) consists of the complete installations of a historical coal-mining site: the pits, the coking plants, railway lines, miner’s housing and much more. It’s truly a monument of industrial history.

Zollverein tour

The cool thing is that much of the former coal factory has been left intact. A guided Zollverein tour will bring you to the inner part of the factory, showing for example how coals were won, grinded and burned for energy. It’s an interesting peek into a way of living that we gladly have now left behind us.

Zeche Zollverein Germany

Coal mine Germany Zollverein

For me as a photographer this industrial location is a real treat! I went on a daytrip with like-minded photographers and we could move around freely to take pictures of this important heritage location. It’s cool to play around with shutter speed while trying to frame the beautiful details of what from a distance seems to be just a bunch of old junk. Architectural design at its finest!

Join me on a trip through the heart of this abandoned factory. If you like to see the full set of pictures (and they are amazing), just go and click here to visit my Portfolio section. Promise you will not be disappointed.

This trip was organized by Gerda van Ekris, professional architecture and interior photographer. Based in the Netherlands, she offers regular photography excursions also to nearby countries. Thanks for this great Zollverein tour!

Coal mine Germany Zollverein

Text and photography by:
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Bama October 31, 2017 - 11:32

I must admit, former industrial sites are not usually the kind of place I visit. But this coal mine and your description of it has got me thinking. There are former coal mines in Indonesia which have now turned into museums. Maybe I should pay a visit and see if I might end up wanting for more!

Emiel Van Den Boomen October 31, 2017 - 19:09

Maybe you will…or maybe not 🙂 I am very much interested in abandoned places and how I can capture them with my camera. But it’s interesting to see how they have been transforming the old industrial buildings into monuments. Maybe try one in Indonesia and see how it goes…good luck!


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