Since the establishment of the Zollverein Foundation in 1998, their motto has been “preservation through conversion”

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, Germany was once the world’s largest coal mine and coking plant. The first shaft was sunk here in 1847. In the early 1930s it was transformed into a modern and highly efficient coke producing plant, with a Bauhaus-inspired exterior that effectively hides what must have been an industrial opera of a kind – a sooty cacophony of mechanical noise from heavy machinery, endless conveyor belts and blast furnaces on the inside.

A World Heritage site since 2001, the Zollverein complex now stands as a massive monument over an important chapter in the recent central European (industrial) history. Today this enormous complex just outside the city of Essen is the tranquil home to the Ruhr Museum, the Red Dot design museum, arts and crafts workshops, restaurants, concerts and events.

The coking plant
The coking plant

Ruhr and Zollverein

In the mid 19th century the industrialist Franz Haniel needed coke for steel production. Test-drilling near Essen showed very rich layers of coal, the first to be extracted from Shaft I at Zollverein in 1851. 50 years later, in 1900, more than 5000 miners worked in three shafts, making Zollverein one of the largest collieries among a total of some 300 mines in the Ruhr area. The steadily increasing demands for coal and steel caused the population of small towns in the Ruhr to climb rapidly. In the first half of 20th century the name Ruhr became synonymous with economic growth and expansion but increasingly also with industrial air and water pollution.

Red Dot Design Museum
Red Dot Design Museum

In 1926 Zollverein and its owner the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG decided to construct a central shaft. In 1932, mining operations commences in Shaft XII, at the time the world’s largest and most modern coal mining plant with a daily output of 12.000 tons of coal. The architects were Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer. The warm red and brick brown Bauhaus-style industrial buildings still look surprisingly modern.

When the last mine was decommissioned in 1986, the Shaft XII building, the coal washery, was put under preservation order. Shaft XII now houses the Ruhr Museum and its more than 6000 exhibits covering the natural and cultural history of the whole Ruhr Metropolis from prehistoric times to the present.

Zollverein coking plant – Essen Germany
Zollverein coking plant – Essen Germany

Industrial World Heritage

In 2001 the Zollverein Shaft XII building and the Shafts 1/2/8 as well as the coking plant were declared World Heritage sites. The Zollverein complex is considered to be an important example of a European primary industry of great economic significance. Its buildings are outstanding examples of the application of the design concepts of the Modern Movement in architecture in a wholly industrial context. (UNESCO)

A view from a restaurant table by the coking plant
A view from a restaurant table by the coking plant

SOURCES & CREDITS
All photos © Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo