” There was a time when the dust from the mine clung to clothes, windows … even the air was filled with a certain mist ” writes Carlos Castejón – a priest who lived in Essen from 1962 to 2002 – in his bookUnder the sign of the K: souvenirs from the Ruhr area.
Founded in 1847, the Zollverein coal mine was one of 291 mines in Essen, implying that Essen was the largest mining city on the European continent. Today it has acquired the title of “European Green Capital”. How? Converting its mining legacy into cultural heritage.
In 1937 Zollverein had approximately 7,000 employees and produced around 4 tons of coal per year. Accidents were frequent at the mine and the risk of explosions was a problem for the workers. When the demand for coal began to decline, the Essen mines closed. The profits that Zollverein was acquiring were not enough and in 1986 the Zollverein mine closed, the last mine in Essen to cease.
The number of inhabitants decreased; unemployment increased. And the quintessential mining town in Europe had lost all its mines. Building on what they already had they had to turn into a source of employment, the mine remains Essen’s greatest attraction, but the outlook and its use have changed radically.
In 2001, UNESCO declared the mine a World Heritage Site. Zollverein’s goal had changed and he was going to change it even more. In 1992 it received 5,000 visitors and in 2016 that number increased to 160,000.
The mine is the workplace for 1,000 people and the office of several start-ups filling the atmosphere of youth and not coal. The mining reference has become a cultural reference and the Bauhaus style of the mine is today more important than the coal it used to produce.
The mine hosts the contemporary art fair twice a year, different exhibitions, guided tours and other activities. Part of the mine turns into a swimming pool in summer and into a skating rink in winter, Zollverein has come alive again.
Unemployment and low number of inhabitants remain a problem that haunts Essen, despite the increase of more than 10,000 inhabitants since 2003. Visiting the museum and the mine shows a city that has built a sustainable project based on its heritage: industry mining. Same place, different use. An example of a city that has grown rebuilding itself.
Via Paula Cámara.