“There was a time when the mining dust used to get stuck in the clothes and the windows to the point of filling the air with mist” wrote Carlos Castejón –a Spanish priest that lived in Essen from 1962 to 2002– on his book Under the K: Memories of Ruhr Region.
Founded in 1847, Zollverein Coal Mine was one of the 291 collieries in Essen, as the guide in the Ruhr museum explained. And it meant that Essen was the largest mining city on the European Continent. Nowadays, has become “The European Green Capital”. How? Turning the mining legacy into a cultural heritage.
In 1937 Zollverein had around 7,000 employees and produced around 4 tons of coal per year. In the mine, were several accidents and the firedamp was a problem for the workers there. But the call of coal decreased and the mines in Essen began to close. The benefits in Zollverein weren´t enough and in 1986 The Zollverein Coal Mine was closed down, as the last colliery in Essen.
The population decreased, the unemployment raised. And the city of the mining in Europe had lost their mines and they had to turn what they had on a source of jobs and also benefits for the people that live there. The mine was still the attraction of Essen, but the perspective was going to change.
In 2001, UNESCO declared the mine as a heritage of humanity. The Zollverein aim had changed and was going to change even more. In 1992, 5,000 visitors went to Essen and that number became 160,000 in 2016.
The mine became the work place for around 1,000 people and the office for several start-ups filling the atmosphere with youth instead of coal dust. The mining reference has become a cultural reference, and the Bauhaus style of the mine has become more important than the coal that used to produce
Sources: ImGrid and Essen
The mine holds twice a year the art fair contemporary art, several expositions and guided tours, among other activities. The parts of the mine became a swimming pool in summer and a skating rink in winter, Zollverein is as full of people as used to be while the mining production.
The shades are still alive and the unemployment and the low number of population is a problem that keeps haunting Essen. The changes are not only visible but also datable, until 2003 the population continue falling and since then, it increased from 566,000 to 574,000 inhabitants, according to UNESCO.
Visiting the Museum and the mine shows a city that raised a sustainable project based on their legacy: the mining industry. Same location, different use. An example of a city that had to build itself again and it is still growing.