The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Tour de Ruhr

The German Mining Museum

When it comes to mining, I tend to think of coal mining, mainly the post-war industrial-scale excavation of hard coal, but mining has been done since prehistory. The fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century precipitated the loss of most mining know-how, so the history of mining becomes an interesting subject from the Middle Ages onwards. The newly opened permanent exhibition at the German Mining Museum in Bochum takes you on a tour of 30,000 years of mining history and presents the importance of mineral resources, with an emphasis on hard coal, the enabler of industrialization & raison d’être for the Ruhr region. The museum shows not only technological developments, but also the social & cultural aspects of mining.

The visitor mine at the German Mining Museum
The visitor mine at the German Mining Museum

The coolest part of the museum is located 20 m below the ground, where a wide range of heavy mining machinery, such as a shearer loader & 50-m-long scraper conveyor with hydraulic roof supports for longwall mining, is on display in a 2½-km-long visitor mine. It’s probably the only one left in the country after the last German coal mines in Ibbenbüren & Bottrop closed a year ago. This doesn’t mean that all mining activities have come to an end: pumping out pit water in the Ruhrpott will continue into eternity, because the salty groundwater influx into the obsolete mineshafts poses a threat to potable water reserves in the higher layers of rock. The exhibition upstairs looks at this, as well as other issues related to the end of the coal-mining era.

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The film Gefährliches Erbe (44⅓ min., in German), starring Klaus Ruhnau, a most sympathetic miner with a formidable moustache, from the Bergwerk West colliery (closed in 2012) in Kamp-Lintfort, looks back at the history of the mining industry in the Ruhrgebiet and discusses measures being taken to deal with its everlasting consequences.


For those people who don’t understand German, an overview in English of the perpetual obligations of RAG AG, the Ruhr mining company, can be found on the website of the RAG-Stiftung, who will pay for keeping the pit-water level down as long as the DAX goes up, or, to be more specific, as long as Evonik, RAG’s former speciality chemicals division in which the foundation is a major shareholder, is sufficiently profitable (€ 220 mln/yr).


Germany’s two most interesting mining sites are the Zollverein in Essen (Ruhr), which is undoubtedly the most beautiful colliery in the world, and the Rammelsberg ore mine in Goslar (Harz), a drift mine where guided tours start with a ride on a mine train. Shaft mines that allow for visitor access to the underground galleries are rare, but Blegny Mine in Belgium is one of them.