Tour de Ruhr
A Day at the Zollverein
Founded in 1847, the Zollverein colliery in Essen is most famous for the iconic headframe of its Shaft XII, built in 1932, which was, with an output of 12,000 tonnes of hard coal per day, the world’s most efficient mine at the time. The epitome of Neue Sachlichkeit architecture, it’s also the world’s most beautiful mine, and a fine manifestation of the Bauhaus maxim that form must be oriented towards function. After the mine was closed in 1986 because Ruhr coal had become too expensive, and its 192-oven coking plant was decommissioned in 1993, the Zollverein became the new cultural heart of the Ruhr region.
Just walking around the vast Zollverein site while enjoying the architecture is already pretty exciting, but taking the guided tour About coal and miners, which shows what happened in the colliery above ground level, is well worth two hours of your day. This tour is offered in English on Saturdays & Sundays at 3 p.m., in German several times a day, and in Dutch on some Sundays at 11½ a.m. (The coking plant tour Durch Koksofen und Meistergang is offered in German only.) Children will love the Werksschwimmbad, officially a contemporary artwork by Daniel Milohnić & Dirk Paschke, but you & I recognize a swimming pool when we see one.
When I was in school in the 1980s, I learned that the Ruhrgebiet was the industrial powerhouse of Germany, but when visiting the Zollverein, I discovered at the Ruhr Museum that in reality heavy industry was already pretty much on its way out at the time. This museum in the former coal-washing plant presents the history of the region, looking predominantly at the era of industrialization & beyond, as well as the present. So although, apart from the history bit up to the eighties, pretty much everything I previously told my kids about the Ruhr region was outdated, the exhibition corrected that and we were enlightened as to the current state of affairs.
The Red Dot Design Museum in the former boiler house in a way embodies the new vision for the Ruhr region, which is reinventing itself as a supplier of innovative, high-quality services & products. The museum displays some 2,000 objects that have won a Red Dot Award for outstanding design, from scissors to gyroplanes. Not all winners made it to the exhibition, which is rather fortunate if we consider the vast amount of unattractive computer hardware the jury endowed with dots; just the remarkable stuff is on show. It’s a great safe place for design-shopping addicts, because none of the items from the exhibition is for sale — at least, not here.zollverein.de