In 2018 German coal mining will be ending for good. Not only does an important era of German history, but also of European history come to a close.
For 200 years, the production and consumption of coal had a formative impact on Europe. All over the continent, mining left its mark on the economy, industry and infrastructure, on politics, society and everyday life.
In the Ruhr Area in particular, coal had a strong impact on work, day-to-day life and the mentality of the people. The Ruhr Museum Essen and the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum are taking the farewell to coal as a reason to stage, for the first time, a joint exhibition called: “The Age of Coal. A European History”.
At the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zollverein, the previously largest colliery in Europe, the exhibition presents the multifaceted and fascinating history of coal production and consumption and its consequences for Europe.
Starting with a ride in with a cable car, the visitors travel back in time to when coal was created more than 300 million years ago. Three impressive exhibition floors with more than 1,200 exhibits bring back to life the phenomena and structures of a fascinating era from 1750 until today. Objects revealing the social and technological history of coal from more than a hundred international lenders based in virtually all the European coal-mining areas are on display alongside objects from the collections of both museums., Apart from mining relics, heavy machines, photographs and films, flags, paintings, busts there are many surprising by-products of coal mining, revealing the importance of coal for the development of Europe.
British artist Jonathan Anderson has created a gigantic floating art installation “Dark Star” from coal dust especially for this exhibition. Additionally, in the exterior area near the mixing plant, the sculpture park and its gigantic machines illustrate the dimensions of modern mining.
Starting with a ride on the cable car, the history of coal awaits the visitors at the place where coal was sorted, stored and mixed in order to produce 5,000 tons of coke a day. On three spectacular levels the exhibition covers the period from 1750 until today. First, however, “The Worlds of Coal” shows how coal was created more than 300 million years ago in carboniferous forests and presents the largest piece of coal mined in the Ruhr Area.
On the first level the world of Mining is presented: How did miners reach the coal? How did they push the limits of nature in the European coalfields? The four elements earth, air, fire and water illustrate the fascinating technical developments of mining and also its physical exertion and constant dangers. Mining technology reduced these dangers, but never eliminated them.
In the windowless bunkers of the second level, Unleashing deals with the numerous possibilities of coal. Not only did the “black gold” contain stored solar energy which fuelled the industrial age. It also gave rise to the chemical industry, allowing it to imitate nature. Furthermore, coal provided the substances for numerous pharmaceutical products. It also contributed to better living conditions and was the guarantor of complex infrastructures, numerous jobs and the accumulation of wealth. At the same time, it played a decisive role in the development of class conflicts and in the waging of wars.
The third level Culmination and Farewell is dedicated to the heyday and the consequences of coal. These range from the key contribution of coal to the economic reconstruction and political unification of Europe after World War II, the replacement of coal with new energy sources, the subsequent structural changes and the immense ecological consequences that result from the extraction and consumption of coal. The People and Machines in Mining conclude the exhibition. In interviews “People in Mining” express their personal farewell to “The Age of Coal”. Outside in the Sculpture Park gigantic machines illustrate the dimensions of modern mining.
Ruhr Museum and Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum
The exhibition “The Age of Coal. A European History” at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zollverein brings together two important German museums for the first time – in a cooperation that communicates, preserves and explores the history of coal mining in the Ruhr Area and Europe and its far reaching consequences.
The two museums make use of synergies, presenting the collection of the Ruhr Museum on the history of the Ruhr Area and the inventories regarding mining and its technology from the Mining History Document Centre at the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.
The exhibition is sponsored by the RAG-Stiftung in the context of the “Glückauf Zukunft!” initiative.
In addition, “Glückauf Zukunft!” also provides new impulses to the debates about the future in the mining regions.