During my road trip through Germany I visited some dear friends of mine in Duesseldorf. Being the perfect hosts they took a few days off work to be our personal tour guides. The Ruhr area in Germany is not exactly the most exciting part for tourists (unless you like football), however it is an area very close to my heart as I went to university there. So when my friends suggested to visit a former coal mine called Zeche Zollverein, not too far from Duesseldorf in a town called Essen, I couldn’t wait to go. I remember going as a student with my overly excited industrial design tutor, and I loved it back then. That was a long time ago though (showing my age here), so I couldn’t wait to go back again to see how things have changed.
The Zeche Zollverein coal mine used to be one of many coal mines that existed in Germany for over 300 years. It used to be the biggest coal mine in the area, but as with many mines in the 80ies this one had to be closed down for economical reasons due to cheaper competition from abroad. The mine closed down in December 1989 after 136 years. It is now a UNSECO World Heritage site, and for a good reason I think.
Most former coal mines in Germany have been demolished and turned into housing or industrial areas. The Zeche Zollverein though hasn’t because of its historic significance. The aim was to turn it into a cultural and artistic center.These days it houses awesome design and historic museums, a design university, galleries, cafes, art workshops and even a public swimming pool. I think that’s what you call up-cycling.
My favourite of the three museums on site was the Red Dot Design Museum, which houses the world’s largest presentation of contemporary design. All design objects exhibited in the museum have won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award and I love it how the museum dotted the design objects in really unusual places all around the museum, so they really look part of the old coal mine. Some of the things they exhibit are just ingenious, such as a fridge that makes your clothes smell nice again. It was designed in South Korea and comes in handy down there due to the smog and stinky traffic fumes. I so want one!
Visitors can also learn more about the coal mining industry itself with guided tours of course. Tours are often led by former coal miners, so they can provide you with a really good insight into what life underground was like.
The Zeche Zollverein is a magnificent piece of German industrial culture and a brilliant example of how derelict and ugly sites can be turned into a piece of art (literally). The whole complex is enormous and you can spend days there if you want. I think it is great that something as ‘boring’ as a coal mine has been turned into such a cool place to visit.
Have you ever been to a derelict site that has been turned into something really cool?
Disclaimer: I haven’t been paid by the Zeche Zollverein to write this review. I was just really impressed with the whole complex.