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.

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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.

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A container turned swimming pool

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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!

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Fridge from the outside, but scented wardrobe from the inside

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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.

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Mind the dynamite

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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.

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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.

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

28 Thoughts on “Zeche Zollverein – From coal mine to hip world heritage site

  1. What a cool way to give an ugly old building new life!
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted…24 Hours of Luxury in Sydney @FSSydneyMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on July 5, 2013 at 5:46 am said:

      Definitely Bethaney! There are so many derelict sites around the world who are screaming out to be turned into something like this.

  2. Love places like this! Mentally adding to my list…

  3. Great article and amazing photography! Something different and off the beaten track 🙂 I must visit it! If you like Mines, visit also Salt Mine in Wieliczka, Poland, it’s also cool with many chambers and sculptures carved in salt.

  4. I want one of those fridges, too! This looks AWESOME, and if I’m ever in that part of the world, I will so be visiting! The industrial look is really my favorite design look…my apartment is furnished with repurposed items that have a similar feel!;-)
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted…Strolling The Sculptures Of Midtown ManhattanMy Profile

  5. What an awesome place! I love your photography and all the colours. I always find recycled things so fascinating, whether art or jewellery of even buildings. I like that they have that sense of history.

  6. Oh wow! I love this kind of stuff! I must visit some day soon! I worked one summer in Germany at the oldest mining university in the world and paid a visit to their teaching mine which was a former silver mine and very interesting. My most favourite by far was another UNESCO World Heritage Site near Krakow – Wieliczka Salt Mine. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And also visiting is an AMAZING hangover cure after a night drinking in Krakow.
    Joshua @ Engineer on the Road recently posted…Scammed in “Soviet Disneyland”My Profile

  7. I loved visiting this complex! I made a specific trip to Essen (up from Köln) to visit the Museum Folkwang (they once had an exquisite exhibition of art, culture, photography from early 20th-century Paris) and the Zollverein. This was one late-December, and it was suitably cold and grey – the usual one finds for DE in early-winter. However, upon entering what is now the Ruhr Museum, it was like a magical land of light and metal parts, complete with the industrial history of the Ruhrgebiet. I was already familiar with Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photography, but the Zollverein made me far more appreciative of both the industrial history of Germany and the Bechers’ work. If it led me to my own approach to photography (especially with Zollverein all lit up at night), then I’d say that’s a great thing. Thanks for your post, Tammy & Chris!
    fotoeins | Henry recently posted…16 hours on Canada Day in VancouverMy Profile

  8. That looks so cool! I love abandoned industrial sites. I just went to an old gold dredge – it was underwater for 20 years before the parks people brought it up and started letting people tour it.
    Jess recently posted…Trespassing the Bloomingdale trail.My Profile

  9. This definitely looks like a cool place to visit – I love learning about unusual places such as this. The only mine that I recall visiting is the Britannia Mine Museum in Vancouver, a former copper mine which in addition to being museum, now frequently serves as a movie/television set.
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted…Where to Stay in Paraty: Eliconial Paraty PousadaMy Profile

  10. I love it when old industrial sites like this get reinvented as cool cultural hubs like this. Manchester has a few similar projects and never tire of visiting them. Really enjoyed the photos as they are atmospheric and give a feel for the place. Thanks for sharing.
    Iain Mallory recently posted…Everest Base Camp Trek; A Survival GuideMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on July 10, 2013 at 5:07 am said:

      Yes, me too Iain! There are so many mines in Germany and England, they might as well up-cycle all of those sites to give them new life. Glad you enjoyed my photos. 🙂

  11. Nice! Even the design of the red hot design building is cool. Glad you had an interesting time looking around.
    Arianwen recently posted…Black Odyssey caving with the Legendary Blackwater Rafting CompanyMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on July 10, 2013 at 5:21 am said:

      The Red Dot museum looks a bit intimidating at first (I guess Mr Thyssen Krupp wanted to make a lasting impression- typical men 😉 ), but once you are inside it was just so cool.

  12. I love places like this! The background makes for an interesting story and it’s different than your “normal” museums and such. The city I grew up in turned an old gas plant into a public park and the old gas structures look pretty neat in a gorgeous waterfront park. One of my favorite places to take friends and family on a sunny day. Thanks for sharing this one!
    Samantha recently posted…Happy Guanacaste Day!My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on July 30, 2013 at 2:52 am said:

      Wow, that place sound great too Samantha. I think the combination of industrial versus nature can work really well actually.

  13. Pretty cool how they do this! Looks like a neat place to explore
    Andrea recently posted…Big In Texas: Little Monster TrucksMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 5, 2013 at 1:15 am said:

      Yeas, it was a pretty cool place Andrea. Every time I go it is more amazing than before. They never run out of ideas.

  14. This is really a great article and a great read for me. It’s my first visit to your blog and I have found it so useful and informative. Thank you

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