Tuesday, May 19, 2009


As planners in Essen prepare for all the excitement of the 2010 European Cultural Capital celebration, I'm sure at least some of them are wishing they had a spare cathedral or a few Fachwerkhäuser at their disposal. Or maybe a nice old chunk of city wall with a gate included, like the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin. Instead, Essen has a coal mine. And ultimately, you can't plan an event with the Sehenswürdigkeiten you wish you had: you have to work with what you've got.

But it's not just any old coal mine. When Fritz Shupp and Martin Kremmer were charged in the late 1920's with developing a design for Shaft XII of the Zollverein coal mine, their brief was to build the biggest, most efficient, most beautiful coal mine in the world. The architects were influenced by the same ideals of simplicity and rationality that were driving the Bauhaus aesthetic and they combined those principles with a monumentality that has to be seen to be believed.

I've been on the grounds of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site at Zeche Zollverein countless times and yesterday I had a tour with a really knowledgeable expert on the topic. But I still find it hard to grasp. The site is complex and not easily filed in any existing categories that I've got in my brain. But perhaps the most significant thing about Zollverein, and one that's easily overlooked, is that for all its overwhelming size, the above-ground presence of the mine is dwarfed by its subterranean counterpart. I've never been down the shaft, and I'm not at all sure I want to go. Even though my understanding is incomplete, I'll be happy to share some of the pictures I took yesterday with my 2.0 mm mobile phone camera. Enjoy the photos and make your plans to visit in 2010.

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