Thursday, 8 April 2010

Just to repeat myself... The reason I was so exhausted last Wednesday was because of this...

Mmm, maybe the photo doesn't really do it justice! 

However, I had the wonderful opportunity of being part of a guided tour round a working coal-mine. 

Again, that might not inspire you completely but it was somewhat of an experience of a lifetime - and it is actually really difficult to get on a tour.

The area where I live is the industrial heartland of Germany. And just like similar areas all over the world, bit by bit the industry is closing and the factories are moving east leaving empty industrial buildings behind and with it, a (somewhat) forgotten history. 

Part of my feeling at home here is that I'm really interested in the area and the history and take any opportunity I can to increase my knowledge or understanding of it. And while Birmingham was also industrial in the past and has had to adapt to a new way of life once the factories started to close, mining has never been in my field of vision. But it's everywhere here. You see the shafthead frames seemingly around every corner and the landscape is full of areas of reclaimed land or hills created out of the excavated earth from the mines of the past. 

The Ruhr has converted many of these negelected industrial sites into interesting tourists sites, event centres or landscape parks as part of the "Industrial Culture Route" and I've been working my way through it over the years! Every visitor of ours gets taken to one or more of these places and I think it's a great way of resuing land and buildings in an interesting way to encourage tourism to a place which is trying to reinvent itself. One of the venues is the Bergbau Museum (mining museum) in Bochum and I've been there at least 5 or 6 times and thought it was fascinating - they have created an underground mine area with machines and information to give you an idea of what it's all about. But wow, the reality is so different!

 (My last trip to the Bochum Museum with Ted back in April 2009)

So off we went to the Auguste Victoria Shaft 8 mine here in Marl and experienced something really quite special.

We were given a short presentation on the history of the mining in this area before we went down and the numbers were amazing (though the details are missing of course now!). From hundreds of working mines during its peak 30 or so years ago to just a handful (6) now here in the Ruhr area. In 1978 178,000 people were employed in this region in the mining industry - today around the 25,000 mark.

(Photos courtesy of the RAG Deutsche Steinkohle website)

For our tour, we were fitted out in suitable clothing and safety equipment which seemed to weigh a ton and included everything - even some rather sexy (NOT) Y-front underpants!! As you can see, we were a somewhat motley lot once we were all kitted out!

(Thanks to Arno Specht at for the photos of our adventure)

We went down in the shaft lift at about 35 kph to 1,140 metres underground (gulp!) and then travelled for about 20 minutes in a small suspended train thing until we reached a coal seam that is being worked on. I had seen these drilling/milling machines at the museum. Except this was real! 

We had to climb over piles of dirt, in and out of pipes, hydraulic supports, slipping though slimy puddles and even I had to keep my head down as the seam was about 1.60m (considered quite a decent height by the miners!)

Ok, take a look at this machine and hydraulic support system here

(photos of the mining museum)

and then imagine it in a real life situation - pipes are going everywhere, the noise in unbelievable, there is thick dust in the air, it's really dark, the ground is most certainly not at all even (opposite to the photos above!) and there are lumps of rock and coal all along the way, the ceiling is too low for you to stand properly, there are sirens going and radio messages mixing into the sound level and it's hot. I mean really hot. I'm not really sure how hot but I reckon high 20's. And you are standing there in your heavy, thick, uncomfortable, protective clothing - feeling exhausted from just walking there. Now imagine working - physically hard, for hours and hours. Makes you think.

(Photos courtesy of the RAG Deutsche Steinkohle website)

Of course, we were not allowed to take any photos underground but I think I will never forget the picture I have in my mind of this huge incredible milling machine tearing into the rock and coal and watching the glossy, black material crumbling onto the band that would take it away. You may find this a bit strange but I have to admit that I was quite emotional. This coal was 350 million years old and it was torn out of the ground in just a few seconds. And then it will just be burnt. Surely this can't be right! Of course, this isn't something you can really talk about with anyone here as it is one of the most important industries the region had/has but I did feel really sad about what we are doing to the earth and its resources.

We were underground for 3 hours and this is what we looked like when we hit the surface again (all clutching our pieces of souvenir coal that we picked up right where it was being dug out - 1100 metres underground!) ...

(photos courtesy of

I was amazed at just how exhausted I was at the end of the day - we had walked 4 or 5 kilometres underground - and have so much respect for the miners who work down there all day every day in such extreme circumstances. They must sleep well every night - I know I did!

(Photo courtesy of the RAG Deutsche Steinkohle website)

I can feel a scrapbook page (or two) coming on!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:18 pm

    wow really interesting, can't think what papers you could use with those pics tho!!! (bet karen foster actually does mining papers lol) xx


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