On our tour through a part of the Route of Industrial Culture, we were on these sci-fi slag heaps, in the Edelzechen and High Tech Museums. The landmarks, renovations and parks are the result of far-sighted planning, courageous (building-) politics, fantasy-filled designs, the great patience of the participants and the people’s desire for change. One can hardly believe that just a few decades ago, this was a ruined corner of the republic. Relics of the once-proud coal and steel industry now stand here solemnly. Anyone who visits the old gasometer, support towers and blast furnaces in the Ruhr city for the first time will also encounter the stories of proud grafters and other epics from the mines. Naturally, the structural change was not implemented in just a few years, but rather took decades, and wrought mass unemployment, desertification and poverty.
Of course, today, these witnesses of the 150-year industrial past of the Ruhr have been renovated and changed—and they are impressive. Happily, the old production sites are no sterile, museum-like monuments to industry, but have rather been reinterpreted, modified and altered. Perhaps that’s why there is also no sense of melancholy, at least none that I noticed. Because the profound upheaval is in no way concluded, and the problems of the region cannot be polished away with renovations and conversion measures. Nevertheless, milestones—like the International Building Exhibition IBA Emscher Park from 1989-1999, the branding of the cultural capital city Ruhr.2010 and the REGIONALEN have created important impulses for new definitions not only for the old industrial systems, but also for the identity of an entire region. Instead of a city of ruins, it’s “Ruhr Reloaded”. The mining industry is dead, long live the Mountain-Park. The new-old systems have developed into lively cultural spaces, to which fitness buffs cycle in summer as well as in winter, art history wonks make pilgrimages, and families flock. These spaces offer great views of this city landscape of 5.2 million, impressively illustrate the industrial-cultural world, and bring together nature, culture and the city. Where people once toiled and the earth was a crater landscape, now futuristic giant installations are exhibited, concerts are staged, and weekend athletes work off their office pounds. On our tour through a part of the 400 kilometre-long Industrial Heritage Trail with its 25 anchor points and 17 panoramas, we have followed special architectural, building-cultural features. Sometimes, though, we included what we simply liked of this Ruhr Valley mixture of historical monument idylls, mining reminiscences and shaped urban landscapes. This coal-district mix succeeds in bringing a contemporaneity to the cultural spheres and in grounding Planet Ruhr; the noise of the nearest busy street is guaranteed not to be far away. It is this sound of the route, its powerful installation fantasies, the references to a history full of glory and privation and the effortful struggle for an identity, that truly makes this area into a sci-fi park. Or, as one might say here: Listen, we’re headed for the future here – with a bang!

Zeche Zollverein.  The Zollverein Unesco World heritage Site is the heart of the Ruhr Area. The Zollverein Coal Mine is a masterpiece of industrial architecture, created by Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer in the 1930s.
Zeche Zollverein The Zollverein Unesco World heritage Site is the heart of the Ruhr Area. The Zollverein Coal Mine is a masterpiece of industrial architecture, created by Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer in the 1930s. © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The symmetrical arrangement of buildings is still impressive today: the facilities designed down to the last detail are a completely preserved synthesis of the arts.
Zeche Zollverein The symmetrical arrangement of buildings is still impressive today: the facilities designed down to the last detail are a completely preserved synthesis of the arts. © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  The largest preserved mine in the Ruhr region combines the work-, production-, and living worlds of mining like no other.
Zeche Zollverein The largest preserved mine in the Ruhr region combines the work-, production-, and living worlds of mining like no other. © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The Zollverein is the ultimate symbol of Ruhr mining construction
Zeche Zollverein The Zollverein is the ultimate symbol of Ruhr mining construction © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  A built document of the German industrial and mining history
Zeche Zollverein A built document of the German industrial and mining history © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Today, the area consists of 5 pits with 12 shafts
Zeche Zollverein Today, the area consists of 5 pits with 12 shafts © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  Shaft 12 was built between 1928 and 1931
Zeche Zollverein Shaft 12 was built between 1928 and 1931 © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Built between 1928 and 1929 by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, the former boiler house served as the power house of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex for many years
Zeche Zollverein Built between 1928 and 1929 by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, the former boiler house served as the power house of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex for many years © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  In the mid-1990s, British architect Lord Norman Foster rebuilt the house for its new purpose as Red Dot Design Museum
Zeche Zollverein In the mid-1990s, British architect Lord Norman Foster rebuilt the house for its new purpose as Red Dot Design Museum © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The conversion was completed in 1996
Zeche Zollverein The conversion was completed in 1996 © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The long gangway with the escalator to the Ruhr Museum
Zeche Zollverein The long gangway with the escalator to the Ruhr Museum © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  In 2006, the conversion of the coal washing plant was completed according to the design by OMA with Böll and Krabel architects
Zeche Zollverein In 2006, the conversion of the coal washing plant was completed according to the design by OMA with Böll and Krabel architects © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  Staircase to the Portal of Industrial Heritage
Zeche Zollverein Staircase to the Portal of Industrial Heritage © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  Part of the Portal of Industrial Heritage ('Portal der Industriekultur'), which informs visitors about the landscape of industrial museums and monuments in North Rhine-Westphalia and the structural change of the Ruhr Metropolis
Zeche Zollverein Part of the Portal of Industrial Heritage ('Portal der Industriekultur'), which informs visitors about the landscape of industrial museums and monuments in North Rhine-Westphalia and the structural change of the Ruhr Metropolis © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Stairs of the raw coal bunker
Zeche Zollverein Stairs of the raw coal bunker © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  The redevelopment of the coal washery was undertaken by the architects Rem Koolhaas and Heinrich Böll and ...
Zeche Zollverein The redevelopment of the coal washery was undertaken by the architects Rem Koolhaas and Heinrich Böll and ... © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  ... satisfied the requirements for the conservation of listed buildings.
Zeche Zollverein ... satisfied the requirements for the conservation of listed buildings. © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  Lighting interior stairwell symbolizing fire, steel and heat of the former coal plant
Zeche Zollverein Lighting interior stairwell symbolizing fire, steel and heat of the former coal plant © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  Floor of the Ruhr Museum. The interior design was planned by renowned practise hg merz, based in Berlin and Stuttgart
Zeche Zollverein Floor of the Ruhr Museum. The interior design was planned by renowned practise hg merz, based in Berlin and Stuttgart © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  Design based on the ideas of Neues Bauen ('New Objectivity') in combination with the look of industrial architecture
Zeche Zollverein Design based on the ideas of Neues Bauen ('New Objectivity') in combination with the look of industrial architecture © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Dyer's Garden, a cooperation project of the foundation Zollverein, the Ruhr Museum and the global acting network-initiative "sevengardens"
Zeche Zollverein Dyer's Garden, a cooperation project of the foundation Zollverein, the Ruhr Museum and the global acting network-initiative "sevengardens" © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  PACT Zollverein – Performing Arts Choreographisches Zentrum NRW Tanzlandschaft Ruhr
Zeche Zollverein PACT Zollverein – Performing Arts Choreographisches Zentrum NRW Tanzlandschaft Ruhr © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  The entire area with the shaft 12 by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer ...
Zeche Zollverein The entire area with the shaft 12 by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer ... © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  ... gained notice for its simple, functional Bauhaus design ...
Zeche Zollverein ... gained notice for its simple, functional Bauhaus design ... © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  ... with its mainly cubical buildings made of reinforced concrete and steel trusses.
Zeche Zollverein ... with its mainly cubical buildings made of reinforced concrete and steel trusses. © Hendrik Bohle

Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer are the only German architects whose buildings had two world heritage site listings in a row: the Rammelsberg Mine in Goslar – a world heritage site since 1992 – and the Zollverein Coal Mine, a world heritage site since 2001.

This world heritage site is absolutely superlative. The largest preserved mine in the Ruhr region combines the work-, production-, and living worlds of mining like no other. The former Zollverein Coal Mine in Essenes Norden stretches over multiple parts of the city. From its foundation in 1848 to its closure in 1986, it was one of the largest, most technologically modern and architecturally elaborate mines of the coal district. The Zollverein is the ultimate symbol of Ruhr mining construction and a built document of the German industrial and mining history, influenced significantly by engineers and architects.
Today, the area consists of 5 pits with 12 shafts. Shaft 12 was built between 1928 and 1931, to process the coal from the other 4 pits in a central location. As representatives of the New Building, the architects Fritz Schupp (1896–1974) and Martin Kremmer (1894–1945) came up with the idea for a functional design that left room for flexibility. Despite the complexity for the requirements of a large mining operation, the extent of the area and the enormous size of the building, the symmetrical organisation of the buildings is still distinctly recognisable, with clear visual axes. A total of 20 buildings illustrate the coal mining sequences according to the Bauhaus principle of "form follows function”: they are free of ornament, rational and thought out in great detail. Schupp and Kremmer are the most important German architects of mining operations in the 20th century; Schupp planned 69 industrial areas in total.
In 2001, the area (the “Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex”) was chosen for the UNESCO World Heritage list. The conversion of the complex demonstrates the pioneering role of the Ruhr area. The second life of the Zollverein was also shaped by architects and engineers. Important conversions include the Kesselhaus (1996), which was built according to plans by Sir Norman Foster and the Essen office of Heinrich Böll and Hans Krabel. The result is an industrial architecture that brings together glass, concrete and steel steps, the old and the new.
From 1999 to 2000, the Frankfurt architect Christoph Mäckler rebuilt this two-storey changing and shower facility as the North Rhine-Westphalia Choreographic Centre (today the PACT Zollverein). The project’s goals were restoration, conversion and reconstruction with minimal intervention, in order to retain the original substance of the place.
In 2001, the Rotterdam architect Rem Koolhaas, along with his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) presented the concept for further development of the area as a whole. The core of the master plan was to develop the area into a design and cultural hotspot, with new approaches and extensions that retain the effect of the existing buildings and redefine their functions.
In 2006, the conversion of the coal washing plant was completed according to the design by OMA (with Böll and Krabel). The most striking feature is the long gangway with the escalator by which visitors directly reach the entrance to the Ruhr Museum, 24 metres up. The coal washer is the largest building in the Zollverein, at 90 metres long, 30 metres wide and 40 metres high. The conversion of this complex above-ground building required compromises. The machinery in the upper portion was largely retained and the façade was displaced outward by a few centimetres.
With the key word “complexity,” we have arrived at our piece of advice: since this star-mine is a small city, a cultural cosmos and an architectural park, you should not over-plan your visit, especially when you come for the first time. The grounds span over 100 hectares. The Ruhr Museum alone, the showcase and memorial for the metropolitan Ruhr, shows 6,000 permanent exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the Ruhr area. In addition to time for the extensive collection on industrial and social histories – with a comfortably subtle and, at the same time, idiosyncratic design by hg merz Architekten – you should give yourself ample leisure time for the interior design, and enjoy the red-orange illuminated stairwell in the raw coal bunker. Another part of the gigantic coal washer is the Portal of Industrial Culture, where the panorama film “RUHR 360º” is shown, more a film-aesthetic experience than a documentary, yet still sensual and authentic. The best way is to concentrate on two or three points and buildings, and come back later. To visit three more buildings, for example: the 34-metre-high concrete cube of the Pritzker Prize-winners from SANAA (completed in 2006), with the playful-looking and seemingly randomly organised 134 window openings; the Quartier Nord, which opened at the end of October 2017, designed by MGF Architekten and Wenzel + Wenzel Freie Architekten with the hermetic glass-and-steel façade; and whoever, as a traditionalist, fundamentally likes no new buildings (or rather prefers reconstructivism), should visit the Zollverein Coking Facility, once the largest and most modern of its kind at its opening in 1961. Be careful, though, there are new elements here too: the factory swimming pool has been part of the art project “Contemporary Art and Criticism,” by the Frankfurt artists Dirk Paschke and Daniel Milohnic and a beloved swimming destination during the summer holidays in the NRW since 2001. You’ve got to have some fun. Even in the superlative.

Zeche Zollverein.  SANAA building, completed: 2006. By Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates, a multiple award-winning architectural firm based in Tokyo, Japan. Project architect for this project: Nicole Berganski. Associate architects: Böll & Krabel
Zeche Zollverein SANAA building, completed: 2006. By Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates, a multiple award-winning architectural firm based in Tokyo, Japan. Project architect for this project: Nicole Berganski. Associate architects: Böll & Krabel © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  SANAA was founded in 1995 by architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who ...
Zeche Zollverein SANAA was founded in 1995 by architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who ... © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  ... were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2010.
Zeche Zollverein ... were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2010. © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The cube is used by the Folkwang University of the Arts
Zeche Zollverein The cube is used by the Folkwang University of the Arts © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The cube with its height of 34 meters stands in strong contrast to the finer suburban texture, but marks the former factory area.
Zeche Zollverein The cube with its height of 34 meters stands in strong contrast to the finer suburban texture, but marks the former factory area. © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  The Zollverein Coking Plant was erected 1957−1961 and ...
Zeche Zollverein The Zollverein Coking Plant was erected 1957−1961 and ... © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  ... closed on June 30, 1993. The coking plant was planned to be sold to China.
Zeche Zollverein ... closed on June 30, 1993. The coking plant was planned to be sold to China. © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein Alte Kokerei © Jan Dimog 2.  The negotiations failed and it was subsequently threatened to be demolished.
Zeche Zollverein Alte Kokerei © Jan Dimog 2 The negotiations failed and it was subsequently threatened to be demolished. © Jan Dimog
Zeche Zollverein.  But: another project of the state of NRW set the coal mine on a list of future exhibition sites resulting in first gentle modifications and ...
Zeche Zollverein But: another project of the state of NRW set the coal mine on a list of future exhibition sites resulting in first gentle modifications and ... © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  ... the cokery also became an official heritage site in 2000.
Zeche Zollverein ... the cokery also became an official heritage site in 2000. © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Part of the old cokery
Zeche Zollverein Part of the old cokery © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Urban art with a cow
Zeche Zollverein Urban art with a cow © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Quartier Nord, opened October 2017
Zeche Zollverein Quartier Nord, opened October 2017 © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Designed by MGF Architekten and Wenzel + Wenzel Freie Architekten with the hermetic glass-and-steel façade
Zeche Zollverein Designed by MGF Architekten and Wenzel + Wenzel Freie Architekten with the hermetic glass-and-steel façade © Hendrik Bohle
Zeche Zollverein.  Quartier Nord is used by the Folkwang University. New buildings on the area with its 100 hectars are part of the 2001 master plan by OMA.
Zeche Zollverein Quartier Nord is used by the Folkwang University. New buildings on the area with its 100 hectars are part of the 2001 master plan by OMA. © Jan Dimog

"Without knowledge of the history of a place, architecture remains merely on the surface and cannot take root."

Christoph Mäckler, architect

Von Jan Dimog Autor, Redakteur und (Foto)Journalist, veröffentlicht am .