The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex
Wang Yueqi   May 04.2016


Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia Province, Germany
The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex (German Zeche Zollverein) is a large former industrial site in the city of Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It has been inscribed into the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since December 14, 2001 and is one of the anchor points of the European Route of Industrial Heritage.

The first coal mine on the premises was founded in 1847, mining activities took place from 1851 until December 23, 1986. For decades starting in the late 1950s, the two parts of the site, Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant (erected 1957−1961, closed on June 30, 1993), ranked among the largest of their kinds in Europe. Shaft 12, built in Bauhaus style, was opened in 1932 and is considered an architectural and technical masterpiece, earning it a reputation as the “most beautiful coal mine in the world”.

Reason to Be Selected

Zollverein Coal Mine was founded by Duisburg-born industrialist Franz Haniel (1779–1868), who needed coke for steel production. Test drillings in the Katernberg region (nowadays a suburb of Essen) had disclosed a very rich layer of coal, which was then named after the German Customs Union (Zollverein) founded in 1834. In 1847, Haniel founded the bergrechtliche Gewerkschaft Zollverein (a special kind of Prussian corporation for the exploitation of natural resources) and distributed the shares of the new company amongst the members of his family and the landowner of the to-be Zollverein territory.

Zeche Zollverein coal mine industrial complex in Essen (Ruhr area) is one of the most important landmarks in Germany. Founded in 1847, it was responsible for a large chunk of Germany’s coal output during the 20th century. Zollverein Zeche survived the wars and had been continuously improved. Shaft XII, build in Bauhaus style, is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful industrial buildings.

Towards the end of the 20th century most heavy industries around Ruhr area and Essen were getting shut down, including Zollverein. There have been talks about disassembling it or even selling it to China, but at the end it was decided to keep it as a monument, although there’s still some uncertainty as to what should happen to it next. UNESCO added Zollverein Zeche to its list of World Heritage Sites in 2001 and it is now open to visitors being one of the most popular sights in Essen. In numerous attempts to revitalize the area, many educational and arts institutions have been opened at Zollverein territory, including the school of management and design and PACT Zollverein choreographic center.

We found Zollverein zeche coal mine to be particularly inspiring for The Humping Pact project – in fact, that’s where it all started.

The remnants of industrial tools that can be seen at the site had been used for many years to pump out, extract, transform the earth’s archefossils into the living energy. Therefore, there’s a strong physical aspect that the whole complex exudes.
The site used to have a lot of potential, which we are now reminded of only through its beautifully designed architecture turned into monument. So there’s a certain idea of solidified climax, which does not exist anymore but is commemorated within a structure that still carries its traces. No wonder Bauhaus designed one of the most productive shafts: the orgasmic fusion of architecture, ideology, industry and straight forms happened there and then. The whole idea of revitalizing the area devastated by industry through educational and arts institutions also brings in an interesting connotation and asks for a certain kind of affective meditation on the subject. Finally, it is simply an amazing piece of architecture that first and foremost commemorates the human passion for transforming the world and – at the same time – the impossibility of doing so, the exhaustion that comes with it, and the aesthetic ideals that surround this motion.

Becoming a Monument

As with most sites of the heavy industries that had been closed down, Zollverein was predicted to face a period of decay. Surprisingly, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) bought the coal mine territory from the RAG immediately after it had been closed down in late 1986, and declared shaft 12 a memorial. This went along with the obligation to preserve the site in its original state and to minimize the effects of weathering. In 1989, the city of Essen and NRW founded the Bauhütte Zollverein Schacht XII that should take care for the site and which was replaced by the Stiftung Zollverein (Zollverein Foundation) in 1998.

After it had been closed down in 1993, the coking plant was planned to be sold to China. The negotiations failed and it was subsequently threatened to be demolished. However, another project of the state of NRW set the coal mine on a list of future exhibition sites resulting in first gentle modifications and the cokery also became an official memorial in 2000. On its 25th session in December 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared both the sites of the shafts 12 and 1/2 and the cokery a World Heritage Site.


Lat: 51.4409
Lng: 7.01602
Region: Europe
Scale: City
Field: Facility
City: Essen