The most beautiful coal mine in the world

When the Zollverein Coal Mine was started, architects tried to make this industrial hole look beautiful. Since its closure, that dream has continued.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

When you think of coal mines, the world ‘beautiful’ is not normally the first thing that comes to mind.

They’re suppose to be dirty and black, messy and industrial, a blight on the landscape.

So why, when people talk about the Zollverein Coal Mine in Germany, do people applaud its aesthetics?

The first thing – and the most obvious thing – is the architecture above ground. While the dark and dirty tunnels underground are out of sight for the general public, the buildings on the surface can be seen by anyone passing through this part of the city of Essen.

The owners of Zollverein were conscious of this and so they had the external buildings designed in the Bauhaus style of architecture, with a pleasant modern feel that had appealing symmetry and blended in with the natural backgrounds.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany
Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

Looking from the outside, you wouldn’t realise the extent of the industry here.

The first coal mining started here in 1851 and the Zollverein complex was in use until 1986. It was one of the most important collieries in Europe and by the Second World War it had an output of about 3.6 million tons.

Over the years, extra shafts were added to the site to expand it and increase its productivity.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

Because of the expansion over the course of almost 150 years, there were a lot of buildings on the surface when Zollverein Coal Mine was finally closed. It was a decision made at this point that leads us to the other reason why it is often described as ‘beautiful’.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

Rather than demolish the site, it was decided by authorities to take the approach of ‘preservation through conversion’.

Essentially, this means that they set about trying to find new uses for the structures. And the theme of those uses has been ‘art and design’.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany
Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

Over the years, in the empty shadow of industry, culture rose up and brought light to Zollverein.

Artistry and modernity blossomed and now the buildings are used for world-class museums, design exhibitions, restaurants, theatre and even a recreational pool.

Visiting Zollverein today is a trip back to the days of the coking plant and the mining operations – but it’s also a step into the future of design and cultural trends.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany
Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

Visiting Zollverein

There are several ways to approach a visit to Zollverein. You can go for the history, for the modern culture, or for a mixture.

If you can be a bit flexible with dates, try to find an event happening at Zollverein. In winter there’s also an ice rink and there’s a pool in summer.

In terms of the history, it is possible to get guided tours of some of the original surface buildings of the coal mine, including the facilities that were used to handle the material being brought up from underground. If this is your first time to the site, it is well worth doing.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

Also, the Ruhr Museum in the former coal washing plant of Shaft 12 has permanent exhibitions about the history of the region and the mining industry on the site. It is a large and very well curated museum that would appeal to adults and children.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

When it comes to the modern side of things, one of the highlights is the Red Dot Design Museum. It has a fantastic collection of design from around the world in a variety of genres – everything from boats to washing machines.

Zollverein Coal Mine, Essen, Germany

And Zollverein is also used for a large number of events throughout the year, so it is worth checking to see if there are any special exhibitions or performances happening when you are considering going.

Where is Zollverein Coal Mine?

The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is located at Gelsenkirchener Strasse, 45309, Essen, Germany.

You can see it on Google Maps here.

How do you get to Zollverein Coal Mine?

From Essen, you can catch the NE2 bus, which will get you there in less than 20 minutes.

Or, if you’re coming from further away, you can catch the train to Gelsenkirchen station and hop on the S-bahn 2 for one stop.

When is Zollverein Coal Mine open?

The main parts of the complex are open every day from 1000 – 1800.

It’s closed on 24, 25, 31 December and 1 January.

How much does it cost to visit Zollverein Coal Mine?

The admission cost for the Ruhr Museum at the Zollverein Complex is €8 for an adult and €5 for a concession.

Children up to 14 years old are free.

More information

You can find out more information on the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex website.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ESSEN

It may not be the most popular tourist city, but there are some great hotels in Essen because of the business travellers.

BACKPACKER

It feels like a house (because it is) but Wohnzimmer-Essen has some comfortable dorm beds.

BUDGET

If you’re looking for something budget, McDreams Hotel Essen has small but great value rooms.

BOUTIQUE

Inspired by the heritage of Zollverein, hotel friends is a really interesting and stylish hotel.

LUXURY

And for four-star luxury, the Sheraton Essen is a very nice hotel with a great location.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by DB Bahn, the German National Tourist Board and Youth Hostels in Germany but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
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8 thoughts on “The most beautiful coal mine in the world”

    • Yes indeed! Although I wonder what it looks like underground (you can’t access those areas). I’m guessing it looks like every other dirty coal mine around the world once you scratch below the surface (literally).

      Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Simone. I checked this and the official information I have about the site definitely mentions ‘Bauhaus’ style. I don’t know much about ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ but perhaps this is just a variation or evolution of Bauhaus?

      Reply
      • I checked again, too and found a brochure that says that the architecture is influenced by Bauhaus. I was an intern at Zollverein once and back then they told me that it is common belief that it is Bauhaus but that it’s not. But quite possible that I remember it wrong. I think we are safe to say that the influence is there 😉 I apologize for the confusion 🙂

        Reply

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