A Visit to the German Mining Museum in Bochum (Deutsches Bergbau Museum) Part 1 of 2

[Hi there! Ed Philp now favors us with a thrilling 2-part account of his visit to Bochum. Take it away, Ed!]

Ed Philp here with a post on the cultural and technical highlight of Bochum, a city in the heart of Germany’s industrial Ruhrgebiet. I visited a friend last week who lives there.

I know three things about Bochum: It boasts Germany’s (proudly self-announced) “Sixth Largest University“: a concrete monstrosity built on shifting coal slag heaps and mine fill (meaning that the buildings are cleverly ‘hung’ on architectural tenterhooks, preventing them from crumbling when the foundation shifts). It was the first of the major campus universities to be constructed in the 60s in Nordrhein-Westfalen: here, architects cut their teeth on the types of buildings and disdain for humans also seen in the Düsseldorf and Bielefeld university campuses. These buildings exude institutionalism and they are unspeakably bleak. Many of the open spaces resemble Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, right down to the inhuman proportions, barrenness and massive concrete blocks for pavement. However, Bochum is apparently Germany’s most wheelchair-accessible university, which is a major plus point in a country where many buildings and even whole towns can be extremely wheelchair-daunting due to Denkmalschutz (historical building protection) reasons. It also boasts a young, dynamic faculty and an innovative research department. My friend also mentioned that the people there are vastly more friendly and helpful than at many other universities. But there is absolutely nothing charming about it.

Unfortunately all of the construction money seems to have gone into the resolution of this tectonic design quandary, since virtually none of the buildings are labeled as to their contents and there are no self-evident maps. I only found the law faculty – of course in Building GC 431, why ever didn’t I think of that? – by looking for the inevitable horde of Barbour-jacket wearing young people standing outside with large red statute texts. The library was closed. The faculty needs to update its homepage.

In any event, I also know of Bochum as the setting of numerous works of fiction dealing with the coal mining and worker lifestyle of immediate post-war Germany, among them Fremdes Land. The regional names of Wanne Eickel and Wattenscheid struck an immediate chord on my way in. It was strange to see these township names go by on my regional train and not to see crowded tenements with exhausted hardbitten coalminers returning from their shifts ‘unter Tage’ (below the day, an expression for mines or mine work). Bochum is right in Germany’s coal and industrial heartland, and coal mining is probably still the defining feature of this small city.

Third, Bochum appropriately boasts the German Mining Museum. After the library was closed, a visit seemed to be the next best chance to make use of my day in Bochum. So, my friend and I spent the next four hours there.

In general, I left with a positive impression. I am not technically-gifted or even mechanically-capable in the least, but there was enough in the museum to generally hold my interest. However, if you are like me, you don’t need to make a special visit to Bochum for the Deutsches Bergbau Museum, unless you have guests who are extremely engineering-inclined or want to know the difference between a crushing drill bit and a rasping one. I didn’t, but I do now… I also know what a 1960s electrical control station looks like, and that coal smells bad.

The museum boasts a reconstructed mine shaft and corridors, themselves 17 meters below ground, which is worth seeing if you like 2 km of absolutely claustrophobic mine shafts (from about 1900 to today) with large inactive machinery, drill bits and clanky spiky noisy metal things everywhere. I don’t, but I suspect that it is almost entirely realistic. One has the sense that a real mine would also be horribly noisy, hot and truly filthy, which isn’t quite captured (thank you museum). I banged my head on pipes or rock protrusions twice, which hurt, but I suppose that is why miners wear hard hats. I saw a lot of giant metal contraptions used for scraping or drilling into rock faces that would lend themselves well to James Bond movies, where Bond is trapped between a rock face and a 17 meter long dentist’s drill, or a series of rotating rock saws. I tripped over cables, conveyor belts and the other members of the tour group (it is dimly lit) at regular intervals. I saw ‘Tobias’, a model of the last horse used in a coal mine, complete with neighing sounds. I also realized how interconnected and co-dependent German industrial companies from that era were with the mining industry: dozens of control stations and devices and other things are prominently stamped Bosch, AEG, Thyssen Krupp or BASF.

The visit made me realize how much I thank the Lord Jesus happy I am to have savored the simple privilege of being able to walk out of whatever places of employment I have occupied, and that I don’t work in places where I am dependent on my employer to get me out of my workplace each day, or on colleagues to prevent me from being shredded by an industrial rock sifter. And how utterly useless I would be in a place like that with so many moving heavy metal things and no intuitive idea of how things work, and how much I would miss daily aesthetics beyond little hand-drawn signs and primitive graffiti. Even non-offensive ‘motivational’ North American office art is preferable to stone walls with a rope to pull you up in a tin can at the end of the day.

4 thoughts on “A Visit to the German Mining Museum in Bochum (Deutsches Bergbau Museum) Part 1 of 2

  1. architects cut their teeth on the types of buildings and disdain for humans also seen in the Düsseldorf and Bielefeld university campuses

    What did you expect. After they took their concentration camps and other toys away from them thar ‘authorities’, buildings were what the demented had left for the pent up hate to ejaculate onto the populace. Probably went right to the bathrooms after the construction and had a major wank.

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  2. P.S. If you think the frenzy isn’t still going on, check out that Berliner Hauptbahnhof, check out those tower bricks that are apparently there to visually deter enemies, not please visitors. Incidentally, this train station in a remote little country far, far from Germany away was practically opened the same day, but with out any defense towers and the organically curving roof makes today’s seemingly unavoidable usage of steel and glass bearable.

    @James,

    up to you to provide us with more plausible explanations.

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  3. martin,

    my bad, your explanation is the most sound and sane, and elegantly stated, to boot. There is, however, the attendant irony of you writing about “pent up hate”, but that’s just a minor quibble, really, when I should be thankful for that little architectural history/theory of yours.

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