German Mining Museum Part 2 of 2

[Now for the thrilling conclusion!]

My friend, who accompanied me, commented on the studies that had been done with coal miners that showed that if you add efficiency concepts into coal mines, as was apparently tried in the 80s, and which resulted in workers being traded in and out of teams almost at random to promote employee deployment efficiency structures, you end up with a massive increase in work-related injuries. The workers there depend on knowing each others’ capabilities, trusting one another and interpreting quick signals. She also mentioned that she would find it hard to be the wife of someone who worked in one of these incredibly dangerous and isolated workspaces. I understand 100%.

My main question was how in hell a coal tunnel justifies the energy expenditure (in heavy steel equipment, water flow, electricity, workers wages and food, dynamite, complex hydraulic bracing, large, uniquely-designed machinery and administration) required to yield it. I’m still puzzling over that.

The remainder of the museum is good, even over-expansive, for what it is, but you have to have a serious interest in mining, rocks, metals and mechanics to appreciate it. The ‘gallery of minerals and metals’, showing what comes from where, is not especially informative, since it dates from 1976, has not yet been updated (apparently the UdSSR still produces one third of the world’s potash) and conspicuously fails to mention uranium, which must have been a state secret back then.

The museum takes odd turns at times, with a selection of religious icons to the patron saint of miners, Barbara, or a display of the role of women in the mining industry, or fossilized trees. There are entire rooms filled with different drilling contraptions, signaling devices and lamps, or wagons for transporting coal. There is also a somewhat silly display of all of the things that mining products can be used for – yes, everyone knows that silver can be turned into candlesticks, and copper goes into coins, and coal gets burned for fuel. I found none of these exhibits particularly enlightening.

As an admittedly non-technical person, the three parts that interested me most were the safety mechanisms, the role of strikes and organized labor in the coal mines, and the posters used to motivate workers in mines throughout the ages. In respect of the first, I had no idea that a torpedo-sized metal canister was used to extricate workers from collapsed tunnels. The worker would curl himself into the 40 centimeter-wide canister, strap himself in, and be dragged out through a drilling hole. I’ve wished for something like that during tedious conferences, but seeing it in real life is stark evidence of the danger of the mining field. The “Strike” posters and the corresponding proclamations that “Waffengewalt” (armed force) will be used to maintain industrial productivity from 1919 are telling examples of the social conflict and hardline positions immediately following the First World War.

Two posters stood out – one of which I will call the “Showering Turk”. The poster – dating from the 60s – admonishes workers to shower before their shift and afterwards. The illustrated gentleman happily scrubbing black dust away does not look as though he will be able to scrub off his distinctly non-European skin tone. And why should he shower before his shift?

The other poster is – if I recall properly – a proclamation by the Reichsmilchsausschuss (Reichs Milk Committee) – featuring three stark strong woodcut hands grasping for glasses of milk. The caption: “Mahnruf nach Mehr Milch!” The style is distinctly early Forties; the poster instructs workers to drink milk on the job to preserve their health and productivity.

I recall hearing anecdotes about the habit of some German industrial laborers to buy a case of beer at the beginning of their shift and to return the empty bottles at the end of the shift to the company-subsidized canteen. The anecdote continues by describing how a push for industrial safety and better working conditions in factories and resource industries led companies to install free milk machines on the factory floor. The milk went sour – the workers stayed with their beer. I can distinctly recall witnessing this professional alcoholism still occurring in the mid-Nineties at an industrial company I interned with and being shocked by it. I really wanted a copy of the poster for my kitchen. I also let milk go sour far too often.

I’d recommend the museum to anyone with a serious technological bent or a connection to the mining industry. Afterwards, partake of a local “Moritz Fliege” Pils in the Bochumer Bermuda Triangle – a pub neighborhood to rival Düsseldorf. And then get on the train back to whatever place you work and live in, where you’ll never need a torpedo casing to see daylight again.

PS – the Museum Shop is distinctly disappointing, consisting mainly of various mineral products (polished bits of amethyst and fossils), but does feature slightly disturbing black leather belts with the miners’ symbol of crossed hammer and pick, as well as an apparently local version of Schnapps called “Muckefuck”. No milk posters here, unfortunately.

2 thoughts on “German Mining Museum Part 2 of 2

  1. “Glück auf” from Bochum, first of all.
    A little remark about the local brew, you are mentioning, “Moritz Fiege” Pils which you call “Moritz FLiege” Pils. It is true, that some marry prangsters here tend to order “another Fliegen-Pils, please” which would be either (verbatim)” a “fly-pils” or a “fly agaric” (bot., Fliegenpilz). The people of quality, of course, according to Frank Goosen, a local comedian, order “one bottle of Maurice de Fiege”, if they want to have a beer.

    The highlight of the mining museum is of course the artificial mine 17 meters below the ground. When I visited it as a kid for the first time, it was a thrilling experience, a big adventure, the claustrophobia, the smells etc. which you describe as well. When I visited the mining shaft with one of my daughters, age 5, she was scared to hell and wanted to turn back immediately. So, the exhibition mine is basically an impressive thing for kids, at least for boys who like such things.
    Final word: when the “canary in the coal mine” is about to fall off his perch, then you are running out off fresh air and it is time to leave the mine quickly.
    (pictures of canaries in the coal mines)


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