After Bonn, I spent a few days visiting friends who live near Essen, in the Ruhr valley. Here one can find the remains of the massive Zollverein industrial city, once the largest coal-mine in Europe. The main coal-washing hall has been transformed into an enormous museum telling the history of the Ruhr valley dating right back to prehistoric times. It is a beautiful and and encyclopaedic museum.
So in the west, this is the story of our age: factories transformed into cultural artefacts. In the museum, countless photographs testified to the terrible conditions at the factory. And it’s not just photographs: one can see embalmed lungs shrivelled up by emphysema. Of course, such places still exist elsewhere in the world, and an epic film from Wang Bing a few years ago shows the hard life to be had in Chinese steel mills.
But today, the control room on the main floor at the Zollverein coal-washing plant has become a cafe.
Today, Zollverein is quiet, the machines are stilled, and the dials are all at zero (as you can see from my previous post).