Zeche Zollverein is a large former industrial site in the city of Essen, Germany. The site was used as a coal mine. The first coal mine on this location was founded in 1847. The mining activities continued on this site until 1986. Directly after closing the site the ground got bought by the province North Rhine-Westphalia making this an heritage site.
The location is about 100 hectares and contains multiple shafts and a cooking plant. Most of the location can be visited for free as a tourist, but as an Urban Explorer there are also parts that are not open for the public. So this place is ideal for the starting urbexer and the more experienced ones.
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 had disclosed a very rich layer of coal, which was then named after the German Customs Union (Zollverein) founded in 1834. Sinking of shaft 1 began on February 18, 1847, with the first mineral coal layer being found 130 meters under the surface. First mining activities took in 1851. Shaft 2 (sunk simultaneously with shaft 1) was opened in 1852. Both shafts featured visually identical stone towers and shared a machine house. This concept was to be adapted by many later twin-shaft coal mines.
Since the coal, iron and steel industries of the Ruhr area flourished in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, the mine was heavily extended. Between 1891 and 1896, the twin-shafts 4/5 were built on the border to Heßler. The two shafts received special shafts for extraction of coal, transportation of the Kumpels (mine workers) and ventilation, as well as a new cokery. Another shaft 6 was opened in 1897.
By 1897, Zollverein had for years been suffering under mine accidents due to fire damps caused by ventilation problems. To resolve these problems, additional mainly ventilation-only shafts were opened near the already existing ones: In 1899, shaft 7 was opened near shaft 3, shaft 8 near shafts 1/2 (1900), and shaft 9 near shaft 6 (1905). What followed were years of continuous renovation and further expansion. After the construction of shafts 7, 8 and 9, the old shafts 1/2 (including the cokery) were renovated, even one of the twin towers was taken down and replaced by a modern steel framework. In 1914, shaft 10 and a new cokery were opened, as was shaft 9 (which had only since served as a ventilation shaft).
In 1928, the GBAG voted for the construction of a totally new 12th shaft designed as a central mining facility. When in the shaft opened in 1932, it had a daily output of up to 12.000 tons, combining the output of the four other existing facilities with 11 shafts. Schacht Albert Vögler, as the highly modern shaft was named after the director general of the GBAG, was designed by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer and quickly gained notice for its simple, functional Bauhaus design with its mainly cubical buildings made of reinforced concrete and steel trusses.
In 1937, Zollverein employed 6900 people and had an output of 3.6 million tons, the majority to which contributed the new 12th shaft. The other shafts were not entirely closed and even received new (in comparison to shaft 12 of course far inferior) winding towers, such as did shaft 6. On the premises of the old coking plant of shafts 1/2/8, a small facility of 54 new ovens was opened with a yearly output of 200.000 tons of coke.
Zollverein survived the Second World War with only minor damages and by 1953 again placed on top of all German mines with an output of 2.4 million tons. In 1958, shaft 1 was replaced by a totally new building; the complete reconstruction of the 2/8/11 shaft facility from 1960 until 1964 was again planned by Fritz Schupp. These renovations however, were only to last until 1967, when 11 shafts were closed, leaving shaft 12 the only open one.
RAG began a further mechanization and consolidation of the mining activities. In 1974, Zollverein was joined into a Verbundberkwerk (joined mines) with nearby Bonifacius and Holland coal mines in Kray and Gelsenkirchen, respectively. In 1982, Gelsenkirchen’s Nordstern coal mine also joined that coalition.
The Flöz Sonnenschein coal layer in the north of the Zollverein territory was the last layer that mining activities took place in on Zollverein territory, starting in 1980. The output of Verbundbergwerk Nordstern-Zollverein was approximately 3.2 million tons, which however did not prove profitable enough so that a complete closure of the Zollverein site was voted for in 1983.
When it closed, Zollverein was the last remaining active coal mine in Essen. Whereas the coking plant remained open until June 30, 1993, mining activities in shaft 12 stopped on December 23, 1986. Although it is the central shaft of the Cultural Heritage site, shaft 12 cannot be visited as it continues being used as the water drainage for the centralRuhr area together with shaft 2.