Saturday, 3 September 2022

ausflug thüringenersee (10 107)

H and took a summer’s end quick excursion to the dammed Saale river valley to tour the landscape that developed around the reservoirs (Stauseen) and how the natural intersects the artificial.


First we stopped to take a guided tour of the Saalfeld Fairy Grottos (die Feengrotten), a set of caverns in a former mine for alum shale (see previously) remarkable for their colourful mineral veins, called speleothems, owing to the porous soil.

Commercial operations halted in 1850 (the use of potassium aluminate as a preservative was antiquated) and was opened to tourist as early as 1914 due to the reputedly curative properties of the ambient radiation present, after the discovery of the third chamber, the Märchendom—the Fairy Tale Kingdom and the Grail Castle after various interpretations of the sedimentary creations.

Seeing this tableau inspired Siegfried Wagner to pattern the set design for his father’s opera Tannhäuser for the Bayreuth Festspiele in the 1920s.

Saturday, 20 August 2022

erlebnis bergwerk (10. 073)

Decommissioned since 1993 but revitalised since as a living museum and working mine and venue, I had a chance to visit with H’s father the salt and potash (Kalisalz, used as an important agricultural fertiliser) extraction operation near the village of Merkers on the Werra river not far from Bad Salzungen.  

 Aside from the long history of mining and a comprehensive lesson on the enterprise and geology that bores under the Rhön mountains, the location is also the hiding spot for hundreds of tonnes of gold, silver and paper currency (amounting to around eighty percent of the holdings of the Reichsbank at the end of the war) and many priceless works of art looted by the Nazis, discovered per chance by the advancing United States army (tipped off by slave labour transporting treasures to the mine) who then worked quickly to clear it out of Soviet occupied territory before the borders were demarcated.

After being lowered in safety gear—like actual miners beginning their shift—in a hoisting cage that descended into the dark, and driven in flatbed transports from five to eight hundred metres below the surface through a network of tunnels that covers an area the size of Munich. 








Though the vehicles were only taking the dips, curves and ascents at under twenty kilometres an hour, the darkness, wind and narrowness of the shaft made it seem much faster, like a roller coaster ride stretched out for some two hours, with intermissions, lastly in the above Goldraum, a pair of excavated former bunkers that now serve as a machine exhibit, theatre and a concert hall with uncommonly good acoustics and unique crystal grotto with accompanying bar for refreshments—the deepest in the world.  

It was definitely worth the visit and would drag H along next time.
 

Thursday, 23 December 2021

stillgelegt

On this day in 1986, the Zeche (Coal Mine Industrial Complex) Zollverein in the city of Essen ceased operations, workers leaving for Christmas break not to return, due to dwindling output that did not justify the high maintenance costs, among the last mining and coking facilities in operation in the Ruhrgebiet. The campus, built in the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) style, is considered an architectural and engineering masterwork and the conserved landmark, Shaft 12, was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage registry in 2001.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

chevron of chain counterchanged argent, sable, argent

Winning entrant designed by vexillologist Gracie Sheppard in a contest sponsored by a local museum to create a symbol for the region, the flag of Black County was first hoisted in 2012—thereafter on this day to mark the invention of the Newcomen steam engine in 1712 that heralded the beginning of the Industrial Revolution with a county fête.

The heavily industrialised area in the West Midlands after Birmingham has no single set of defined boundaries to the satisfaction of all with the most common being where the coal seam has come to the surface and refers to the layer of soot that covered everything from all the mining, mills and factories by the mid-1800s. Chain-manufacture was big business there, as was glass-making and brickworks. Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop established the region’s first literary conceit as a vicious hellscape in 1841 with others upholding it including J. R. R. Tolkien’s Mordor—elvish for dark land—corresponding with contemporary accountings, with some suggestion that activist and Communist and Labour party mayor of Bilston in Staffordshire, Ben Bilboe, was the inspiration and namesake for the hobbit character, the author’s family having roots in the West Midlands.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

europawoche

Celebrated today on the anniversary of the 1950 Schuman Declaration which proposed the pooling of French and Wester German coal and steel industries and the first European Community, Europe Day was introduced in 1985 by the EU predecessor organisation the European Communities. The Council of Europe marked its own Europe Day earlier in the week with the anniversary on the fifth marking the council’s founding in 1949, both observances commemorating pan-European identity and integration.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

dinosaurier des jahres

Since 1993, Germany’s Naturschutzbund (NABU, Nature Conservancy Corps) in Berlin has been awarding its annual dirisive distinction, its Dinosaur Award, to the group or individual who’s actions are most emblematic of regressive tendencies in environmental stewardship.
This year’s prize went to the chairman of an energy company who pledged to continue the expansion of its strip-mining operations and destroy the remaining sliver of the old growth Hambacher Forst despite massive protests and the gradual phasing out of coal. Earlier in the month, a ceremony was held in the nearby Ruhrgebiet to mark the closing of the country’s last black hard coal mine, also operated by the same energy giant fossil.  There are regrettably too many of such barons (sometimes ourselves included for our lifestyle choices) to contend with but who might you nominate for failure to adapt?

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

cop24

Whilst the international community is struggling to make meaningful progress that might avert the destruction and consummation of civilisation as we know it by committing to being less garbage tenets of this planet, the United States has not just backed out of global compacts that nudge in the right direction but has now assumed the mantle of profligate troll by counter-messaging the United Nations sponsored conference in Katowice (coat of arms pictured, the region known historically for its industry and coal reserves) with a pavilion extolling fossil fuels.
The US, despite the fact that antiquated oil barons can curry favour with the Trump administration and embarrassingly promote dirty fuel as a means to curb climate change, is certainly not alone in not upholding their end of the bargain and affecting real and saving change will require dramatic transitions away from not only traditional means of powering society but the ways in which society consumes resources itself. Activists chanting “keep in the ground” disrupted the start of the event with the remaining audience looking noticeably thinner after the protest.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

kunst und kohle

A consortium of museums in Germany’s post-industrial heartland, das Ruhrgebiet (previously), is bidding a conflicted adieu to its withering coal-powered past.  Still the world’s largest producer of the particularly dirty variety of lignite (a very dubious honour) and amid ongoing protests to retire extraction and burning of coal altogether, the museums curate a fascinating, nostalgic reflection on the culture informed by coal towns and mining communities through a variety of artefacts that attest to working conditions and the relationships forged by the families whose daily routines included confronting mortality—either through accident or backbreaking labour. Read more about the retrospective of exhibits at Hyperallergic at the link above.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

dig dug

Spotted on the ever-excellent BLDGBlog, here is beautifully crafted nineteenth century German boardgame from the collections of the British Museum called Der Bergbau. This precursor to Minecraft (which also does not have rules, per se) looks like a version of 'Chutes and Ladders' but there are unfortunately no instructions on how to play.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

geisterstädte

Der Spiegel’s English-language stories section reports on an exhibition in Berlin about contemporary ghost-towns and the deliberate choices and accidents of history that are creating the phenomenon.

One nearly abandoned town featured in the museum’s profiles is Centralia in Pennsylvania, which became depopulated due to trash burning on this day in 1962 that got out of control and spread to a network of underground shafts of a disused coal mine. The area became unlivable (and restricted due to concerns over health and safety) and the fire is still smoldering. The coincidence of the timing between the anniversary and the opening of the exhibit caught my attention initially, and I found that although authentic ghost towns are relatively rare and Centralia unique, eternal coal dust fires are not, and there is one to visit just outside of Dudweiler (DE/EN) in the Saarland that has been stoked since early Baroque times. The town’s fate inspired the horror film Silent Hill and has held attention and the imagination over the past half a century. The exhibition explores what piques this fascination for the recently abandoned, decommissioned and maybe these mementos mori forces one to contemplate how long our presence can linger in a place without us.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

lend-lease or ostalgie

Possibly in anticipation of a disgruntled electorate for regional voting in May, a very polarizing and divisive idea has been offered up for public consumption by some cash-strapped communities in North-Rhine Westphalia: civic leaders argue that the Solidarity Pact tariff (DE/EN) for helping integrate the former East Germany has become redundant and they can ill-afford to make further financial contributions.

The industrial region of the state in question is called the Ruhrgebiet and has seen some struggles, contemporary and on-going since some mining and manufacturing operations have been curtailed, but is hardly a Rust-Belt. The cities and towns there on the verge of insolvency were prey and prone to the same mechanisms that have distributed this economic crisis globally. Perhaps it is the press coverage that is most politically-charged, igniting much comment and discussion. These assistance payments, scheduled to expire in 2019, helped the former East (the so-called Neue Länder—which is in fact true since under the East German regime, there were no states but rather districts that were restored to their former boundaries with reunification but when it’s said in the news, it sounds a little back-handed to me) to rebuild and thrive. No one, I think, is begrudging past payments or doubts it was necessary but are merely suggesting that perhaps its time has come—that East Germany is on equal footing with the West, however, the media has exploded the debate into greater dimensions.
Old prejudices come out—though they are never much restrained, like the small comments about having, for the first time in history (which spans a little more than two decades, just), both Chancellor and President from East Germany—and I think maybe people forget that the Solidarity Pact is not a tax solely levied on the people of the Ruhrgebiet but rather something paid by all citizens, East and West alike, and the fact that razing the border, along with added government support, also significantly increased the opportunity for commerce for Western firms and made quite a few businesses extraordinary wealth over night and fueled the German Wirtschaftswünder. It seems almost, in the realm of politicking, that the suggestion is a swipe against the economic rescue packages of the European Union, which are something held at arm’s length from a plebiscite.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

pumpspeicherkraftwerke and urban-cozy

Apparently there is an offensive on, as Spiegel International (in English) reports, of radical knitters bent on outfitting their environs with yarn. Though now is not quite the season to dress a utility pole with a comfy and hand-made sweater, this creative expression of graffiti artists is pretty enchanting.
Additionally there was news of plans to capture the kinetic energy of fair-weather sources, solar and wind, and store it as potential energy. This project (auch auf englisch) is being studied in the abandoned mines of the Harz region, where we recently saw some of the expansive feats of engineering designed to harness nature. This idea, which has been applied elsewhere, allows excess power generated by the sun or turbines to be stored by transferring it to a pump system that fills a reservoir at a higher elevation, then acting on the same principle as a turbine spun by the onslaught of water at a dam.
Anscheinend gibt es eine Kampagne der radikalen Strickerin-Begabung beim Ausstatten ihrer Umgebung mit dem Garn, als Spiegel Internationale Berichte (auf englisch). Jetzt ist nicht das Wetter, um eine Straßenlampe in einen Wolle-Pullover anzukleiden, aber diese Graffitikunst ist sehr bestechend.
Zusätzlich es gab Nachrichten über Pläne, die kinetische Energie von Schönwetterquellen, Sonnen- und Wind zu gewinnen, und es als potenzielle Energie zu erhalten. Diese Projekt (auch berichtete auf englisch), wird in den aufgegebenen Bergwerke des Harz studiert, wo wir kürzlich besuchten. Die Idee, im betrieb anderweitig, erlaubt Überschussmacht erzeugt durch die Sonne oder Windturbinen, versorgt zu werden, es einem Pumpe-System übertragend, das ein Reservoir an einer höheren Erhebung füllt, dann demselben Grundsatz wie eine Turbine gesponnen durch den Fluss von Wasser an einem Damm oder Stausee folgend.