Olli Thomson

Essen – Zollverein

In 2006 I visited Essen in Germany. While Essen is less well known than some other German cities, it has played a key role in Germany’s history, particularly the country’s industrial history. Essen was home to the Krupp family, founders of the famous steel company and precursor to ThyssenKrupp which still has its headquarters in the city.

Essen was one of the major cities of the Ruhr region, Germany’s industrial heartland and the centre of coal mining and iron and steel production. Essen and the Ruhr’s importance to the German war effort in WW2 made the city a repeated target for allied attacks and by the end of the war more that 90% of the city centre had been destroyed.

Essen itself was the site of the Zollverein Coal Mine, founded in 1847. The mine expanded dramatically over the years and in 1932 Shaft 12 was opened. The buildings and the winding tower for Shaft 12 were designed  Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer in the Bauhaus style. Remarkably, Zollverein survived the war with only minor damage.

Mining ceased at Zollverein in 1986 and the site was bought by the government of North Rhine Westphalia who declared it a heritage site. In 2001 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. It was sites like this that Bernd and Hila Becher photographed throughout the 1960s and 70s in compiling their ‘typologies’ of industrial architecture. The Bechers were based in Dusseldorf, only twenty miles from Essen, and most of their early work focused on the Ruhr region. Their photographic record of the area’s industrial heritage contributed to the understanding that it was something that needed to be preserved.


Today the site is managed and run by the Zollverein Foundation and its a fascinating place to visit, particularly if you are a photographer with a liking for urban and architectural photography. Twelve years ago when I was there, I was very much a point and shoot holiday photographer. I would love to go back again some day with more photographic intent. Here are a few pictures that I took at the time.

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