On Doc Sci’s recent trip to Essen, Germany, he visited the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex. Trust me when I say this thing would never have made my list of “must-see” sights had I been along for the ride. But if you’re traveling to Essen with kids and want to geek out, this review is for you.
During my conference two weeks ago (you can read my hotel review here), our group of nerds, er I mean academics, took a break from learning and went on a tour of the Zollverein. In German, Zollverein literally means customs union, but this place had nothing to do with customs. Rather, it was a coal mine and refinery that just so happens to a UNESCO world heritage site.
So, what’s the big deal with this place? Obviously it was important enough to the conference organizers to interrupt the further education of brilliant minds.
As I learned on the guided tour, the Zollverein was once the largest coal mine in Europe, employing over 5,000 workers. It’s also said to have been the most beautiful coal mine in all the world thanks to its Bauhaus facade. And while the plant used to be rather filthy with all that coal and the coking plant, it’s now quite the ship shape spot for holding concerts, theater events, contemporary art, etc. Winter visitors can even ice skate on the old artificial channel.
If you opt to take the tour as I did, you should know that it lasts about 2 hours. As such, I would only recommend it for kids ages 6 and up. The under 6 crowd might get tired from all the walking around and would most likely bore quickly when forced to stand and listen to a paid talking head.
Also, take note that there are no elevators or ramps for prams or wheelchairs. Unfortunately, there are plenty of stairs, so bring a backpack carrier if you are touring with little ones. There is also a point during the tour where visitors are quite high up looking down on the plant so vertigo sufferers might want to steer clear.
If, however, you think your young ones would be fascinated by giant machines, old rusty pipes, and learning about stuff that goes KABOOOOM!! then by all means take them to see this fascinating piece of history.
Our tour was split into two groups and each saw a slightly different view of the Zollverein, but from what I understood, both groups were given the same info. The guide’s English was very good, though of course he thought it wasn’t. He kept the chit chat light and entertaining throughout.
We were able to see most everything involved with the coking plant, but we could only view the coal mines from a distance. We learned a lot of technical and historical stuff involved with coal mining and refinery especially with regards to this particular plant. For instance, there was a air filtration system installed at the plant because of local complaints about the pollution which was finished in 1993, the same year that the plant was taken completely offline, never to be used again. Okay, and I’m losing you, so moving on to budget matters…
The cost of the tour was included in my conference package, but the website lists the admission for a family with 2 adults and their own children as 20 Euro or 1 adult and children is 12 Euro. I consider that a fair price since it includes the two-hour tour, and the complex is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Keep in mind I am a scientist, and I might think this is more cool than most of the mamas who read this blog. But on the off chance you happen to be a fellow nerd (or have one in your family) and in the Essen area, I’d highly recommend making time for a visit to the Zollverein Coal Mine… even if you have to say it’s really for the ice skating.