View Full Version : Archived: Zeche Hugo, Shafts 2/5/8, Gelsenkirchen-Buer, Germany – Oct ‘09

28-10-2009, 11:43 PM
Zeche Hugo, once the last working mine in Gelsenkirchen.



Exploring Zeche Hugo was my big ambition for the Ruhrland part of our German trip, and that was purely down to its architecture. The mine's architects, Schupp and Kremmer, were in the avant-garde of 20th century industrial design, and went beyond the "form follows function" ethos of the Bauhaus. As ornate as the Beaux-Arts and Jugendstihl buildings of Beelitz are ... the design of Zeche Hugo says far more about the authentic culture of Germany. The 1960's spareness of its umber-brown brickwork, the strip windows, black-painted steelwork and white tiles fit right in with German post-war rationalism. After all, this is the country which invented industrial design and produced men like Peter Behrens who built the first functionalist factory (AEG’s turbine plant in Berlin), and Dieter Rams, who designed so many iconic products for Braun. Architecturally, the rational approach translates into logical planning wrapped in cubist brickwork, as here at Hugo.



To the centre of Essen aboard one of DB's double-deck commuter trains, then down into the underground. After a few miles, the U-bahn surfaces and runs along the middle of a tree-shaded boulevarde. I pull the yellow-jacketed "Falk" streetplan from my rucksack for the tenth time that day, and after a double-check we continue the journey by tram. The driver is Marlene Dietrich in mirror shades: she greets Esseners with a husky drawl, then an enamelled nail flicks the doors shut, and she twists the controller round a dozen notches. A cargo of skater punks and stolid gents in Homburg hats jolts as the tram takes off like a Messerschmidt. A few stops on and the tram's motors whine to a halt, then the doors jack-knife open with a fart of compressed air. Beyond, the quiet streets give way to an overgrown car park, with some buildings peering through the birch trees. A glimpse of the winding tower's head sheaves. Some spoil heaps topped by cableway pulleys. This is it ... nach Hugo gehen.



It seems like continental explorers are obsessed with Hugo's "hall of birdcages" (actually the equivalent of the clean lockers in a British mine). They make for arty photos, but give you no idea of what lies beyond. I guessed there was far more to see here, and that hunch paid off. Much has been demolished at Hugo, but the admin block, showers, lamp room, offices, fan houses and so forth remain – as does headstock no.2. Room after room lie off long corridors – and you get the feeling that Hugo is at peace now, as the autumn air infiltrates the building through smashed windows, sparrows flit around inside, and leaves whirl off the surrounding trees to pile up in the mine's courtyards. After nine years of closure, it's in better shape than a comparable building would be in Britain: even the usual plague of German wildstyle graffiti hasn't reached its walls.



The cages are known as "Kaue", and were used by the miners to hold their outdoor clothes, shoes and flammable contraband in, before they went down the shaft into the mine. Each cage was suspended on a chain which was secured by a lock - similar to the Paralocks you use to lock coat sleeves with in a theatre cloakroom. Every Kaue has a unique number, and I reached 5000 ... before giving up. That gives you an idea of the sometime workforce at Hugo. For many years the Gelsenkirchen area of the Ruhr was one of Europe's richest coalfields – but the destruction of the coal industry in the Ruhr is, if anything, even more comprehensive than in Britain. In fact, Zeche Hugo was the last mine working in Gelsenkirchen, and was operated by Ruhrkohle AG (RAG) who took over from the Mannesmann group sometime around the 1960’s. The first pit was driven at Hugo in March 1873, and by the end of the century, another four further shafts had followed. By 1940, Zeche Hugo consisted of seven shafts, with more to come as production expanded once the destruction of WW2 had been repaired. Hugo’s owners approached the specialists …



Schupp & Kremmer were Germany's leading industrial architects, and when you read the books on German coal mining, they feature mainly for their earlier work at Pluto 2, Germania 5 and especially Zollverein 12. However, the rebuilding of Hugo's shafts 2/5/8, completed in 1962, was the culmination of their experience in planning coal mines. Schupp and Kremmer (or really Fritz Schupp on his own account, because Martin Kremmer died in an air-raid towards the end of WW2) built the waschekaue (pithead baths and lockers) and lohnhalle (accounts/ payroll offices) at shafts 2/5/8 at Hugo from 1952 to 1955. Then in 1961, they completed the forderturm (winding tower and schachthalle (headworks) at shaft 8. The "tripod" headstock at Zeche Hugo’s shaft 2 is identical to that at the former Zeche Victoria Lunen 3/4, which was built in 1960 by the same engineers and architects. To British eyes, it's unusual, because our pits went straight from lattice girder headstocks in the 19th century, to monolithic concrete winding towers.



At its peak in the 1960’s, Hugo employed 5000 men, and produced up to 3.5 million tons of coal a year – but coal is a finite resource. Gradually the coal mines in Gelsenkirchen were connected underground, with Hugo and Consolidation joining up in 1993, and Ewald linked to them in 1997. These were the last moves to extract the remaining accessible coal from the seam under Gelsenkirchen: the final depth of Hugo was 1200 metres. Inside, I was struck by the signs in Turkish – you have to assume that the pits had a large immigrant workforce, and I guess that's backed up by the number of Turkish businesses remaining in the area beyond the mine. In April 2000, the miners ended their last shift at Hugo shaft 2, and Gelsenkirchen suddenly had three thousand new unemployed men.



After the mine closed, there were plans to preserve it as a museum – but no agreement was reached on who would pay for the long-term dewatering of the mine shaft. On top of that, the German mining industry museum at Bochum expressed doubts about its viability, so the museum plan fell through. Nevertheless, some buildings at Hugo 2/5/8 were listed in 2002 – including the admin block, with wages office, pithead baths, the lamp room and the clinic. Beyond that, the headstock and winding house of shaft 2 plus the heapsteads, car hall, and tipplers of shaft 8 were also protected. Given its popularity, I fully expected to run into a German urbex0r in a bandana inside the mine, toting a fancy camera and f1.4 lens: however, the only activity we saw was site clearance work. Hugo is being loaded into tipper lorries, and the whine of hydraulics and grinding metal continued for the rest of the afternoon. Sadly, Germany has the same slippery and recessive gene as Britain: industrial heritage is sometimes conserved brilliantly; and occasionally is preserved by inaction, but those years of not doing anything often culminate in the crusher.



Visited with Cuban.