The Impact of the Tourism into the Transformation of Former Industrial Sites into Heritage Sites: THE ZOLLVEREIN COAL MINE CASE STUDY

Photo by Simon Basler
Ricerca a cura di Franco Cappuccio nell’ambito del gruppo “Arts and Social Sciences ,Maastricht University

If I ask my parents (and I suppose this applies to everyone) about what they associate with the Ruhr area, the answer would be related to the concept of “industry”, as this area in Germany was one of the biggest extractive and metallurgic site in Europe (and for that matter, it was disputed through history between Germany and France). However in the 60-70s of the 20th century, with the global crisis of the coal mines and in general of the whole sector all across Europe, a change in the vocation of the area was needed in order to resolve massive issues (unemployment, growth, …) that could undermine life of the inhabitants of the region. Like many other places who suffered the same problem (the most famous is probably Bilbao in Spain), the answer to all these problems was founded in investing in culture and creativity. However, the uniqueness of how this change in vocation was made makes the Ruhr area an important case studies in order to understand best practices that could be transferred (of course tailored to the specific contexts) to other former (or in crisis) industrial areas, like Taranto or Bagnoli (Naples) in Italy, with the purpose to help them overcome the same issues that was tackled in the past by areas like the Ruhr.

The literature on the subject is quite extensive, as the Ruhr area was (and it is still today) considered as one of the most important lab in developing practices of transformation from the traditional industry vocation to the cultural and creative industries vocation. However, the big part of these publications deals to the entire urban area, pointing at achievements and dealing with the process of transformation, along many points of view: sociological, economic, cultural, touristic, and so on.
Here, we will consider what it’s the symbol and the core of this change of perspective. The heart, in fact, of the change in vocation of the Ruhr area is the Zollverein (Kunzmann, 2004, p. 394-395) , a former coal mine in Essen that now it’s transformed in both a witness of the industrial heritage of the past (for which it’s listed as UNESCO World Heritage site) and both projected to the future due to the contemporary art installations and museums that where built in from 1970s until today. So it’s a symbol of this change and at the same time the core of this new creative and cultural vocation, and for that reason it will be at the center of this paper. Specifically, I will discuss the role of the Zollverein in the development of the cultural and creative vocation of the Ruhr area, and in particular we will take a look at the tourism strand of this development, as it’s an important part of the economic value of the site and at the same time it’s central in the policies of the area. That will be one of the key in understanding the success (and the possible flaws) of the urban regeneration process, bearing however in mind that other factor are contributing as well but here they will be not analysed.

I will look then at what are the effects of the tourism in Zollverein coal mine in the economic, environmental and socio-cultural sectors, which are the main ones affected from this process, trying to find best practices and flaws that can undermine the urban regeneration, in order to have clear outcomes that can be analysed and eventually applied to other similar context.

An introduction to Ruhr
Even if there is not an actual official definition of the borders of the Ruhr area, the usual common geography of the region accepted is the one from the Regionalverband Ruhr, that states that the area covers 4.435 km² and it inhabited by a little more than 5 million people (RegionalverbandRuhr, 2011) , and if we unite it with the urban areas of Cologne-Bonn and Düsseldorf who are nearby, we have one of the largest conurbation in Europe with about 11 million inhabitants (Grabher, 1993).

Economy of the region was historically related to coal mining, steel production and metal processing (Trettin, Neumann, & Zakrzewski, 2010) but, beginning with the end of the 1950s, crisis of this industrial sector has brought many areas all over Europe to face the issues related to factories and mines closing, and consequently to find other ways to keep the area with the best living conditions possible. In the Ruhr area, the solution found by the politics at the time was to try to reconvert this manufacturing and extracting industrial vocation of the area developing instead service industries. This has brought prominence to fields like education, science, recreational facilities and so on. In this paradigm shift of the economy of the Ruhr, culture can and it has played an important role (Kunzmann, 2004, p. 394-395) , symbolized by the appointment of Essen as European Capital of Culture 2010; one of the main reasons why Essen has won the competition to achieve this prestigious title was this change of vocation, and 10 millions of people witnessed it in the year 2010 of the appointment (Heidenreich, 2015) .

The importance of this change of vocation is underlined also by statistics: in 1970 42% of the workforce in the Ruhr area worked in the service sector (Steinberg, 1978) , while in 2017 there was a massive increasing to 77% of the total workforce (while manufacturing workforce was decreased to 22%) (Information und Technik Nordrhein-Westfahlen, 2017) . This is witnessing about how strong was supported this change, and how big was the impact in 50 years.

However, this hasn’t brought only positive things. Not all the cities, in fact, were able to cope in the same way with this change: especially in the neighbourhood that were near former industrial sites, 1980s and 1990s were characterized by urban decay (Trettin, Neumann, & Zakrzewski, 2010) . Other than that, high unemployment, poverty and high municipal debts, still consequences of the big crisis of the area, tells us that the end of this transformation is still very far to be achieved.

The role of the culture

We have also to consider what is actually the role of culture inside the Ruhr area transformation, given that case studies shows us that there are many different ways to use it to regenerate industrial heritage: probably the most famous example is in Bilbao, where the creation of the Guggenheim museum on an former industrial site was such influential throughout the world, that is labelled “Bilbao effect” (positive or negative that are) (Plaza, 2000) .

In general, we could consider four different contributions of culture in urban regeneration (Heidenreich, 2015) :

  • The economic contribution, as heritage sites and culture activities and venues are part of the value chain: they are employers (curators, researchers, …), customers (many services like air conditioning, communication, digital websites and so on, are actually brought from third-part company), value generator (they have indirect effects on activities like restaurants, hotels, transports, …);
  • The social contribution, as heritage sites and cultural venues are platforms for social meetings and exchanges: for example they are the place of recreational activities, and can be viewed also in terms of creating social distinction and elites, by being a place that legitimate culture, and so they have the effect of being places where demonstate culture (Bourdieu, 1984) ;
  • The symbolic contribution, as heritage sites can be the expression of the identity of the area, as places with high visibility, both in terms of people that comes there and both in terms of communication and awareness. For example, in our specific case, Zollverein Coal Mine, which as I said above is a world heritage site, it’s a symbol of the transformation of the area from an industrial past and from an economy based on steel, coal and manufacturing to one which values also immaterial things like knowledge, creativity and culture, reinventing the identity of the region;
  • The cognitive contribution, as cultural heritage sites and venues can be the places for cross-fertilization of ideas, contributing to diversity and being for that an open place for innovation and creativity, as stressed in the specific case of the Ruhr area in considering culture as a remedy against the risks of regional lock-in effects (Grabher, 1993) .

These factors applies in a major or minor way also for Ruhr area transformation process, being the core of the use of culture into the massive change operated in the region.

The Zollverein Coal Mine

The Zollverein Coal Mine is located in Essen, the city that can be considered as the core of this transformation process (and that was recognized also by its appointment as European Capital of Culture). Labeled “the most beautiful mine in the world” even when it was still in function (HOCHTIEF, 2019) , it is since 2001 UNESCO World Heritage Site. Opened in 1932, it was considered a symbol of the mining power of the Germany, until it was closed – later compared other industrial heritage sites in the area – in 1986. Its regeneration as a cultural and touristic site began in 1989, when the Northrhein-Westfalia government founded the International Building Exhibition, a 10
year programme born to address the serious problem of the Emscher River in the Ruhr area, but at the same time aimed to foster urban economic, social and ecological regeneration of former industrial sites (Danielzyk & Wood, 1993) . The programme realized 120 projects, putting also the foundations of tourism development of the area, including the protection and conservation of industrial heritage sites like the Zollverein Coal Mine (Hospers, 2002) . The outcomes of the programme were evaluated, and a strand led to the creation of the “Industrial Heritage Route”, in which the Zollverein was the focal point (Prossek, 2006) .

The complex is spread over 100 hectares and it is divided in three macro-sections: Shaft XII, Shaft 1/2/8 and Coking Plant. What was the largest coal mine in Europe is now a place where culture, gastronomy, design, architecture and handicrafts lives together (Ćopić, et al., 2014) , generating a new place enriched by all this diversity combined.

The main attractions of the Zollverein coal mine are: the Ruhr Museum, which addresses the history of the area from the prehistoric era until today, the Design Museum, the Design Faculty of the Essen Folkwang School of Arts, a conference centre, a theatre, exhibition and event halls, a contemporary sculpture park, contemporary installations (one of them has also created a swimming pool), the central visitors center of the Industrial Heritage Route, a ticket and booking counter of other museums and cultural activities of the area, cafè and restaurants, a workspace for the local Tourist Association “ZollvereinTouristik” (Trettin, Neumann, & Zakrzewski, 2010) .

Tourism in Zollverein: numbers and effects on the heritage site and on the Ruhr region

As I have said above, one of the key sectors interested in this process of transformation from manufacturing to services industry was tourism, and especially industrial heritage and cultural tourism. For that Zollverein, with its nature as the main site of industrial heritage of the area and at the same time of symbol of this transformation process, it’s a perfect case study in order to understand numbers and effects both on the site itself and both on the development of the entire area.

It is important to start with some general tourism data of the site: according to official data publicly disseminated, the Zollverein World Heritage Site has 1.5 million visitors every year in the period 2011-2017, making it the second most visited site in Northrhein-Westfalia after the Cologne Cathedral (Stiftung Zollverein, 2018) . An exception was the 2010 year – as Essen was European Capital of Culture along with Istanbul in Turkey and Pecs in Hungary, and that appointment has contributed to an exceptional flows of visitors to the site – 2.2 million, a so far unbeaten record (Lane, Weston, Davies, Kastenholz, Lima, & Majewsjki, 2013) .

61% of visitors of the Zollverein Coal Mine arrive from outside the Ruhr region, making it a premium tourism destination, and also international visitors are growing continuously. Interestingly enough, for 62% of international guests, the UNESCO title plays a crucial role in making the decision to visit Zollverein (Stiftung Zollverein, 2018) . That witnesses the power of the UNESCO World Heritage Site label as a factor of brand positioning, capable to increase international awareness to the sites and consequently increasing visitors number and economic value – even if in some cases this has brought also very negative issues with it (The Unintended Consequences of UNESCO World Heritage Listing, 2017) .

However, the effects of tourism are not only in terms of the physical space (like the aforementioned number of visitors in the site), but are much more complex, dealing with environmental, socio-cultural and economic spheres (Stojanović, 2006) . In this sense, touristic potentials which can be modified by the mining include technological heritage, infrastructure, production facilities and housing (Marot&Harfst, 2012) .

Starting with tourism effects on environment, of course the first fact that we could almost immediately notice is that the transformation process from the extractive and manufacturing industry, which has an high impact on environment, to a services industry, in which tourism is one of the main strand activated, that has a much less environmental impact, is increasing living conditions in the area, as pollution was a very serious issues in the past (the International Building Exhibition mentioned above was created for that). But industrial heritage tourism can have also a positive effect also on public investments: the development of this kind of tourism has bring the public government to adopt strategies and measures for example in cleaning contaminated and neglected land in the area of
industrial heritage sites (Lane, Weston, Davies, Kastenholz, Lima, & Majewsjki, 2013) . In the Zollverein
case study, this is evident for example in the removing of the asbestos from the former industrial buildings (Red Dot Design Museum Riqualification Project, 2019) , as in the past this material was used due to its fireproof property, but later it was discovered that it’s highly dangerous and even mortal under certain conditions, so a requalification project couldn’t ignore the removal of this material, with the result of increasing environmental conditions.

Looking at the economic effects fostered by tourism, the main thing we could notice is that the primary source of income of the area is generated from ticket sales, while secondary sources are sales of food, beverages, travel expenses and expenditures (Lane, Weston, Davies, Kastenholz, Lima, & Majewsjki, 2013) . If we look at the Zollverein site revenues from tourism in the 2011-2014, the data shows us that it’s around 68,4 million of euro gross (KEA European Affairs, 2015) , and if we can compare this data with the one about the number of visitors of the Zollverein site mentioned above – which sees a constant flows of visitors from 2011 to 2017, last year recorded – we could assume that every year from 2011 to 2017 has generated revenues for 17,1 million of euro yearly.
Employing local people and their involvement in the development of tourism offer has also a significant economic impact (Ćopić, et al., 2014) ; that has also an effect in terms of the sociocultural sphere, as employing local people is also a way to fight unemployment, which was and it still is a serious issue caused by the steel crisis in the past, and connecting people in becoming part of the new identity of the area.
In the Zollverein site, the employment effects of the activities amounted to more than 1,300 jobs (direct, indirect and consumption-induced) in 2016 (Prognos AG, 2017) . In addition, there were temporary employment effects from public and private investments amounting to 680 jobs in the same year (Prognos AG, 2017) , and the tourism demand secured around 760 jobs in Essen through turnover generated by visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zollverein in Essen (Prognos AG, 2017) .

Another effect to consider caused by the Zollverein Coal Mine is in the increase of overnight stays by 60.6% during the period 1990-2009 in Essen (Keil & Wetterau, 2013) , supporting the fact that relatively unattractive industrial cities with modest tourism offer had turned into interesting destinations for tourists, and consequently generate greater revenues from tourism (Ćopić, et al., 2014) .

Last but not least, socio-cultural effects are also very important in the development of the area; the typical benefit for this type of transformation is of course related to celebration and recognition of the past, which strengthens identity amongst people that inhabits the area, increasing local pride and attachment to the area in which they live, that could be the fuel to continue also in the future this process of transformation (Lane, Weston, Davies, Kastenholz, Lima, & Majewsjki, 2013) .
Also, another effect is related to promotion of contemporary art and creativity: the former industrial sites like the Zollverein, in their requalification process, are host of new contemporary work of art, like sculptures or installations in the Zollverein case study, but at the same time they are part of this creativity, as the requalification process also deals with giving new meanings to places, and so in the Zollverein mine the former Coal Wash Plant is new the Ruhr Museum, preserving the old identity of the place but at the same time using creativity in various ways to address the needs of the new destination.
It’s not pointless to remember also that without the development of tourism it would not be possible to preserve the industrial heritage that would be left to oblivion and the ravages of time (Ćopić, et al., 2014) .

However, the relationship between the city of Essen and the former industrial sites now a major part of the attractive of the area, has also brought a socio-cultural issue in draining the Altstadt of the city – the city center, basically – from being an active part of the city life. Many activities are born in these years nearby both the Folkwang Museum (an ex-factory now a contemporary art museum) and the Zollverein coal mine. The results shows us that after shops closing time, the life of the city shifts nearby this places, because inhabitants and tourist can find there cultural activities (theatres, events hall,…) and recreational ones (cafè, restaurants, clubs, …), and this is slowly transforming the city center of the city into a “non-place”, in the same way the industrial heritage sites were after their original
function closed and before the start of this transformation process.

As showed above, tourism can be a powerful tool in the development of transformation of the vocation of an area from a manufacturing industry to a services industry, in what it is formally called as “urban regeneration culture-led”. Abandoned industrial sites were now part of a new purpose and they became a symbol of this change of perspective by being cultural heritage sites and hosts of new art and creativity. Ruhr area is a particularly successful case, that shows us how a development of this type can be sustainable, and it can generate economic and socio-cultural values. Of course it’s not perfect, and there is still flaws and processes that need to be addressed and analysed, as we can see in some of the examples above, but nonetheless the region changed its image and became a significant tourist region with emphasis on culture and recreation tourism based on industrial heritage, creating and using solutions that proved to be successfully and that could be applied – tailored to the different other
contexts – to similar areas across Europe and the world.


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