Let the dust settle… Mining and the environment: a German-German comparison

till 15 January 2023

For the first time in the history of the Leibniz research museum, a special exhibition is dedicated to the subject of environmental policy and recultivation: “Let the dust settle… Mining and the environment: a German-German comparison“ (“Gras drüber … Bergbau und Umwelt im deutsch-deutschen Vergleich”) seeks to use a historical perspective to arrive at a reflective response to environmental issues, both current and future. The exhibition can be viewed from 11 June 2022 to 15 January 2023 in the DBM+ extension building.

The special exhibition “Let the dust settle… Mining and the environment: a German-German comparison” in the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum takes a look beneath the grass-covered surface. It explores three natural resources and two countries: hard coal mining in the FRG, and opencast lignite mining in Lusatia, as well as uranium ore extraction in the Wismut districts of the GDR Part of a joint project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), it presents a “German-German” comparison from a historical environmental and mining perspective with a regional focus. In doing so, it reveals the symbiotic interrelationships played out on a political, scientific and society level.

Let the dust settle… Mining and the environment: a German-German comparison

The exhibition begins with “Here and now”, greeting visitors with a photo and sound installation from the three renaturalised landscapes, alongside a juxtaposition of two artworks from the East and West German context. This is followed by a film and photo documentation series offering a glimpse into the former mining districts. The exhibition continues with a section entitled “Unbounded Prospecting“, which conveys a retrospective view of the environmental impacts and everyday life in mining in the three districts. From these bases, the tour continues with a journey through the district in the post-mining era, and the question of whether and how the post-mining landscapes can get “Back to nature”. At this point the exhibition reveals some intriguing insights into the previously little known research projects run by the FRG and the GDR, showing how environmental conservation in Germany is not some new 21st century concept. This is made palpably clear in the “Let’s form an environmental union” section, which lays bare not only the political decision-making processes in both states, but also the movements that emerged from among the population and played a critical role in triggering a rethink among policymakers in the 1980s. “And now?” is the question posted in the final section of exhibition with themes such as current environmental policies, protests and mining in modern times conveyed through objects with a strong contemporary reference.


“Let the dust settle …” is arranged across two levels of the DBM+ extension and is conceived and realised by GfG / Gruppe für Gestaltung GmbH, Bremen, in collaboration with the Montanhistorisches Dokumentationszentrum (montan.dok, DBM’s Mining History Document Centre). About 800 objects from the montan.dok as well as from about 140 lending institutions will be on display. The scenography seizes on the notion of “peaking beneath the turf” now that the dust has settled, and it employs backdrop elements together with natural, largely recyclable materials. The separate areas of the exhibition are each given an individual design, and offer multi-faceted insights into the theme and the objects. Visitors are constantly invited to change their perspectives. The charged relationship between mining and the environment is also transferred to the exhibition experience. The concentration of elements and exhibits occasionally increases and decreases not unlike the complexity of social and political processes.

Educational offerings

The educational aspect of this continuously bi-lingual exhibition is enhanced with multi-media stations and persona dialogues delivering stimuli and contact points from various positions. A multi-media guide in German language is available for the exhibition. From the end of June, it will be available under “Gras drüber ... Bergbau und Umwelt im deutsch-deutschen Vergleich” in the  CultwayApp. You can download the app free of charge from the AppStore or Google Play Store. You can use this audio guide service while in the exhibition, or before and after your visit to the museum. The special exhibition is also flanked by an assorted mediation and events programme.

Companion volume

The catalogue in German language entitled “Gras drüber ... Bergbau und Umwelt im deutsch-deutschen Vergleich” is published by Verlag De Gruyter | Oldenbourg. The publication is designed as a companion volume: With one section encompassing the content and conceptual design of the special exhibition, another contains essays by external researchers on environmental policy, post-mining landscapes, gender studies and nature conservation, and the history of technology with a focus on health-related themes, cultural studies and the theory of knowledge mediation. It can be purchased by 34.95 euro in the Museum Shop or in bookstores, and will also be released as an Open Access publication.

The special exhibition is part of the research partnership entitled “Environmental policy, mining and recultivation - a German-German comparison. The Lusatian Lignite District, the Wismut District and the Ruhr District (1949-1989/2000)”. The partnership is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of its funding programme for strengthening research into the GDR.

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