History of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum
The Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum was founded on 1 April 1930. From modest beginnings as a “Historical Museum of Mining”, it has grown over the last 80 years into the biggest mining museum in the world. Comprising around 8,000 m² of exhibition space, and a 2.5 km long visitor mine, the museum offers an overview of numerous forms of raw material extraction. This is not just about coal, but also salt, gold, silver, and copper, and also rarer raw materials such as lithium and molybdenum. In our research and our exhibitions we show the connections between the extraction and subsequent processing of raw materials, and social and cultural developments. Mining is studied and presented as one of the primal forms of human production, but also as an economic sector which is still globally active and indispensable today. The resulting insights make a crucial contribution to our understanding of the development and the present state of our society and culture.
How the museum was founded
In the middle of the 19th century, mining was one of the most important economic sectors in Germany. In 1868 the Westfälische Berggewerkschaftskasse (WBK) in Bochum, the cooperative venture of the Ruhr mining industry, established a collection of “Mining tools” for teaching and exhibition purposes, to introduce young miners – not the general public – to mining technology and the nature of coal-bearing rock. Plans to found a public mining museum in Bochum were discussed, but were not implemented due to the difficult economic situation until 1927. Then, however, the city of Bochum and the WBK took the initiative, and Heinrich Winkelmann, a mining engineer who later became the museum’s first director, devised the plan of converting the former abattoir into a museum. So the museum was not built on the foundations of a former mine, as many visitors assume.
The development phase
The first step was the founding of the museum on 1 April 1930 by the city of Bochum and the Westfälische Berggewerkschaftskasse. The museum was set up in the former cattle slaughterhouse, and was initially run by a director, a master model-maker, and a models custodian. It grew step by step.
The appearance of the museum today is largely shaped by the new, prestigious museum building based on plans by the renowned industrial architect Fritz Schupp. The decision to build was made in 1935. To give visitors as realistic an impression as possible of working life underground, the construction of a visitor mine was planned right from the start. At the end of June 1937 a shaft was sunk so that the first gallery could be excavated. In 1940, 600 metres of galleries and cross-cuts had already been excavated in the visitor mine, around 17 metres under the ground, and most of this had been fitted with permanent supports.
Before it was fully completed, the museum building was badly damaged by Allied air raids, and in 1943 the museum had to be closed because of the war. The few remaining members of staff moved valuable items from the collection to safe places, and converted the visitor mine into an air-raid shelter. This became the most heavily-used air-raid shelter in Bochum, with between 580 and 760 people per day seeking refuge here in 1945.
Reconstruction and the post-war period
After the end of the war the first tasks were to clean up and carry out repairs, before the first small exhibition could be opened in 1946. The visitor mine was reopened to the public in 1948. In 1947 the “Vereinigung der Freunde von Kunst und Kultur im Bergbau e.V.” (“Association of friends of art and culture in mining”) was founded. This organization still actively supports the museum, vigorously promoting a number of activities associated with mining. In 1953 a new building, the “Mittelbau”, gave the DBM an additional 1000 m2 of exhibition space. 36 Bergwerkskassen (mine funds) donated the massive three-door bronze entrance, with 30 reliefs by the Düsseldorf artists Otto Bussmann and Maria Schlüter. In the 1950s the museum’s mining experts continued the research on mining archaeology which had been started in 1942.
A new profile – becoming a research museum
Under the museum director Hans Günter Conrad, who took up his position in 1962, the historically oriented museum was expanded and reconfigured as a “research museum”, i.e. a non-university research institution with both national and regional funding. In 1969 the Bergbau-Archiv (Mining Archive) was founded. Its aim was to collect, conserve and index evidence of all kinds – written material, files and photos – from the entire German mining industry. At present it houses over 250 sets of records and just under 30 special collections, taking up over 4.5 kilometres of shelf space. The collections of the Bergbau-Archiv, the library and the Fotothek (photo library) have now been brought together in the Montanhistorisches Dokumentationszentrum (montan.dok).
In 1973 the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum acquired its emblem, the former double headframe from the decommissioned “Germania” mine. 71.4 m high and weighing 650 t, the headframe is based on plans by the industrial architect Fritz Schupp. A lift was installed to connect the visitor mine, the viewing platform and the museum. By saving the headframe, the DBM triggered a debate about whether technological industrial sites were worth preserving as historical monuments. Since then, the conservation of technological heritage sites has been one of the museum’s research activities. To recognize its importance as a specialist technical museum within the national and international museum landscape, the Bergbau-Museum was renamed on 1 March 1976, becoming the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum.
The research museum
In 1977 the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum was recognized as a research museum by the Bund-Länder-Kommission (BLK), and included in the joint national and regional research funding programme. Since then it has been one of the institutions on the “Blaue Liste” (“blue list”), now known as the Leibniz Association (Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz e.V., WGL). In 1979 the DBM was admitted to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft außeruniversitärer historischer Forschungseinrichtungen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Working group of non-university historical research institutions in the Federal Republic of Germany).
In 1980 the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum celebrated its 50th anniversary. In 1986 the “Erweiterungsbau Süd” (south annexe) was opened. The extension provided a further 3000 m2 for new exhibition areas, an auditorium and a seminar room, as well as the cafeteria and restaurant. Prof. Dr. Rainer Slotta, who took up the position of director in 1987, launched a series of large temporary exhibitions which have raised the museum’s national profile.
In the visitor mine, which had previously only demonstrated the workings of a hard coal mine on the Ruhr, work began on the presentation of a contemporary iron ore mine. This was inaugurated in 1987. In 2003, after a 10-year construction period, a modern longwall face was opened in the visitor mine. This made the DBM the only mining museum in Germany to document the current state of technology in the hard coal mining industry. In 2005 the DBM celebrated its 75th anniversary. The collections now comprise over a quarter of a million objects. In 2009 an annexe with a modern architectural design, the “Schwarzer Diamant” (“Black Diamond”), was opened. The new annexe enables the museum to keep up to date by presenting timely new special exhibitions.
As part of the Ruhr’s year as a capital of culture in 2010, the DBM now houses the RUHR.VISITORCENTER, one of only five visitor centres to be established in the Ruhr. The centre offers visitors information on interesting places, events, and cultural activities of all kinds, to help them find their way around the “Ruhr Metropolis”.