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ZOLLVEREIN, THE RUHR VALLEY, GERMANY

Up at 5am to a sundried morning, threw an Autobahn-ready breakfast into myself, swilled it with a double black coffee (black on black), and rolled the meticulously pre-packed motorbike out of the garage, eager to make the early morning ferry from Rødby, at the ass-end of Denmark, to Puttgarden, at the top of Germany, before the roads are clogged with 18-wheel road trains, force-feeding humanity's insatiable addiction to consumerism. I had packed the motorcycle the night before, to give myself an extra hour of sleep when I needed it most, because I knew the caffeine wasn't going to last forever....

The Autobahn was surprisingly empty this morning, I was wondering if I had just need really fortunate, or if I'd left a day too early, and this was Sunday, and not Monday... it's happened before... As I got closer to Hamburg however, the traffic started to densify (is that a word?), and the 3 lanes lost their luxury.



As expected, food started occupying more and more of my conscious thought, as the endless streams of BMW's, Audis and VW's drifted by, the usual indecisive conflict started inside the helmet... should I grab a roadkill burger, some putrid, maggot infested scrapings of recycled dog, or should I go for the vegetarian option? Couldn't see any roadside Cannibal Café’s, so on the outskirts of Hamburg, I went with an arm-long bread log, packed with plants, fungi and various other arboreal enhancements. Laced with chilli, it could have been anything... ram it down, throw in a RedBull (without the can) then back onto the Autobahn, for some serious speed...



One of the best things about being on a motorbike, apart from the PCP-like feeling that you really CAN fly, is all the different scents on the wind you experience in different terrains, different countries... A bakery in Lübeck baking the early morning bread, the scent of crops in the passing fields, the smell of petrol as you fill your tank for the 10th time, the asphalt melting in the summer sun, the smell of engine oil when the bike needs a blood transplant, the intoxicating scent of one hundred thousand pine trees, as they glide by at 150kmphhhhhhh.

Sometimes though, one of the worst things about being on a motorbike, can ALSO be all the different smells you experience – pig farmers with gigantic vats filled with the liquefied excrement from thousands of pigs, and probably their own, too... Torrential acid rain isn’t much fun, either..

When you’re hammering along at that speed, and making hundreds of minute adjustments every minute, you really rely on your instincts and senses. You can take it for granted that centrifugal force will do whatever it can to keep you upright, through the gyroscopic effect generated from both wheels turning at that speed.

Inside the helmet, both your conscious and subconscious are in sync, and once you settle into the fun, and empty your mind, achieve a state of nothingness, whatever... or once the inner voice in your mind stops all the disturbance, you notice that everything is moving in slow motion, the cars and trucks in front of you drift in and out of their lanes slowly, the ones behind you overtake relatively ‘slowly’ (200kmph) and it’s only when you glance out to the side at 90 degrees, that you register that you’re actually belting along, as Germany races by.... You’re completely relaxed, yet subconsciously hyper-aware, as if you’re flying Firefox, thinking in Russian...



Got down to the Ruhr Valley by late afternoon, and the GPS starts screaming at me, barking out orders in a solid yet effeminate Nordic tone, beckoning compliance, and letting me know about it, if I don't make the recommended turns, or try to get creative with the directions... I've never been particularly good at taking orders, so listening to some GPS telling me what to do is a real test of my patience... but I'm sure she means well...



After some concentrated and begrudged obedience, I finally roll into Hotel Böll Essen, my accommodation for the night. Later, after checking in and dumping the equipment, a relaxed litre of Duckstein brought me down to a level where I could immerse myself in the industrial heritage, and appreciate where I was... The industrial heart of Europe, the furnace of European development over the last 2 centuries... WOW!

Now for some German food...



ZOLLVEREIN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX IN ESSEN

I spent 6 hours that evening floating around the eerie, deserted landscape of Zeche Zollverein in Essen, a huge and widely spread mining complex. I had the place to myself that evening, so I took the bike into tunnels and underground spaces that are ‘Verboten’ by day. Ears were filled with the refined and sublime sounds of Rammstein, (‘Mehr’... ‘Reise, Reise’... ‘Mein Teil’...) and as the Bauhaus-designed industrial architecture of Zollverein and it's peripheral buildings floated by in the evening sunlight, and for some reason, I felt strangely at home in this rusted iron forest, the smell of long-forgotten coal fired industrialism, still prominent in the air...



The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is situated in the north-east side of Essen, just two kilometres from my hotel. It has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since December 14, 2001 and is one of the anchor points of the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Good base to work out from for this trip...

The first coal mine on the premises was founded in 1847, mining activities took place from 1851 until December 23, 1986. For decades starting in the late 1950s, the two parts of the site, Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant (erected 1957−1961, closed on June 30, 1993), ranked among the largest of their kinds in Europe. Shaft 12, built in Bauhaus style, was opened in 1932 and is considered an architectural and technical masterpiece, earning it a reputation as the “most beautiful coal mine in the world” for obvious reasons.



The Zollverein site quickly gained notice for its simple, functional Bauhaus design with its mainly cubical buildings made of reinforced concrete and steel trusses. The shaft's characteristic Doppelbock winding tower in the following years not only became the archetype of many later central mining facilities, but a symbol of German heavy industry itself.



This symbol may have slowly been forgotten when German heavy industry started diminishing in the second half of the 20th century, but this shaft and especially its characteristic winding tower were to become a symbol of the Ruhr area's structural change. Zollverein survived the Second World War with only minor damages and by 1953 again placed on top of all German mines with an output of 2.4 million tons.

After an expansion in the early 1970s, Zollverein placed among the most productive coking plants worldwide, with around 1.000 workers and an output of up to 8.600 tons of coke per day (not Cocaine) on the so-called ‘dark side’. The ‘white side’ of the plant (not Cocaine either) produced side products such as ammonia, raw benzene and raw tar.



When it closed, Zollverein was the last remaining active coal mine in Essen. Whereas the coking plant remained open until June 30, 1993, mining activities in shaft 12 stopped on December 23, 1986.



I spent a couple of days floating through this post industrial landscape in 4th gear, as slowly as possible, stopping occasionally, to absorb nearly 200 years of progressive industrial development, and understand what it was that actually went on here... coal, iron ore and silver mines fuelling global development, pushing humanity forward, some really HARD PHYSICAL WORK, a level and depth of which, we children of the revolution find hard to fathom, now that we're allowing ourselves be enveloped and cushioned by a 'protective' digital buffer, effectively cutting us off emotionally, geographically and physically from the real world, dulling our senses and preventing us from really FEELING anything... if we find the 'old-style' of human interaction inconvenient.... Come on, life is short...

Check out this great video by Mathias von Gostomski:

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