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End of an era: Germany to close its last black coal mine on Friday

As the area's last active mine bows out, many are mourning not just the end of a once-mighty industry but of a way of life

AFP | PTI  |  Berlin 

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Representative Image

will close its last black on Friday, turning the page on two centuries of history in the region that helped fuel the country's post-war "economic miracle".

Although the end of the Prosper-Haniel colliery near the western town of comes as polluting coal is increasingly under scrutiny, it was cheaper hard coal from abroad, not environmental concerns, that sounded the mine's death knell.

For the remaining 1,500 workers the final shift promises to be an emotional one, culminating in a ceremony to be attended by President and chief

After greeting each other one more time with the traditional miners' call of "Glueck Auf!", shorthand for good luck in opening a new vein, the workers will bring up a symbolic last chunk of black coal before the 150-year-old deep-shaft mine is sealed up.

"There's a heavy sadness now that it's all going to be over soon," 47-year-old miner told Bild newspaper, wearing a dusty white overall and yellow hard hat.

Retired pitman Reinhold Adam, 72, who recently visited the mine for a final, nostalgic descent into its belly, told Bild it was "the camaraderie that's so special under ground".

With its own vernacular, songs, football clubs and dedicated to Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, traditions are deeply woven into the fabric of daily life in the region.

As the area's last active mine bows out, many are mourning not just the end of a once-mighty industry but of a way of life.

Dating back to the 19th century, the coal mines, plants and that once dotted the Valley in the western state of were long the beating heart of Germany's industrial growth, powering its economic recovery after World War II.

"For 150 years, coal was the country's and most important raw material," said historian Franz-Josef Brueggemeier, of a study on the Ruhr's history.

The mines also midwived Germany's oldest political party, the centre-left Social Democrats, who found a large support base for their social struggles among the blue-collar pit workers.

Western Germany's tight grip on the crucial coal and inspired France to propose the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, a common market between six countries designed to regulate competition -- and a precursor to the

But Germany's dominance in the hard- or black-coal market started to wane in the 1960s as foreign rivals made it cheaper to import the "black gold".

Today most of the hard coal used in German coal-fired power plants hails from Russia, the United States, and

The domestic industry, and the tens of thousands of jobs relying on it, have for years been kept on life support through government subsidies.

First Published: Wed, December 19 2018. 10:05 IST
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