German miners are mourning: Coal production in the city of Kamp-Lintfort on the Lower Rhine will cease by the end of the year. The heavily subsidized mining venture is no longer profitable. Throughout Germany, there will be only three coal mines operating - out of what was once over a hundred mines. Six years from now it will all be over - marking the end of the coal mining era.
For decades, mining characterized the Ruhr Valley region and stood for a reliable source of income for many workers. But the miners are now looking for new job opportunities. On site at a shaft, the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, pledged her support for structural changes in the region.
Since the closure of the mines in the Saarland, coal has been mined only in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The RAG Corporation is still employing 18,000 miners both above and below ground. Following the Second World War, it had employed around half a million people. They embodied the era known as the German economic miracle.
The demand for coal was especially high after the Second World War. But the deep location of the coal in the Ruhr and the high safety standards in Germany made mining far more expensive than in other parts of the world. These days, German coal simply can't compete on the global market, which is why mining operations have been subsidized for years.
Over the past centuries, generations of immigrants found work in mining. It's an industry often proud of its traditions and ability to integrate people. Individuals from countries such as Poland, Italy and Turkey came to Germany looking for work underground. Various social programs are now set to now pave the way out for those still employed in the branch.
Mining is not the only industry that has turned unprofitable. Heavy manufacturing in general finds itself in a crisis. For instance, the largest German steel producer, ThyssenKrupp, reported a loss of five billion euros ($6.6 billion) last year. Managers at the company's headquarters in Essen are even contemplating a complete withdrawal from the steel business.
Due to decreasing commodity prices and competition from China, German coal is no longer able to compete on the global market. But, according to a study by the International Energy Agency, coal is becoming increasingly important despite its reputation of being harmful to the climate.
The port in Duisburg is one of Europe's largest inland ports. Its freight is symbolic of the structural changes taking place in the Ruhr Valley, which are proving difficult for many residents. Mine closures mean that many people will lose their jobs.
The car manufacturer Opel had good reasons for settling in Bochum. For residents, the company stood for jobs and new opportunities in the Ruhr Valley. But Opel also had to surrender to cheaper competition. Production at its plant in Bochum is set to be discontinued. These workers' sign reads: A future for ALL at Opel Bochum.
This region, once considered to be the engine behind the German economy, is now facing poverty and unemployment. According to a report by German social welfare organizations, poverty in the Ruhr Valley is growing rapidly. This stands in stark contrast to the situation just a few decades ago.Author: Anne Allmeling / gd | Editor: Greg Wiser
Decline of the mining industry in Germany's Ruhr Valley.