The heritage: Mining in Saarland - Part VI

State Chancellery Saarland

Life and limb, Monument, Long farewell

Coal production in Saarland came to an end in 2012 after over 250 years. This was a defining moment for Saarland because it was almost impossible to imagine the federal state without the mining industry. The ups and downs of the entire federal state were closely linked to coal. Mining played a major role in the lives of almost all families in Saarland, with either a relative or an ancestor having worked in the industry. The fact that coal mining gave our state its own identity is largely thanks to the people who worked in it: the Saarland miners. They laid the foundations for economic development in Saarland and provided momentum for the 'economic miracle' in Germany with their hard work, influencing our state, its values and its cohesion like no other occupational group. The camaraderie and solidarity among miners was the model for the sense of community among people in Saarland. We are now faced with the task of keeping the memories of the mining industry alive. It is important to preserve the knowledge of the mining roots of our state and to pass this knowledge on, especially to young people. The virtual state exhibition DAS ERBE (the heritage) plays a central role in this culture of remembrance. We want this to highlight the special importance of the period characterised by the mining industry for the current and future Saarland society. The DAS ERBE exhibition focuses on miners, their lives, families and culture, their influence on togetherness in Saarland, and on what remains after the end of coal mining, rather than on machinery and mining towers. The exhibition highlights just how rich and varied the heritage of miners is for our state.
I hope that visitors to the "DAS ERBE" exhibition at the Open Gallery of the Google Cultural Institute in the Saarland State Chancellery learn something new about mining in Saarland and are able to gain a better understanding of work underground.

Life and limb
From the very outset, there were manifold risks involved in mining which markedly increased with the introduction of deep mining. Water ingress, underground fire, cable breakage, mine collapse and above all the dreaded firedamp and coal dust explosions are part thereof; it was above all due to the latter that many miners lost their lives. The employee insurance schemes initiated by Bismarck and constantly further developed since that time made a decisive contribution to safeguarding the miners and their survivors. Since then, improvement in technology alone has no longer occupied a forefront position in mining risk prevention, but also development of preventive measures such as occupational and health protection.

The firedamp explosions shown in the film sequences are testing demolitions performed to examine this danger. These are gas and coal dust explosions as well as water trough explosions. The demolition of a ventilation structure is also shown. Such tests also helped to significantly improve safety provisions and installations underground in the last couple of decades.

There have no longer been any deaths in Saarland coal mining since 2004 owing to high safety standards, yet the memory of mining as one of the most dangerous professions in Western industrial society remains. The number of people in mining injured while performing their work indeed lies well above the cumulative victims of the major accidents. So taking account of the „everyday“ accidents, between 7.500 and 10.000 individuals must have lost their lives since State mining around the Saar began, above all men, but also a few women. The monument to the dead miners cannot lay claim to completeness. This is why the victims of mining who are unknown by name should also be honoured representatively at this point.
Long farewell
As early as during the 1950‘s, the first Saarland pits had to close and work stoppages had to be introduced owing to market difficulties. The oil crisis during the 1970‘s appeared to herald a renaissance of coal; in addition, large coal-fired power plants such as that in Ensdorf and the subsidies from the „coal penny“ introduced in 1974 were to help to stabilise the situation. Yet since the structural crises of the 1980‘s at the latest, which resulted in regularly held „coal round negotiations“ (Federal government, coal states, employers and trade unions), the end of mining around the Saar was predictable for many. In 1997, the collective redundancies in the highly subsidised mining industry culminated in massive protests and the Saar mines were sold to the RAG for a symbolic D Mark. The end of Saarland mining, initially scheduled for 2018, was brought forward to 30th June 2012 owing to subsidence-related earthquakes.

This educational film was used to recruit new miners. It showed the everyday work of a miner with inviting images and underscored by cheerful music. Beginning with the shared ride to work inside the bus of the Saarberg AG, the various working activities inside the mine itself and continuing to joint holiday camps in European countries - this film showed all aspects of a miner's professional life and was designed to invite young people to become a part of this community.

Staatskanzlei des Saarlandes, Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
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