Director's Choice: From Dust Lung to Ceremonial Cup

Prof. Heinrich Theodor Grütter is director of the Ruhr Museum since 2012. Here he presents his favorite objects from the collections of the regional museum

In its permanent exhibition the Ruhr Museum presents the entire natural and cultural history of the region: from the formation of coal over 300 million years ago to the current structural change towards the Ruhr Metropolis. On three floors visitors pass through windowless storehouses, past huge industrial machines, raw concrete walls and conveyor belts. In between, 6,000 exhibits show in often fascinating detail how a formerly agricultural region developed into Europe's largest coal and steel production area and then became the Metropole Ruhr. Ten particularly unique pieces of the exhibition are part of the Director´s Choice. 

Preserving jar with boiled water (before 1945)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The preserving jar, ...

... filled with water, is perhaps the most inconspicuous but also the most impressive of all the exhibits at the Ruhr Museum. It tells of the experiences during the bombings in the Ruhr Area, where a mother brought boiled water and powdered milk for her newborn twins into the bunker during the last bombing raid. Not having been used, the preserved water survived the war and the post-war period and by chance entered the collection of the Ruhr Museum as a memento in the 1990s.

Silicone lung of a miner (20th century)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The preserved stone dust lung of a miner...

... is a human inventory of industrialisation and its damage to health. During coal mining work, tiny particles of stone made their way into miners’ lungs and settled there forever.

This led to lifelong respiratory distress and extremely shortened a miner's life compared to the population average. It was not until 1929 that silicosis disease, or pneumoconiosis, was entered in the list of occupational diseases.

Rhino skeletonUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The skeleton of the woolly rhinoceros ...

... was found around 1900 during the construction of the waterway for industry in the Ruhr Area, the Rhine-Herne Canal. It dates back to the last ice age about 30.000 - 10,000 years ago, when Europe was totally covered by a metre-high layer of ice and today’s landscape of the Ruhr Area with its hills and valleys, rivers and different soils was formed.

Statue of Archbishop Engelbert of Cologne, wooden statue from the Cistercian monastery in Gevelsberg (around 1230)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The life-size wooden statue of the 13th-century Archbishop of Cologne Engelbert ...

... is the first fully sculpted representation of a historical figure and not of a saint. It was created five years after the murder of the Bishop at Gevelsberg in the southern Ruhr Area.

The Gothic statue survived in the memorial chapel there in the attic and was rediscovered in the 19th century in the course of historicism as a memorial to this event of imperial historical significance.

Ornamental cup from the possession of the patrician family von Berswordt, lidded goblet from the Dortmund patrician family von Berswordt, Bruges, 1st half of the 16th century (1st half of the 16th century)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The lidded goblet ...

... owned by the Dortmund patrician family von Berswordt from the 1st half of the 16th century shows the importance of the city of Dortmund and its merchants in the Hanseatic League.

At a time when the Fugger city of Augsburg afforded a council silver, a single merchant family in Dortmund had the means for a gilded goblet showing the head of the family in late medieval armour on the lid.

Antique door jamb from Horst Castle (1566)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The antique door jamb ...

... from Horst Palace in Gelsenkirchen, dating from 1566, comes from a period that is not at all associated with the industrial city of Gelsenkirchen.

Horst Palace was built in the 16th century in the so-called Emscherbruch on the border between the Rhineland and Westphalia and is one of the most important palace complexes of the Dutch Renaissance, which was also jokingly called the Emscher Renaissance in reference to the Weser Renaissance.

Corinthian helmet (500-480 B.C.)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The Corinthian bronze helmet ...

... from the early 5th century BC comes from Sicily and is the showpiece of the Ruhr Museum’s archaeological collections, which include Egyptian and Roman antiquities as well as prehistoric findings and antiquities from Greater Greece. A special focus – due to the region – is on metal objects, especially from Luristan, which were of particular interest to the industrial patrons and collectors of the Ruhr Area, which was dominated by iron and steel.

Brown bear (Ursus arctos)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The brown bear ...

... was native to the later Ruhr Area until the 18th century. It is the largest (predatory) animal in the Ruhr Museum’s extensive biological collection on the flora and fauna of the Ruhr Area. This includes not only hundreds of taxidermy animals and ornithological specimens, but also large herbaria of plants from the forests and industrial nature of the Ruhr Area.

Nickel-iron meteorite (Age: 4500 million years)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The nickel-iron meteorite ...

... is almost 5 billion years old, and thus older than the Earth. This gives rise to far-reaching philosophical reflections on time. It was part of the geological collection of the Krupp family, who also bought it out of metallurgical interest, cut a second parallel piece and had it examined in their laboratories for chemical composition.

Fossil: Fern-leaved plant (Upper Carboniferous)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The fossilised plant ...

... dates back to the Carboniferous era, when more than 300 million years ago under tropical conditions, solar energy was bound in plants in the form of photosynthesis and subsequently stored as fossil energy in the course of the Earth’s history.

In this respect, this plant fossil represents the origin and foundation of our modern industrial world.

Statue of Alfred Krupp (1892) by Alois Meyer, Josef Wilhelm MengesUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The larger-than-life statue of Alfred Krupp ...

... is one of three very similar statues of Germany’s most famous industrialist. It was financed by donations from the workforce in 1892 and initially stood in front of the Krupp factory on Altendorfer Strasse in Essen. After the Second World War, it was moved to the Villa Hügel Park. When it began to rust there, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation donated the famous statue to the Ruhr Museum and replaced it with a faithful new casting in Hügel Park.

Wheel set with spoked wheels (1909)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The railway wheel set by Friedrich Krupp AG ...

... from 1909 symbolises the trademark of the Krupp company and the most important invention by Alfred Krupp, with which he revolutionised railway history and made a huge fortune: the seamless wheel tyre. It no longer had a fragile weld seam, as it was not welded together from a round piece of iron – as had been customary until then – but was created by drilling a hole in a piece of iron and pulling it apart in the fire to form a seamless wheel.

Repro: Panorama of the Krupp factory (1864) by Hugo van WerdenUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The photographic panorama of the Krupp factory ...

... from 1864 is a highlight in the Ruhr Museum’s extensive photography collection of over 4 million photographs as well as a milestone in the history of photography.

The panorama was used for the Krupp company's self-portrayal at the world exhibitions. The huge factory facilities were not painted, as was customary at the time, and instead were imposingly depicted by the new technical imaging medium of the industrial age, photography.

The composite shots were only possible from a bird’s eye view of the factory towers and with long exposure times during posed work processes on Sundays and public holidays.

Desk of the entrepreneur Otto Heinrich Flottmann (1875-1944) from Herne Desk of the entrepreneur Otto Heinrich Flottmann (1875-1944) from Herne (around 1912)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The desk ...

... of Otto Heinrich Flottmann, an entrepreneur from Herne, is a rare example of the capitalist system and patriarchal structures in the coal and steel industry of the Ruhr Area.

Desk of the entrepreneur Otto Heinrich Flottmann (1875-1944) from HerneUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The heavy oak top of the furniture from the time of the late Empire shortly before the First World War (1912) is supported on the display side by two miners bending under the table top as they work underground.

Mark control board of the Carl Funke colliery (around 1900)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The control marker board ...

... of the former Carl Funke colliery in Essen clearly shows the structure of mining in the period of high industrialisation around 1900. 

The workforces of the collieries comprise thousands, whose underground production was not based on machines but on manual labour, so that miners were not listed with their names at the beginning and the end of their shifts but were only perceived as anonymous numbers.

Samples of contaminated sites at the Essen-Borbeck zinc smelter (1999)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The extensive collection ...

... of soil samples from the investigation of contaminated sites at the former zinc smelter in Essen-Borbeck shows the full drama of the environmental destruction caused by industry in the Ruhr Area.

The several hundred preserving jars contain a cocktail of different chemically contaminated soils, which already provide a hint of their toxic contents in their aesthetic presentation.

Atlas Minor of Gerhard Mercator (1651)UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

We have the Duisburg cartographer ...

... to thank for the so-called true-angle map projection, which he recorded, among other things, in his “Atlas Minor”. This projection made precise navigation on the world’s oceans possible.

... Mercator had come to Duisburg from his Belgian hometown of Leuven in 1552 as a religious refugee of the Counter-Reformation in anticipation of the first Protestant university in the later Ruhr Area, but it was only opened after his death in 1655.
Mercator's “Atlas Minor” symbolises the reflection on the global world from the provinces of the Rhineland in the age of the Renaissance.

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