Monday 17 July 2017

Once Upon a Time in Dortmund

Zeche Zollern is a carefully preserved industrial site to the north of Dortmund that has the distinction of being Europe’s only Art Nouveau/Jugendstil colliery. Stepping from the train at Dortmund-Bövinghausen, I myopically missed all the directional signage and set off in the wrong direction. My walk took me round all four sides of a large rectangle until arriving back where I started. This time the signs were unmistakeable and the rest of the journey, uneventful. Flags, bunting and banners announced my destination, which is more than I usually expect. And the sounds of fairground organs and steam engine whistles suggested an event was underway.

Inside the colliery site was a flurry of activity graced with top hats, fishnet tights, goggles, compasses and pocket watches. An ancient steam road roller and a brace of traction engines were on hand accompanied by the hiss of escaping steam. Stilt walkers and penny farthing cyclists meandered around the site. Recently returned big-game hunters, grouse-shooters and polar explorers mingled with the crowd. Dr. Marrax prepared to bamboozle his audience with a miracle cure – assisted by some mandrake root and assorted paraphernalia. Carousels were in full swing and the Flea Circus was open for business.

Steampunk is one of many minority cults that came into existence without me really noticing – to me it looks like a marriage between Gothic and High Victorian Heavy Engineering. It seems remarkably unthreatening and congenial and, to my knowledge, there are no records of Steampunk hate crimes or civil disorder. The choice of venue for a Steampunk gathering, titled “Once Upon a Time”, was perfect – no better place than a cluster of over-elaborate post-industrial relics.

Zeche Zollern was a prestige project from its inception in1898. Prominent Berlin architect, Bruno Möhring (1863-1929) was engaged and produced an opulent Jugendstil styled series of surface buildings. Most famously the Machine Hall with its stained glass entrance that originally included a Hector Guimard-style aedicule (now lost). The colliery was closed in 1966 and narrowly avoided demolition. Since then it has been extensively restored as a historic industrial relic and a site for cultural events. It was the industrial relic that attracted my interest and the Steampunk event was initially an unwanted distraction. My preference is for minimal human presence in my photographs but, bowing to the inevitable, I tried my hand at documentary photography with mixed results as seen here.

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