Mining for coal was so lucrative that the eastern part of Zuid-Limburg region adapted everything to this source of income. Almost everyone worked down the mines in the 1950's. A narrow lift shaft shot you at an alarming speed 700 metres deep into the ground. And then it was up to you and your mining buddies to get that black gold up to the surface, so the rest of the Netherlands would be nice and warm. Big explosions, cramped spaces and heavy equipment.... working in the mines was extremely hard.
A miner's work
The eastern part of Zuid-Limburg is known as the Oostelijke Mijnstreek (Eastern Mine District). As early as in 1899, the Oranje Nassau 1 was opened, the first mine for the large-scale mining of coal. The growing demand for coal from the railways and new industries operating on steam machines resulted in a rapid expansion of the number of mines. The Oostelijke Mijnstreek covers the current areas of Parkstad and Sittard-Geleen. This region consisted of little more than coal mines until 1974. At the height of the coal production, the Oostelijke Mijnstreek was one of the most prosperous areas in the country.
The real work took place underground. With the slogan "There's no such word as 'can't", coal was brought to the surface using brute force. The work underground was heavy and sometimes dangerous. There were cave-ins, explosives, mine gases...... The miners were not easily frightened, and had to be able to rely on each other. There was a strong solidarity and equality: in the mine, one man was as black as the other. Once back on the surface, mining life carried on. In your free time, you played in the mine's brass band, or played sports in the mine's sports club. This all resulted in a close community.
The beginning of the end
The year 2015 was designated 'the year of the mines'. It was fifty years after Den Uyl, premier at the time, had announced bad news for the mining district: the mines would have to close. The Zuid-Limburg coal industry was no longer viable, due to competition from other fuels such as oil and gas, and cheaper coal imported from abroad. The news shocked the region; no-one could imagine life without the coal mines. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost and the region was careering towards a socio-economic crisis.
To this day, there are only a few monuments to the mining past that brought such prosperity, not only to Zuid-Limburg, but also to the rest of the Netherlands. All the more reason to take a closer look at the fascinating history of coal mining in Zuid-Limburg.
Learn about the rich coal mining past and go in search of the black gold!
Het Nederlands Mijnmuseum (The Dutch Mine Museum) is situated on the site of the former Oranje Nassau mine, in Heerlen. Thirty years after the mine was closed, this interesting museum arose, to take you through a day in the life of a coal miner. Many original pieces show you how everything possible was done to get the coal up to the surface, as quickly as possible. The ever-turning mine shaft wheel is a reminder of the mining past.
Step into the world of coal mining with an ex-miner in the Valkenburg coal mine. The guides, all with a wealth of experience as miners, bring coal mining in Zuid-Limburg to life for you. A live demonstration of original mining machines gives you an idea of the force which was used in mining the coal. Get on an authentic mine bike, meander through the mysterious tunnels of the mine and take in the atmosphere of underground life as a miner.
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