Sunday, 15 April 2012

Giant Environmental Disaster Machine

Imagine the Eiffel tower.

Now imagine it laid out horizontally on the ground: it would be 324m in length.

Now imagine a steel construction more than half as big again, 500m in length and 80m high.

Finally, imagine this colossal structure weighing 11,000 tonnes moving forward along rail-tracks at 10m per minute on 760 electrically powered wheels. Imagine it  gouging out of the ground beneath it, every hour, the equivalent volume of soil as a football field filled to a height of 8m.

This is the F60 Abraumförderbrücke, one of the largest mobile pieces of machinery in the world. It was built to dig a wide trench through seams of brown coal (Braunkohl), so that excavators could get at the coal and extract it. On one end of the bridge, two 60-meter long arms each with a continuous band of iron buckets scooped up the earth (hence the 60 of F60). This debris was transported on a series of conveyor belts the length of the bridge across the gauged-out valley to be dropped onto spoil heaps at the other side.

Panorama shot of the F60
We visited the last of five F60's ever to be built, at the Besucherbergwerk (visitor's mine) F60 near Finsterwald, 130km south of Berlin. We were kindly driven there by a friend with a car, otherwise it would be hard to get to by public transport (see map here).

The F60's were the culmination in technology used by the DDR (GDR) to provide East Germany with its own independent source of fuel for its new factories and steel plants. Meanwhile, large tracts of land were devastated and towns uprooted as the gigantic mining machines crept slowly across SE Brandenburg, turning the landscape in their path into a moonscape.

Thankfully for the environment, these behemoths conceived in the DDR times, were decommissioned as soon as a unified Germany got around to formulating a coherent energy and environmental policy. The F60 at the mining museum went into service in March 1991. At the end of June 1992 it was turned off. Even though the land has had twenty years to recover, you can see the mess that those thirteen months caused. Ironically there is now a solar panel farm where the F60 passed by, and rows of wind turbines on the hills behind.

At the top of the F60. Note the rows of solar panels in the middle distance.
The former mine has been flooded to make an artificial lake on the right.
The highlight of a visit to the museum is to go on a guided tour. This lasts for one and a half hours, during which the tour party makes its way in hard-hats from the ground on one side of the F60, climbs up through the body of the bridge next to the conveyor belts to its highest point on the other side, and then climbs down back again. This takes you a distance of 1.5km in all, and goodness knows how many steps (the guide did say ...)

Along the way the informative tour-guide tells you lots of information about the F60 and the history of the museum. One fact that amazed me was that the whole structure was operated by just twenty-five people. You can imagine how many hundreds of miners it put out of work. 

The tours are in German, but if you don't speak a word of the language, still don't miss joining the tour for the experience of climbing the bridge.

Thankfully the previous open-mesh walkways have been filled in, and safety rails added, but the height and exposure of the stairs can still be a bit giddying.

An interesting day out, though if the weather had been less grey then the views from the summit would have been much more stunning. I pre-supposed that the visitors would be mostly middle-aged men and their sons, the type who have vast model railways in their attic, but I was wrong. Do wear sensible shoes though, and 'Glück auf!' as the miners used to say in greeting.

Here are some more piccies from the day (click for bigger):

1 comment:

  1. Wow its so giant, a monster like, how much it cost.


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