Thursday, 21 August 2014

The F60 Abraumförderbrücke Revisited

Whilst cycling around Niederlausitz on the way to Finsterwalde, we called in at the Besucherwerk (visitor's mine) Lichterfeld to see again the awesomely gigantic Abraumförderbrücke (overburden conveyor bridge) F60.

I have blogged about this titanic brown-coal digging machine previously, but as we were passing, we thought we'd call in again. Entrance for just the visitor exhibition and cafe and a good view of the F60 (but not the guided tour) is 2€ by the way, plus they let us take our cycles into the area.

The F60 is a machine that excavates open-cast lignite or brown coal  (in German die Braunkohle) mines. There are two multi-bucket excavators on one end of the 'bridge' (see photo below), one cutting up, the other cutting down. They are removing layer by layer the earth that is covering up the seam of lignite underlying the land. The excavated waste or overburden (Abraum) is conveyed (Förder) on a bridge (Brücke) over the wide trench of earth already excavated, and deposited on the other side of the trench where the lignite has been extracted.

In the photo below, the bridge moves left to right shaving away at an earth-bank (imagine it), then inching forward (away from you) and shaving a bit more off. Though this 'shave' is the equivalent volume of a football pitch covered with soil to the depth of 7-8 metres per hour.

This beast of East German engineering is 502m long, 80m to the highest point, and 240m wide. It is named the F60 because it has a cutting height of 60m. The Eiffel Tower is 301m high, so even the F60's nickname of Der liegende Eiffelturm der Lausitz (the horizontal Eiffel Tower of Lusatia) does it a disservice.


The above photo shows the arms from which the soil is dumped, whilst the photo below shows the main conveyor belt which carries all the earth. If you go on the guided tour, you get to walk along there, which is great fun unless you don't have a head for heights like me.

The whole machine is moved along, parallel to the earth-face being cut out, on railtracks. The photo below shows the locomotive 'foot' that the 'earth sprayer' sits on. At the other end, where two multi-bucket diggers carve into the land, there are two railway tracks and multiple 'feet'. The machine edges forwards on the tracks at a breath-taking speed of 13 metres per minute. But as the machine weighs 13,600 tonnes that's not surprising.


Below is a snap-shot of a clump of birdsfoot trefoil (in German, Gewöhnlicher Hornklee in Latin, Lotus corniculatus) with the F60 in the background. This grows abundantly on the wasteland around here, suggesting that at one time the land was farmed before it was given over to mining. In fact, numerous villages have disappeared from the map as the inhabitants were moved out and the F60's moved in. It's nice to see that at least the flowers are reclaiming their land.


There are five F60's in the world, and the other four are still in operation. The F60's are said to be the largest movable technical industrial machines in the world. I think that they also work as stunning industrial sculptures, like they are representations of wire-frame dinosaurs or the framework for alien spacecraft.

There is a small visitor's centre, and a cafe of sorts, in the grey metal building where the miners used to change into their work gear and take their breaks. On the side of the building is written Glück Auf! which is the German miners' greeting, meaning something like 'good luck!'. It is a greeting that dates back to at least the 16th century, and is said to derive from the phrase 'Ich wünsche Dir Glück, tu einen neuen Gang auf!' (I wish you good luck in opening a new lode of ore).


An information board shows you how the F60 operates. Click the photo to see it at a readable size.

Key words are:

die Gleisanlage  - rail track
der Eimerkettenbagger - chain-and-bucket excavator
der Abraumbagger - overburden excavator
der Kohlebagger -  coal excavator
der Schaufelradbagger - bucket-wheel excavator
die Kippe - disposal area
die Abbaurichtung - direction of mining
der Tagebau - opencast pit or strip mine
der Hochschnitt - the cut above ground level
der Tiefschnitt - the cut below ground level
das Kohleflöz - coal seam
die Kohlebandanlage - coal conveyor belt
and of course die Abraumförderbrücke - the excavated mine waste conveyor bridge

If you memorise that list, I think you could come up with an interesting conversation for your GCSE German Oral Exam.


We came across the kind of devastation these machines cause at Tagebau Cottbus-Nord. This 'moonscape' was created with a type F34 Abraumförderbrücke, a mere baby beside the F60 with a cutting height of only 34m. Below is a photo I took of the opencast pit:

On the one hand, this is clearly environmentally catastrophic. You couldn't come up with a better illustration of mankind raping the Earth in the greedy pursuit of fossil fuels. Apart from the devastation to the plant and wildlife, you have to remember that villages and farms and their inhabitants have been forceably removed to make way for the opencast mines. This in an area with a high Sorbian residency, and the Sorb people have always had a bad deal from their German neighbours.

On the other hand, lignite (brown coal) accounts for around 25% of Germany's energy usage. Germany has a policy of phasing out nuclear power, and also gets most of its liquid gas from Russia, so until renewables can fill the energy gap, lignite is going to have to be mined to keep the lights on. Plus, after cycling around 'The Lusatian Lake District' (die Lausitzer Seenlandschaft) - an area that was once opencast mining pits, now transformed into an environmentally diverse and beautiful landscape - you can't but admire what a good job Germans have done at cleaning up the mess. In terms of the timescale of the land, the disruption caused by opencast mining is a mere blink of the eyelids.

I don't know where the balance lies, but I do know that the F60 machines sure are impressive; awesome, strangely scarey, able to make you feel small and insignificant, and a testament to humanity's technological power over Nature. Well worth the detour on our cycle around Niederlausitz.

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