Friday, November 26, 2010

From Cotton to Culture: Changing the Face and Future of European Cities

Guest Blog Post by Irina-Leonenko-Wels
My friend and colleague Irina Leonenko-Wels has been living in Prague for just over a year.  From her perch there, she has explored a wide variety of museums throughout Europe.   I'm very pleased she's agreed to share some impressions of industrial history museums there, a particular interest of hers because of her home region in Ukraine.   Irina and her husband are moving to Moscow early next year--so I'm hoping The Uncataloged Museum will have reports--including great photos like those here-- from there!

Coming from a very industrial (and quite economically depressed) region in Ukraine called Donbass, I have always been fascinated with industrial cities looked like in other European countries, especially in the West, in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and France. They looked different to me first of all because they were not sad and scary to drive through, to stop in or even to live in. In fact, on the contrary, they have now become popular places for living, for having office space in, and what’s more important they have become attractive for tourist and cultural events. In Europe there are many success stories of industrial cities’ revitalization.  For instance, some examples from my travels:
  • RUHR.2010– a whole industrial region in Germany, this year’s European Cultural Capital -
  • Zollverein - the old mining complex in Essen is now the most prominent example of revitalization in the whole region.
  • The Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei – from “Cotton to Culture”, in the 20th century the largest spinning mill on the continent, with 240,000 spindles and 208 combing machines, now a cultural cluster with contemporary art centers, galleries, design shops and publishing houses.

European cities are very active and united when it comes to sharing experience about development and promotion of their industrial heritage. Several special networks have been created for this purpose, as, for example, ERIH, the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Currently it presents more than 850 industrial sites in 32 European countries.

Last month I flew from Prague to Barcelona to take part in the ERIH network’s annual conference. The event was held in co-operation with the TICCIH Tourism Section ( and at the invitation of the Catalan Museum of Science and Technology in Terrassa. The main theme of the conference was Industrial Heritage Tourism. Speakers from 12 European countries highlighted their successes but also difficulties they faced in their work of industrial heritage preservation and promotion. You can find some of the presentations here. I particularly liked the Cromford cotton spinning mills in Derbyshire, England which showed how a plan,  focusing on  improved interpretation and special events helped to reach new markets and audiences.   Another example was from Frankfurt in Germany, where Open Days of Industrial Culture Rhein-Main are held. The idea of Open Days is to change people’s perception of industrial heritage in the region, to offer audiences unique leisure and entertainment facilities, to help them experience region with all of the senses and understand how how industry functions. Open Days attract more than 11,000 visitors around 180 events at 104 locations.  Every year Open Days have a special theme. As next year,  2011, the UN has proclaimed the International Year of Chemistry, Open Days’ team plans to concentrate its activities around chemical industries in their region and show its benefits to the public.

Industrial heritage in Spain

Going to Barcelona, city usually associated with sun and beaches, I couldn’t have imagined how rich the industrial heritage of the region was. Old mines, textile mills, industrial colonies, warehouses, old factories, cellars have now been converted into museums. And the information is easily findable--here's a downloadable tourism brochure showing all the industrial museums in the region. /en/turismeindustrial
As part of the conference we visited many industrial sites in the region.  However, one I will never forget – is a visit to CERC Mining Museum high up in the Pyrenees mountains. The mines in that area were long the source of the coal that moved the steam engines and drove the whole Catalan industry. The Museum of CERC mine was small but had all the ‘ingredients’ for a great experience exploring 150 years of industrial history: cinema hall with films about the mine, a mining train that takes visitors inside the galleries of Sant Roma, open-air exhibition of mining machinery, nice museum shop, real miner’s house, audio guides in several languages plus 2 small hotels at the premises, big event hall and a great restaurant with traditional Catalan dishes (which we really enjoyed at the end of our tour).

During our visit to CERC Mine I never stopped wondering when visitors and citizens of my region in Ukraine would get to experience something like that. With more than 200 coal mines in our region (more than anywhere in Europe) Donbass is drastically lacking places that would interpret our region’s industrial history and allow people to have some fun.

If you wish to see more photos from the conference on Industrial Heritage Tourism you are welcome to visit my Picasa page.

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