The elevator that carries Germany’s last coal miners on their daily commute down the mine shaft travels at about 40 feet a second, nearly 30 miles an hour. “Like a motorcycle in a city,” says Christof Beicke, the public affairs officer for the Ruhr mining consortium, as the door rattles shut. It’s not a comforting analogy.
The brakes release and, for a moment, we bob gently on the end of the mile-and-a-half long cable, like a boat in dock. Then we drop. After an initial flutter in my stomach, the long minutes of the ride are marked only by a strong breeze through the elevator grilles and the loud rush of the shaft going by.
When the elevator finally stops, on the seventh and deepest level of the mine, we file into a high-ceilinged room that looks like a subway platform. One of the men who built this tunnel, Hamazan Atli, leads our small group of visitors through the hall. Standing in the fluorescent light and crisp, engineered breeze, I have the uncanny sense of walking into an environment that humans have designed down to the last detail, like a space station or a submarine.