Between 1988 and 1992 the citizens of Oberhausen were involved in a passionate dispute. The bone of contention was a gasometer belonging to the disused Good Hope steel mill. Bulldozers had been ordered onto the site to demolish it and then sent back again. Some people considered it to be a filthy eyesore, whilst others claimed it was an outstanding industrial monument. The conservationists finally won the day and Europe’s largest gasometer was converted into the most unusual exhibition centre in the world. It has been a huge success. Exhibitions on industrial history, art installations, and live performances have all profited from the unique atmosphere within the construction. Once inside it is easy to see why. You are confronted by a gigantic circular empty shell with shining black walls made up of thousands and thousands of gas proof steel sheets. Looking up from the floor of this gigantic industrial cathedral the window openings in the roof resemble a distant ring of stars. A glass lift takes visitors up to the 117 metre high viewing platform from where there is a panoramic view of the surrounding industrial landscape of the Ruhrgebiet including an additional attraction right next door: the Centro, one of the largest shopping malls in Europe.
There’s no gas without heavy industry. Sometimes it works the other way round. There’s no industry without gas. The best example of this is furnace gas. It is simultaneously produced in blast furnaces and used to drive them. Gas is also a valuable by-product of coking plants, for it can be used in chemical production. The problem is that the amount of gas available at any given time does not necessarily correspond to demand. So how can it best be stored? One large-scale answer was the gasometer in Oberhausen. When it went into operation on 5th May 1929 it set new records in Europe, records which still hold good today. Useable volume 347,000 cubic metres, height 17.5 metres, diameter 210 metres. This was only possible because of a new technique which dispensed with the amounts of water needed in previous more traditional gasometers. Here the gas was held in by a moveable disc floating like a oversize lid on the surface of the gas and rising and falling according to the amount of gas within. And where the disc slid up and down the inside walls of the gasometer there was a constant layer of creosote to prevent any gas leakage.
At the time the gasometer filled a vital gap in the industrial structure of the Good Hope mill. From now on it was possible to store the superfluous gas from their own blast furnaces and use it to fire their huge coking plant in Osterfeld. In turn the coking gas produced here was sold on at a profit to the chemical industry. This new technology was so successful that the costs of building Europe’s largest gasometer were recovered within the space of a mere 18 months. It only became unprofitable with the irreversible decline in the coal industry and the arrival of cheap gas supplies from the North Sea.
In 1988 the Oberhausen gasometer was closed down. The moveable disc has been anchored to the walls of the building at a height of four and a half meters and now serves as one of several exhibition levels within the building. The first ever exhibition to be presented here, a multi-media show looking back on the two hundred years of industrial history in the Ruhrgebiet, attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Since then there have been many more highlights including spectacular artistic installations. They all underline the importance of the Oberhausen gasometer as a living industrial monument of European status.
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Tuesday - Sunday 10am-6pm