What happened during World War I? Why is it known as the first “modern“ war in history? And which technological, economic and social changes did it cause worldwide?
The answers to these and many more questions our year 11- history bilingual course and our teacher Mr Risken, were given in the temporary exhibition “1914 – Mitten in Europa” marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War at Zeche Zollverein in Essen.
[read more=”Mehr lesen..” less=”Weniger lesen..”]Upon arrival we met our tour guide and climbed the stairs to the rooftop of the building from where we had a stunning view over the surrounding area and heard about the history of Zeche Zollverein.
After we entered the exhibition from the top of the building we realised that the industrial location of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zeche Zollverein is the perfect place to host an exhibition on the history of World War I.
The first items we saw were pictures hanging from the ceiling showing naked persons in the sunlight representing the ideal of a classless society which people aimed for in this time and the ideas of utopian and dystopian societies.
Entering the floor below into the inside of the “Kokerei“ our guide told us about the new chemical weapon technologies which were developed by factories like Bayer in Wuppertal and Leverkusen and the necessary improvements in public transport (e.g. the overhead railway in Wuppertal because of the inefficiency of the newly developed cars).
Furthermore, the improved canons and guns like the 08/15 made combat much faster than every war which had been fought before, so it became evident why WWI is known as the first modern war.
We also learned about the bad conditions lots of people in Germany lived in. They were not prepared for fighting with the new weapons thus they suffered huge losses.
In the exhibition we could see the terrible wounds of the soldiers who had been hurt by grenades or guns. As a result of trench warfare, in which soldiers often hid in a trench for weeks waiting for their enemies, wounded soldiers often suffered for days until they were either medically treated or eventually died. Dying often was the better “option“ because wounds could not be treated properly and there were no anaesthetics so in many cases the only option were amputations.
In the last part of the exhibition we could see the living conditions after the war and the social changes.
Former soldiers were badly affected after the war, due to their wounds and the lower demand for soldiers most of them became unemployed and looked for new labour, some even as prostitutes. Only women in a way benefited from the reduction in the male population caused by the war, they got the right to vote in the Weimar Republic and a growing number of women had work – now not only at home.
The last thing our guide showed us were the results of the new “work soldiers“ who were used for various projects after the war. For example they started building parks such as the Gruga or the Baldeneysee both arose from these new jobs as builders or gardeners.
In conclusion you can say that this exhibition taught us about different aspects of the First World War which our curriculum does not necessarily cover.
Here we did not focus on the causes and political situation during the time of war, but rather on the “improvements“ in technology, warfare and life after 1918 which in my opinion is also very important to learn about.
Sophie Ueberholz, Q1