Ralf Kutkowski's workplace is 1,000 meters below the ground. The mining engineer from Saarlouis still works in a coal mine, although his mine shaft is due to be closed in 2012.
It's only 6:30 in the morning, but Ralf Kutkowski is already wide awake. The 44-year-old is used to starting work when others are still sleeping.
The miner gets his personal basket of work and protective clothing down from the ceiling of the huge changing room at the Duhamel pit. Around 3,000 other baskets are hanging there on long chains – one for each miner.
Time for a break and a chat underground
Kutkowski has been working underground since he was 22. Both his father and his grandfather were miners here in Saarlouis, not far from the French border.
"Kutte," as Kutkowski is known here, begins his shift by putting on his protective clothing: helmet, headlamp, and a belt with an oxygen mask in case of an emergency. In case there was an explosion underground, he would have enough oxygen to last for 90 minutes.
Security is a big issue
The work underground is dangerous. That's why each miner's equipment is checked by a safety engineer before heading down into the pit. The miners use an elevator from 1918 for their descent; you can see the cylinders and ropes. The elevator is in use seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Kutkowski swears by the machine. He says it's old, but extremely reliable.
In his 21 years of mining, Kutkowski has worked his way up the career ladder. Now, he's a qualified mining engineer. He says he still loves his job, as it was his dream job.
Having reached a depth of 1,000 meters, an electric train carries the miner to his work zone. The journey in the tunnel takes 50 minutes. The temperature is high, about 30 degrees Celsius. The miners are covered in sweat and coal dust, and the air smalls like hydraulic oil.
Mining on the way out
Germany once built its industrial sector on coal. The Ruhr and Saar coal mining regions delivered the fuel for the country's economic development. "Since 1830, coal has been mined along the Saar river," says Kutkowski. But the history of coal mining is coming to an end. Only a few pits are still in operation. Imported coal is cheaper than the work-intensive domestic coal mined at a depth of 1,000 meters.
The pit in which Kutkowski works will likely be closed in 2012. It'll be the end of an era, both for the Saarland, and for Ralf Kutkowski. His company has offered him another job, but it's located 500 km away.
Ralf is ready to go home
For those who've been with the company for 25 years, there's a generous pension settlement. When it's time, Kutkowski also plans on retiring and enjoying life with his wife, Gabi and their daughters, Michelle and Marina.
Time for hobbies
Kutkowski isn't likely to get bored. The miner has several hobbies. In his basement, he tinkers with his model trains or builds airplane models. He's already put together hundreds of them.
He also likes to go to aviation exhibits. Since they're forbidden in Germany due to safety risks for visitors, he has to travel to places like the Czech Republic or England. Sometimes, he uses his heavy motorbike to get there – riding the bike is one of the miner's other passions.
Author:Usman Shehu (dc)
Editor: Rina Goldenberg