AIt’s so nice and clean: the driveways are brightly gravel, the silent iron machines shine, the last roses are in bloom in the borders, bricks glow red, the air is mild. At the old Canal du Center, the plane trees gently drop their yellow leaves, the geese spectacularly meet the joggers. Where work moves out, ruin comes first and then, with a little luck, culture. New tenants move in, idlers, day trippers, children, artists, cyclists. The Maloche becomes a museum – a process that sometimes borders on a miracle.
The province of Hainaut in Wallonia in the south of Belgium caught this miracle on the tip of the rock. Until the 1970s it was the black land of coal and steel, soot and smoke, shaped by chimneys and spoil heaps. At the same time the heart of darkness beat here. Workers and migrants found inhumane conditions: twelve-hour shifts underground, planned target, child labor and barracks. Today the coal spoil heaps from flat Wallonia point like small green volcanic cones covered with birch trees; the sky is bright and there is a world heritage atmosphere. UNESCO has placed nineteen sites – including four former mines and the historic boat lifts on the old Canal du Center – under protection, alongside others such as the Tournai Cathedral, the belfries of the old cities and more intangible phenomena such as Belgian beer, the art of Carillon and a folk festival in Mons, the European Capital of Culture 2015.
The region is still characterized by the modest architecture of the work: the staggering of low, dark brick houses with partitioned backyard gardens and the main streets of small towns with barricaded shops and shop windows that only sell themselves: à vendre.
Role model for the world
When the mining companies began to look after the health and labor of the damned on earth in the mid-nineteenth century, a model settlement with one hundred and sixty apartments, with a school, hospital, church, library, was built in Bois-du-Luc around the Saint-Emmanuel mine. Retirement home and a small park with a bandstand. The mine was closed in 1973, but everything is still there – as an open-air museum and testimony to a time when the oppressors saw themselves as protectors and appeasers. Not that the will to reform has shaken the hierarchy. Between the two round entrance towers of the colliery, the bosses were able to wind down an iron curtain like a guillotine, before the end of the strike had to despair. Today there is a large meadow within the walls, framed by workshops, on which the old machines and the small mine locomotive are set up like works of art. Their rails disappear under grass and cobblestones.
On the left is the office of the director of the “Société des Charbonnages de Bois-du-Luc”, paneled with false marble; Safe, bookcase, mirror all around. The “Reglement de Bureaux” from 1910 is on the desk: work from six to six o’clock. Noon prayer. In addition to work, you can also eat between half past twelve and twelve o’clock. Otherwise: fear God, be punctual, be humble, wear decent socks. No sick pay, no pension, overtime – anytime. We strongly advise against smoking cigars, playing billiards and political gatherings outside of office hours, as there is a risk of honor and other consequences. This was true of the men with the white collars. The ones with the blue had to walk back and forth from the office after seeing the director with their kippers.