BERLIN — Straining to hold back tears, their once-white helmets and overalls smeared with dust, seven miners in Germany stepped out of a metal cage bearing the last lump of black coal that they would haul up from more than 3,000 feet below.
The men, at the Prosper-Haniel mine on Friday, handed the football-size chunk of coal to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier with the words “Glueck Auf.” This ancient miners’ greeting roughly translates as “good luck,” reflecting the uncertainty of a life spent prospecting deep underground.
The ceremony represented the end of an industry that laid the foundations for Germany’s industrial revolution and its postwar economic recovery.
“A piece of German history is coming to an end here,” Mr. Steinmeier told the miners. “Without it, our entire country and its development over the past 200 years would have been unthinkable.”
The Prosper-Haniel mine in the western city of Bottrop and another colliery in Ibbenbueren, about 60 miles to the north, were the last remnants of an industry that once dominated the region, employing half a million people at its peak in the 1950s. Together, they helped feed the Ruhr Valley’s hungry steel mills until imports of cheaper, foreign coal made Germany’s “black gold” lose its sheen.
For decades, the mines survived only thanks to generous subsidies. But in 2007, a political decision was made to phase them out, with a promise of early retirement or retraining for their remaining workers.
According to government figures, Germany’s coal mining industry has received more than 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in federal funds since 1998 and is set to get 2.7 billion euros through 2022. Some of the money is needed for mine maintenance and environmental cleanup efforts that include preventing parts of the Ruhr region from slowly sinking as myriad tunnels give way over time.
Further vast sums have been spent supporting economic redevelopment in the region, which has experienced growth in universities, research facilities and tech start-ups in recent years.
Mr. Steinmeier urged the miners and their loved ones to look to the future, but also to take pride in a culture of hospitality and openness. The Ruhr region became a melting pot starting in the 19th century, as successive waves of immigrants arrived — from Poland, Italy and Turkey — in search of well-paid work in the mines.
The end of deep-shaft mining is seen as a test for the planned closing of open-cast lignite, or brown coal, mines that still operate in Germany.
The country still generates almost two-fifths of its electricity from burning coal, a situation that scientists say cannot continue if Germany wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Lignite is considered even dirtier than black coal but remains relatively cheap to extract, even in Germany.
More than 400 coal mining regions around the world will face similar pressures to shut down in the coming decades amid international efforts to curb global warming.
Some in Germany fear that other sources of energy — chiefly renewables — may not be enough to power an industrial nation, especially as the country also plans to shut down its nuclear plants by 2022.
A government-appointed panel is due to deliver a report in February laying out proposals for the gradual phasing out of lignite mines.
Toward the end of Friday’s ceremony, miners paid their respects to colleagues who had lost their lives underground. The dangers were highlighted Monday, when a 29-year-old worker was crushed to death by a metal door in the Ibbenbueren shaft.
And overnight Friday, news emerged of the deaths of 13 miners in an explosion at a colliery in the Czech Republic.
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