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Regional route Industrial Valleys | Germany

Bergisches Land, Märkisches Sauerland, Siegerland The slate hillsides of the Rhineland do not resemble an industrial area in the slightest. That said, it is indeed an industrial area whose economic roots can be traced back into the distant past. This was one of the first regions to make charcoal from ... more

The "Industrial Valleys" Regional Route

Bergisches Land, Märkisches Sauerland, Siegerland

The slate hillsides of the Rhineland do not resemble an industrial area in the slightest. That said, it is indeed an industrial area whose economic roots can be traced back into the distant past. This was one of the first regions to make charcoal from timber, manufacture iron from ore and harness water for power. As a result of the ambition, industriousness, inventive powers and craft skills of the local population water wheels were soon turning, blast furnaces glowing, hammer works pounding, spindles rotating and weaving looms clattering. This route leads through one of the oldest industrial regions in Germany.

The region has very fluid boundaries. Literally. The River Rhine in the west, the Sieg in the south and the Wupper in the north. The regions to the east - the Märkisch Sauerland around Hagen and Lüdenscheid, and the area including Siegen and Wittgenstein – contain similar industries. At the end of the Middle Ages it was the same picture everywhere. A furrowed craggy labyrinth of hills and valleys, full of woodland, streams and rivers, much of which was inaccessible. This might have been good for people travelling on foot. Farmers on the other hand could easily be ruined by the barren ground.

Then things began to change. In the Wupper valley, where it the river begins to broaden out a little, people began to bleach yarn. At first this was a side activity but later it grew into a full time occupation. They learnt quickly and, with the help of the waters of the Wupper which were particularly low in calcium carbonate, achieved such a high standard of quality that they began to make a business out of it. Very soon tradesmen from Wuppertal were buying up raw yarn in the far-off regions of Silesia to bleach and sell on to Flanders, Holland, France and England. Dyers and weavers processed the yarn further, thereby increasing their profits. As a result the industrious neighbouring towns of Barmen and Elberfeld quickly grew to become major European textile manufacturing centres. But there was a price to pay. Cottage industries died off, people were forced into the factories and mass poverty arose as a result of the unbridle capitalism. But even at that point the local people refused to be ground down. Instead they set up self-help organisations, hospitals for the poor and sick, and political societies. In 1863 Barmen had more members than any other section of the German General Workers Union. Shortly before that Friedrich Engels, who came from Elberfeld, helped write the Communist Manifesto.

Textile production was basically centred on the Wupper valley. It is the largest theme on the route which also includes mining and metalworking, both of which were vitally important throughout the region Here it all started in the Siegerland an area with one of the richest deposits of ore in Germany. The valuable iron ore was brought to the surface from a teeming mass of mostly tiny pits and sent to the local mills, which could be found in almost every village in the area in the 18th century. The people of the Sauerland processed the pig iron with forging hammers, whose regular blows turned the brittle iron into fine, hard, malleable rods. Some of it was immediately taken by local industries for making wire. The large majority of the remainder ended up in the hammer works and small forges of the Bergisch Land. A massive range of products ensued, the best known of which are cutlery from Solingen and tools from Remscheid, whose quality has been world famous for generations. Around 1800 there were twice as many people working in the region’s small-scale iron industry as on the land.

Whatever the industry – textiles or metal – the basis for this success were the self-employed craftsmen and home workers, small businesses which often consisted of no more than a single family. Their distinctive characteristics were experience, quality and self-confidence. And of course, mobility. This meant not being afraid of long distances and hard bargaining all over Europe and indeed, in the case of Solingen and Remscheid, all over the world. It is not for nothing that the worldwide success story of the Mannesmann brothers begins in Remscheid. And the nearby Wupper valley provided the nucleus for the international Bayer concern, one of whose sites still lies beneath the Wuppertal overhead railway, another proof of originality and mobility.

The route connects 20 attractive monuments in the region as examples of its rich industrial heritage. These include museums, iron and steel mills, factories and transport facilities. Each can stand on its own as an example of the regional achievements in the early industrial era. At the same time the network of sites reveals their multifaceted links, not only internally but well beyond the immediate borders. The starting point for the route is the Hendrichs Drop Forge Museum in Solingen, one of six sites belonging to the Rhineland Industrial Museum.

It is worth mentioning that a large number of different initiatives in the region have joined forces to conserve and present their industrial heritage. Their networks and websites are full of additional interesting information. 

The story of iron, steel and the people who produced it: That's what the Henrichshütte in Hattingen, one of eight sites of the Westphalian Industrial Museum, is centred around. Visitors are invited to discover the varied aspects of the industrial monument by following several theme routes. The path ...
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Henrichshütte Steelworks LWL Industrial Museum
Werksstraße 25
45527 Hattingen, Germany

A museum that is still in production? A factory full of the noise of hammering and hissing, with a huge drop hammer beating glowing steel into shape? This is all part of the everyday life at the Hendrichs Drop Forge in Solingen. The machines here have never really stood still, not even in 1986 when ...
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Hendrichs Drop Forge LVR Industrial Museum
Merscheider Str. 289 - 297
42699 Solingen, Germany

Altena | Germany
It’s an all rounder: tough, delicate, shining, decorative. It’s always flexible and it’s quite simply indispensable in everyday life. This amazing material is wire and everybody knows what that is. But if the only thing you associate with the term is barbed wire or wire netting you’re in for a huge ...
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German Museum of Wire
Fritz-Thomée-Straße 12
58762 Altena, Germany

Bad Sassendorf | Germany
The Museum “Westphalian Salt Experience” traces 5.000 years of history that salt and brine made along the ancient trade route of the Hellweg and it sheds light on various aspects of salt that are less known. Brine, salty water which washes out subterranean deposits of rock salt, surfaced along the ...
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Westphalian Salt Experience
An der Rosenau 2
59505 Bad Sassendorf, Germany

Balve | Germany
Smoking chimneys and industrial spires towering into the heavens! Not here! The Luisenhütte in Balve-Wocklum looks almost cosy. No steel, no complicated tangles of pipes, no gigantic engine house. Instead there’s an angular half-timbered quarry-stone building set amongst quiet trees, and a nearby ...
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Luisenhütte
Wocklumer Allee
58802 Balve, Germany

Bestwig | Germany
Unternehmen Sie eine Entdeckungsreise ins Innere der Erde und erleben die Faszination Bergbau hautnah. Nachdem Sie mit Helm und Schutzkleidung versorgt wurden, fahren Sie mit der originalen Grubenbahn 1,5 km in den Berg ein. 300 m unter Tage - die Temperatur beträgt hier im Sommer wie im Winter ca. ...
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Sauerland visitor mine
Sauerländer Besucherbergwerk Ramsbeck
Glück-Auf-Straße 3
59909 Bestwig, Germany

Haystacks is what the locals called them. And what do you find in haystacks? If you’re lucky? If you’re not you’d have been faced with more than 100 different working stages before you could produce even a single one, let alone find it. This was the case around two hundred years ago. And then some ...
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Historic Factory Maste-Barendorf - Museum of Needles and Brass Casting
Baarstraße 220-226
58636 Iserlohn, Germany

Wuppertal | Germany
Zwischen 1890 und 1969 gab es im Bergischen Land über 200 Kilometer schmalspurige Straßenbahnstrecken. Erhalten geblieben sind ganze 3,3 Kilometer zwischen Wuppertal-Kohlfurth und -Cronenberg. Dieses Reststück nahmen 1973 die Straßenbahnfreunde des Vereins Bergische Museumsbahnen in ihre Obhut. Die ...
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Bergisch Tram Museum
Elektrische Straßenbahn Kohlfurth–Cronenberg
Kohlfurther Brücke 57
42349 Wuppertal, Germany

Nowadays the River Wupper would be useless for bleaching yarn. It is simply not clean enough. Not like the old days when it gave rise to one of the oldest industrial regions in Germany. How the economic, social and cultural upheavals between 1750 and 1850 in the Wuppertal region all hang together is ...
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Historical Centre - Engels-House and Museum of Early Industrialization
Engelsstraße 10
42283 Wuppertal, Germany

Altena | Germany
The buildings of the hospitality (or tourist) industry, hotels, wayside inns, motorway service stations, are readily recognised as part of the industrial heritage. One of the most significant innovations in the industry in the twentieth century was the proliferation of youth hostels providing ...
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Altena Castel
Fritz-Thomee-Strasse 80
58762 Altena, Germany

Bergisch Gladbach | Germany
It all begins with pulp. In ancient China it consisted of pounded natural fibres or – as in Europe later – old rags. The fibres are first soaked in water for several days causing them to swell. They are then pounded once more, drawn off and filtered into thin sheets on a wire screen before being ...
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Old Dombach Paper Mill LVR Industrial Museum
Kürtener Straße
51465 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

The cellar is amazing! Suddenly it opens out into a complete mining gallery! Rough hewn timber struts support the walls and ceilings, trolleys and drills stand at the ready, a hoisting cage is there, a throwshovel loader and even a latrine bucket. Once these were all accompanied by the noisy ...
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Regional Museum of Mining, Handicraft and Trade
Burggraben 9-21
51429 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

When Friedrich Engels, the son of a Wuppertal textile manufacturer, visited Manchester during the early years of the industrial revolution he was shocked by the working conditions in the factories. In 1848 he and Karl Marx published the “Communist Manifesto” and very soon they were known all over ...
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Ermen & Engels Power Station LVR Industrial Museum
Engels-Platz 2
51766 Engelskirchen, Germany

The display of the former iron industries in the Sauerland, backed by exhibitions on folk culture, a collection of steam engines and locomotives and a section dedicated to the mechanization of farming turns the wheel of history back to the time of our grandparents and beyond. Visitors experience the ...
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SteamCountryPeople - Eslohe Museum
Homertstraße 27
59889 Eslohe, Germany

Freudenberg | Germany
Freudenberg is a small town, 11 km noth-west of Siegen, notable for the timber-framed houses that make up its Aldestadt (ancient town). The town has a long industrial history and in 1991 25 people met to form the Freunde historische Fahrzeuge Freudenberg (Friends of historic vehicles in Freudenberg) ...
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Freudenberg Technical Museum
Olper Strasse 5
57258 Freudenberg, Germany

The piercing pounding of the mighty scythe rings through the green valley of the Mäckinger stream – no wonder that the old blacksmiths suffered from deafness. Other locations are also full of activity. An agate grinder is cutting unprocessed agate, a clog maker is hollowing out a piece of willow ...
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LWL Open Air Museum of Handicrafts and Science
Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Handwerk und Technik
Mäckingerbach
58091 Hagen, Germany

Herdorf, on the River Heller 20 km south-west of Siegen, was the chief centre of mining for coal and iron ore in the Siegerland, a region celebrated for the production of iron and steel. The museum project was launched in 1986. Displays in an old school building tell the story of mining in the area ...
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Mining Museum of the Altenkirchen district
Bergbaumuseum der Kreises Altenkirchen
Schulstrasse 13
57562 Herdorf, Germany

Herscheid | Germany
The Verein Märkische-Museums-Eisenbahn (The association for the Märkische railway museum) was established in 1983 and has its headquarters at Herscheid, 64 km north-west of Siegen. It commemorates the 1000mm gauge railways that provided local transport facilities in the western part of the Sauerland ...
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Märkische-Museums-Eisenbahn
Elsetalstrasse 46
58849 Herscheid, Germany

The River Dhünn doesn’t look powerful enough to drive a factory. But it did just that for exactly two hundred years. And what a factory it is! The transmission wheels alone are gigantic. And the machines themselves are even more formidable. Heavy drop hammers whose incessant pounding seems to shake ...
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Freudenthal Scythe Forge Industrial Museum
Freudenthal 68
51375 Leverkusen, Germany

Lüdenscheid | Germany
Picture an idyllic valley dotted with attractive ponds which have built up here along the River Bremecke. They were once needed to provide the necessary water power for the many hammer works in the neighbourhood. In 1780 there were 88 such works in the area of Lüdenscheid. Just one has survived the ...
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Bremecker Hammer Museum of Forging
Brüninghauser Straße 95
58513 Lüdenscheid, Germany