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Regional route Lusatia | Germany

Lusatia is swimming in a sea of lignite. Over decades the area between the Elster, Spree und Neisse rivers was transformed into a centre for the power industry by opencast pits, briquette factories and power stations. Visitors were few and far between. Today, however, they are streaming in – on the trail ... more

ENERGY The Lusatian Route of Industrial Heritage

Lusatia is swimming in a sea of lignite. Over decades the area between the Elster, Spree und Neisse rivers was transformed into a centre for the power industry by opencast pits, briquette factories and power stations. Visitors were few and far between. Today, however, they are streaming in – on the trail of an industrial past which, in many places, is now a living present. The Lusatian Industrial Heritage ENERGY Route, an Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) Fürst-Pückler-Land project, takes in outstanding examples of 150 years of industrial tradition.

This tradition is evident in the very places where, at first sight, there appears to be nothing of note. The Pritzen bell tower is just such a place. It actually belongs to Wolkenberg, but the Welzow-Süd lignite pit is now situated where the village used to be. A campaign was launched to save the bell tower and it was rebuilt on the spot where Pritzen village church once stood. This in turn was given a new home in Spremberg. Originally, Pritzen was also earmarked for lignite production and large areas were laid waste, but part of it was eventually spared – just a few metres away from the abyss of the former Greifenhain opencast mine.

The coal gives and the coal takes away, say the people of Lusatia. They do indeed live in a landscape which is literally moving. That hasn’t always been the case. Lignite had precious little significance 200 years ago. Initially it was extracted from open pits at a few, mostly very small, mines and later from below the surface in so-called pillar burst mines. It was used primarily for small brickworks and distilleries, but was then found to be useful in road-building and ground improvement in agriculture. Its importance grew apace with industrialisation, which started comparatively late in Lusatia. Energy requirements were increasing in leaps and bounds, particularly in the rapidly developing textile industry, although the kilns of the up-and-coming Lusatian glass industry also benefited from local fuel.

By the turn of the 20th century the original tunnel mines had reached their limits and were no longer able to meet the growing demand for lignite. The future belonged to the expanses of opencast mines that were now opening up everywhere, and the dimensions of which have continually increased over the course of time. The world’s first overburden conveyor bridge was installed at the "Agnes" mine near Plessa as early as 1924, finally completing the breakthrough in modern Lusatian lignite mining. Unprecedented large-scale production techniques, which have remained a feature of the Lusatian and central German mining district, brought about a significant increase in the quantities processed. Much-wanted fuel came from lignite: power generation on a large scale for industrial and domestic use and, not least, a raw material for the chemical industry.

From then on the face of Lusatia was radically changed. By the middle of the 1990s surface mines had ravaged around 80,000 hectares – an area roughly the size of the city of Hamburg. At the same time, millions upon millions of cubic metres of groundwater had to be pumped out to get to the coal seams, some of which lay deep underground. The result of this Herculean task: around 200 million tonnes of pit lignite a year.

Behind these dry statistics lies the history of an entire region, mirrored in umpteen thousand biographies full of vision and personal sacrifices – sometimes decreed by the state. Since the early 1960s alone, more than 80 villages and districts have disappeared into the insatiable jaws of the mines. As a consequence, 26,000 people lost their homes and were moved into one of the new concrete housing estates. These were bursting at the seams and yet lignite, the backbone of the GDR economy, drew more and more workers. Hoyerswerda, for instance, the "2nd socialist city", grew from 7,000 to 77,000 inhabitants in less than 30 years. Industrial plants, in many ways interdependent, created incomes for many people. There was modern housing, improved living conditions and a sense of being at the heart of change. This brought the promise of completely new perspectives to an area which, for centuries, had been first and foremost rural.

In 1957, the entire region around Cottbus was declared an "energy district". Local mining technology – together with the smoking chimneys of Lusatian power stations, coking plants and briquette factories – meant that the GDR could reliably meet its own energy needs and, more than anything else, symbolised pride in its own achievements. The "Winterschlachten" (winter battles), in which friends, students, teams of Lusatian workers, and even prisoners and NVA soldiers laboured together to stop the Republic from freezing and the lights going out, are still legendary today.

The flip side of this power industry at any price was a national economic and ecological disaster. As elsewhere, disillusionment came with reunification. Entire industrial complexes proved unprofitable in a market economy and were phased out. The number of employed people fell equally dramatically. Many who had belonged to the working elite now became welfare cases. The Cottbus area was not spared from the general misery: more or less overnight large areas of the one-time energy centre of the GDR were classed as ecological disaster zones.

Four opencast mines are still operating in Lusatia at the present time, with a fifth preparing to go back into service. Nearly all the chimneys have disappeared. This helps the environment, but threatens to obliterate parts of a past that has left an enduring mark on the people and their region.

From the outset, part of this past was the attempt to make exhausted coal pits blend back into the natural landscape and be of some use. This kind of large-scale remodelling of the landscape has a distinguished ancestor in Lusatia: in the 19th century, Prince Hermann Heinrich of Pückler-Muskau had lakes and canals dug out, hills landscaped and trees planted in his parks in Muskau and Branitz, which were renowned far and wide. Today he is the named patron of the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) FürstPückler-Land, which, since 2000, has been playing an active role in structural change in Lusatia and will continue to do so until 2010. It is keen for the theme of "landscape" to be the focus of its work and is behind the push to shift mine waste and create new lakes. This is meant quite literally – the remains of no less than 20 former open pits are currently being flooded. Within just a few years they are expected to have formed Europe’s largest artificial chain of lakes, the Lusatian Lakeland.

Casting, rehearsal, production: these are the means by which the IBA projects, 25 in total, give forward-moving impetus, the aim being to preserve industrial structures, large-scale machinery and workers’ settlements and, at the same time, to make them into suitably interesting places of industrial heritage for the future. This is an unusual vision for Lusatians. They could not have imagined at the start that something like an opencast mine – the dirt hole, as they called it – could be a tourist attraction. The growing feedback from visitors has long since convinced them otherwise, and breathed far greater life into their cooperation with the IBAs work.

The route

Brought into being in 2006, the "Lusatian Industrial Heritage ENERGY Route" is a new attraction for tourists. It is a richly varied theme tour bringing together ten outstanding industrial sites. The spectrum ranges from the "horizontal Eiffel Tower", as the colossal F60 overburden conveyor bridge in Lichterfeld is called, and the sensational bio-towers of the former Lauchhammer coking plants and the impressive Lusatian mining museum in a former briquette factory in Knappenrode, to one of the world’s most modern lignite power stations in Schwarze Pumpe, complete with operational opencast mine. An ideal starting point for the route is the IBA Terraces in Großräschen, where there is a display of all the IBA projects at the Internationale Bauausstellung visitor centre, and alternating exhibitions introducing visitors to the history and perspectives of the mining region of Lusatia.

The ENERGY route runs through parts of Lusatia situated in the federal states of Brandenburg and Saxony and is a flagship initiative for the "Lusatian industrial heritage" brand. This brand is being developed and marketed by the "Lusatian strategy group", consisting of Brandenburg tourism associations and marketing organisations from Lower Lusatia, Elbe-Elster-Land, Spreewald and Cottbus, as well as the Saxon marketing company for Upper Lusatia-Lower Silesia and the regional management of Lusatia-Spreewald and Lusatia (Upper Lusatia). 

The red bricks of the 100 year old briquette factory can already be seen from a distance. Today, it is at the heart of the Museum Energy Factory Knappenrode und at the same time its most fascinating exhibit. The time of the shout down in 1993 seems to have been uniquely preserved. Hammer mills, disk ...
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Saxon Museum of Industry | Energy Factory Knappenrode
Ernst-Thälmann-Straße 8
02977 Hoyerswerda, Germany

Lichterfeld | Germany
It looks like the Eiffel tower, only it’s called F60 and is situated in the Lausitz countryside near Lichterfeld. We’re talking about the largest existing overburden conveyor gantry which has ever been built. Now it’s the star attraction at the F60 visitor colliery. It doesn’t take you underground ...
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F60 Overburden Conveyer Bridge
Bergheider Straße 4
03238 Lichterfeld, Germany

The high, orangey-red rows of windows hit you straight between the eyes. They stand like reflective columns in the towering clinker façades which range in shade from vitreous burgundy and deep brownish blue right through to light buff. A slim tower overlooks the neighbouring Amtsteich pond, flanked ...
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Art museum Cottbus power station
Uferstraße / Am Amtsteich 15
03046 Cottbus, Germany

Drebkau | Germany
The F60 overburden conveyor bridge carries out a phenomenal amount of work. On one side of the mine it carries away excavated material and then transports it across the open pit to dump it on the other side. With its three giant chain-and-bucket excavators and a conveyor bridge measuring over ...
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Welzow-South opencast mining
Führungen / Guided Tours: Vattenfall Europe Mining AG Vom-Stein-Straße 39 03050 Cottbus Fon: +49 (0) 35646 - 95142 Aussichtspunkt Steinitz:
Domsdorfer Weg
03116 Welzow, Germany

In the former building of the round furnace from 1885 functional devices and machines show the historical production of porcelain insulators impressively.
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Margarethenhütte Museum of Electric Porcelain
Hermann-Schomburg-Str. 6
02694 Großdubrau, Germany

The tours do not promise too much. One is called “Journey to Mars”, another “Jeep-Safari”. They lead deep into a scarred, alien landscape of yawning chasms, pockmarked excavations and strange gorges. The Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) visitor centre in Großräschen, Fürst-Pückler-Land, glows ...
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IBA-Terraces Lausitzer Seenland visitor centre / former Meuro opencast mining
Seestraße 100
01983 Großräschen, Germany

Lauchhammer | Germany
Medieval castles spring to mind when you see them. Many people are even reminded of Castel del Monte, the famous southern Italian palace of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Friedrich II. All of a sudden, 24 slim, brickwork towers appear on the Lusatian horizon. Round and windowless, they rise 22 metres into ...
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Lauchhammer Bio-Towers
Finsterwalder Str. 57
01979 Lauchhammer, Germany

Plessa | Germany
The very shape of this oval room hints at its exclusiveness. The red terracotta tiled floor is equally classy. Finally, the natural stone instrument panels and control consoles spell it out clearly: not only has this control room harnessed complicated technology, it has ritualised it. In actual ...
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Plessa power station
Nordstr. 1-3
04928 Plessa, Germany

Senftenberg-Brieske | Germany
The settlement is like an open book. It tells the intricate story of the affluence and awakening of a once thriving industrial region. A gabled manor house here, an English-style country cottage there, bright colours, timber framework details, art nouveau features and decorative touches on façades ...
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Marga garden city
NL-Kunstschule "Birkchen" e.V.
Straße der Jugend 1a
01968 Senftenberg, Germany

Spremberg-Schwarze Pumpe | Germany
The whole system moves in perfect harmony here. In the steam generator furnace the lignite dust burns at around 1,000ºC and heats up the so-called feed water. The resulting steam drives several turbine components. Power is thus generated, with part of the heat feeding the regional heating network. ...
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Schwarze Pumpe power station
An der alten Ziegelei
03130 Spremberg, Germany

Uebigau-Wahrenbrück OT Domsdorf | Germany
Although LOUISE, Europe’s oldest briquette factory ceased operations in February 1992 its freshly plastered facades and renovated roofs give it a smart impression. For the workforce, who have remained loyal to the works, still maintain the buildings, restore machines and guide visitors around the ...
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Louise Briquette Works
Louise 111
04924 Uebigau-Wahrenbrück, Germany