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 finally pressed, dried and coated with gum. The result is paper. It has been produced in almost the same way for more than two thousand years. That said, there have been a lot of changes over the centuries. You can find out more in the “Alte Dombach” paper mill in Bergisch Gladbach, one of the six sites belonging to the Rhineland Industrial Museum. The sole theme here is paper. From a path lined with a selection of plants which provide the natural raw materials via an almost 40 metre long paper machine dating back to 1889 to a pulping vat where visitors can make their own paper in the way it was made 200 years ago.
Today Bergisch Gladbach is still a paper-making centre. From the very start the River Strunde played a decisive role. Its raging currents provided the necessary water and simultaneously drove the mechanical pulping machines. The first paper mill went into action here as early as 1582. The “Alte Dombach” was built in 1614 and was in operation for almost 300 years. In 1810 the “Neue Dombach” began production not far away. At the time more than 200 people were employed in local paper works. Women and children had the filthiest working conditions. They had the unpleasant task of sorting and cutting up the rags which were frequently rotting. This resulted in severe infection diseases. In addition many workers suffered from rheumatism as a result of the dampness resulting from the pulp. On top of that the noise of the pulping machines was deafening. Ground wood gradually began to replace rag fibres from the middle of the 19th century. Around the same time the first mechanical paper makers were installed in the “Neue Dombach” mill. In 1930 the factory was closed – around 30 years after its predecessor the “Alte Dombach” mill whose historic buildings were at first used for housing. The industrial museum opened in 1999 and also covers modern aspects of paper-making such as the mass production of paper for packing material or advertising purposes – not forgetting the environmental consequences.