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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. 

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 ...

Bremecker Hammer Museum of Forging
Brüninghauser Straße 95
58513 Lüdenscheid, Germany

Lüdenscheid is a town in the Sauerland, and forms part of the Märkischer Kreis in North Rhine Westphalia, 46 km east of Wüppertal and 60 km north-west of Siegen. It lies amongst mountains on the watershed between the rivers Lenne and Volme, both of which are tributaries of the Ruhr. In the Middle ...

Historical Museum of the City of Lüdenscheid
Geschichtsmuseum der Stadt Lüdenscheid
Sauerfelder Strasse 14
58511 Lüdenscheid, Germany

The 300 or so weaving and spinning machines are now at work in China. But the cellars of the old spinning mill are still full of life. Here the waters of the River Wupper have been diverted through a mixed-flow water turbine which in turn drives a rotary current generator. The result is ...

Johann Wülfing & Son Textile Mill Museum
Am Graben 4
42477 Radevormwald, Germany

There are many recipes for success. One of them is “no time to lose”. This could very well apply to the old Cromford spinning mill in Ratingen in the Bergisch Land, now one of the on-site museums belong to the Rhineland Industrial Museum. Johann Gottfried Brügelmann, an extremely wealthy merchant ...

Cromford Textile Mill LVR Industrial Museum
Cromforder Allee 24
40878 Ratingen, Germany

Remscheid | Germany
A converted office building, a disused factory, an opulently furnished historic merchant’s house and a spacious modern new building. From the outside alone it is evident that the Remscheid German Tool Museum and historic centre unites both past and present. Inside you can see almost everything to do ...

German Museum of Tools
Cleffstraße 2-6
42855 Remscheid, Germany

Remscheid | Germany
Everybody knows what x-rays are, especially at the doctor’s or the airport baggage check. X-rays embody the spirit of human progress almost more than any other revolutionary invention. The man who discovered them was awarded the first ever Nobel prize in 1901. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born in the ...

German Roentgen-Museum
Schwelmer Straße 41
42897 Remscheid, Germany

Solingen | Germany
ME FECIT SOLINGEN –Solingen made me. These three words were engraved into sword blades all over the world. In the Middle Ages Solingen began to make a reputation for itself as a “weapons factory” of European rank. Its most prominent customers were General Wallenstein (during the 30 Years War) and ...

German Museum of Blades
Klostenhof 4
42653 Solingen, Germany

Solingen | Germany
As you might expect this monument is surrounded by plenty of legends. The most popular of these goes as follows: one day before the first trial journey the head architect, Anton von Rieppel, toppled into the River Wupper from the top of his masterpiece for fear that the whole construction might ...

Müngsten Bridge
Müngstener Brückenweg
42659 Solingen, Germany

Wenden | Germany
The first ever blast furnaces like the smelting furnace in Wenden were enclosed in huts to protect them from the weather. Here in the region of Olpe a museum has been opened to show the gradual growth of iron and steel manufacturing, the origins of which go right back to the early period of blast ...

Wenden Ironworks
Hochofenstraße 6d
57482 Wenden, Germany

The wheel was invented in the early stone age period. The history of the motor car begins in the 19th century. Thousands of years lie between the two. Why this should be and all the developments in vehicle construction in the meantime is shown in an astonishing survey to be found in the Axle, Wheel ...

Museum of Axes, Wheels and Carriages
BPW Bergische Achsen Kommanditgesellschaft
51674 Wiehl, Germany

In 1832 coalminers in the Ruhr valley decided to do it for real – with deep-pit mining at a colliery called Neptune. Until then it was usual for mining galleries to be dug horizontally into the side of the rock face. At Neptune, by contrast, the miners dug vertically to a depth of 450 metres. This ...

Nightingale Colliery LWL Industrial Museum and the Mutten Valley
Nachtigallstraße 35
58452 Witten, Germany

Wuppertal | Germany
The Wuppertal overhead railway has attracted a lot of nicknames in its time: the steel centipede, the iron thread, the stalwart dragon. It’s even been described as an angel. Whatever you choose to call it the overhead railway has enjoyed a unique reputation around the world for more than 100 years. ...

Informationszentrum am Döppersberg
42103 Wuppertal, Germany

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WORK it Out – Day of Industrial Culture

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