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Regional route Saxony-Anhalt | Germany

In the early 20th century the area now known as Saxony-Anhalt rose to become one of the most important industrial regions in Europe. The invention of artificial manure in Piesteritz, the innovative aircraft construction industry in the Junkers works in Dessau, and many other trailblazing technological ... more

Saxony-Anhalt. The Central German Innovation Region

In the early 20th century the area now known as Saxony-Anhalt rose to become one of the most important industrial regions in Europe. The invention of artificial manure in Piesteritz, the innovative aircraft construction industry in the Junkers works in Dessau, and many other trailblazing technological achievements soon found international recognition. Sprawling opencast brown coal mines and huge power stations provided the necessary power for the factories and promoted the growth of a flourishing chemical industry. The process of structural transformation after the reunification of Germany laid bare the unbridled plundering of the natural environment and at the same time led to a new modernisation drive. Nowadays middle range businesses dominate the region instead of huge industrial concerns. In many places the old industrial landscape is being replaced by new man-made sites dedicated to cultural and recreational purposes.

From the very start mineral resources were the basis of industrial development. In some places people began to exploit them as early as the Middle Ages. Copper mining in the area around Mansfeld, for example, began more than 800 years ago. Here, in a shaft in the Harzvorland near Hettstedt, the first German steam engine (based on James Watt’s model) went into operation in 1785. Today a faithful replica of the original engine can be seen in the baroque Humboldt Castle in Hettstedt. And when visitors to the Röhrig shaft in Wettelrode (now in operation for demonstration purposes only), travel below ground to a depth of almost 300 metres, they can get a vivid idea of the harsh conditions under which copper miners had to work in the 19th century. A journey with the Mansfeld colliery railway, Germany's oldest narrow gauge line, takes passengers back to the time when there was a brisk transport of goods and people between the countless collieries and iron and steelmaking plants in the region.

Salt production from brine along the River Saale also goes back deep into the past. For centuries the "white gold" was a source of prosperity and power until it faded into insignificance in the 19th century in face of the competition from rock salt mining. Nonetheless the town of Bad Dürrenberg held fast to the old art of salting until as late as 1963. Here Europe's longest continuous graduation tower demonstrates how brine was once concentrated and purified on a grand scale. The social and technical history of local salt production is explained in the neighbouring Borlach Museum.Salt was not the only "white gold" in Saxony-Anhalt. Well over 160 years ago a group of shrewd farmers in the Magdeburger Börde area discovered the syrupy potentials of sugar beet. In the following years the sugar industry developed to become one of the main driving forces behind the start of industrialisation. Another driving force was mechanical engineering, which established itself in Magdeburg, not least because of the favourable transport connections to and from what is now the regional capital. A highly modern water junction including Europe's longest canal bridge has improved these connections even further in the last few years. In addition Magdeburg’s reputation as a technology city can be traced back to the 17th century in the person of a politician and scientist by the name of Otto von Guericke. It was here that he carried out his pioneering experiments on the properties of the vacuum. The Magdeburg Technology Museum spans all the different stages of the mechanical age, and is itself a part of this history. It is housed in an exhibition hall where the Magdeburg industrialist Hermann Gruson erected a casting works in 1871. Its permanent mould products were in great demand by railway companies and the Prussian army. Significant innovations in the realm of mechanical engineering were also introduced elsewhere in the region. This is especially clear in the Hugo Junkers Technical Museum in Dessau, which documents the achievements of the most famous aircraft manufacturer in Germany. Indeed, in 1919, the workers at the Dessau Junkers works were responsible for making the first ever all-metal aircraft in the world. The most spectacular exhibit in the museum is one of the last Junkers JU 52 aircraft, which made aviation history as a passenger aircraft in the 1930s, and was in operation from places as a far away as Norway and South America.

Around this time the south eastern area of Saxony-Anhalt was already dominated by the chemical industry, whose vast range of outstanding developments and technologies soon gave it a worldwide reputation. These included the first German synthetic rubber, a number of synthetic materials and light metal alloys, the synthetic fibre Perlon, and a high-pressure hydration process for ammonia one of whose uses was as a primary material for the production of chemical fertilisers.

The precondition for the swift growth in the central German chemical industry from the end of the 19th century was the rich reserves of brown coal, rock salt and potash in the area. Brown coal was a cheap source of energy. However, the fact that it only had a low calorific value in comparison to fossil coal, made it impossible from the very start for the region to develop along the lines of the Ruhrgebiet, for example. Sugar factories in particular resorted to the new form of power, and bought in brown coal from small pits in the neighbourhood to process it on site. The sole relic of this early phase of industrialisation is the historic briquette-making works – now the Herrmannschacht Industrial Museum – in Zeitz. Most of the equipment in its machinery park has been retained in its original state. As such it is a source of rare technological treasures. The works were built in 1889 directly next to a sugar factory. The geographical proximity between the production site and its power source only proved superfluous when it became technically possible to deliver electricity over large distances. From then on, instead of purchasing heavy dirty coal and heating it up on their own sites, factories preferred to take advantage of "clean" energy via electricity cables.

At the start of the 20th century brown coal was the power basis behind all the industries in central Germany. The abundant mineral resources on the north-west edge of the Düben Heath were soon transformed into huge areas of opencast mines. Central power stations processed the inferior brown coal into highly valuable electrical power. In 1915 the then largest steam power station in the world in Zschornewitz near Bitterfeld began delivering electricity to the grid. Further north a major power station in Vockerode began operations in 1938. Most of the plant on both industrial sites was, however, dismantled after the Second World War and sent to Soviet Russia as war reparations. But later the two plants were once more built up and activated by the East German government to supply power to an industrial conurbation which, for many years, set new standards for the chemical industry both in terms of production processes and amounts. The German Chemistry Museum in Merseburg pays tribute to this achievement, as does the Industrial and Film Museum in Wolfen, whose historic processing machines enabled the first multi-layer colour film in the world to be produced here in 1936.

In 1939 no less than one in four of all employees in the German chemical industry was working in the region between Wittenberg and Zeitz. At the same time tens of thousands of mineworkers were digging out brown coal from opencast mines. In order to cater adequately for the housing requirements of their workforce, many companies decided to build their own housing estates. A particularly good extant example is the "garden city" built between 1916 and 1918 by the former Reich Nitrogen Works in Piesteritz. Social housing estates also received a new boost in the period between the two World Wars. Between 1926 and 1928, Walter Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus Dessau Design Academy was commissioned to build the an experimental housing estate – the Törten estate - in the up-and-coming industrial town of Dessau. The houses were not only notable for their industrial design but also for their aesthetic appearance, as might be expected from the high standards of the Bauhaus architects. Seen from the point of view of an art historian the Bauhaus movement marks the start of the classical Modern.

The swift development of industry in Saxony-Anhalt over the last hundred years has not only left us with a rich and unique industrial heritage. It also bequeathed us massive environmental damage, the extent of which only became clear after German reunification. Current structural changes are particularly apparent in the mining topographies which have been cleaned up and greened over. Here water plays a significant role in transforming the deep cavities left by opencast mining into attractive areas of lakes. Areas which were once dominated by huge excavators and mining equipment are now being re-created into recreational areas and biotopes.

A palpable example here is the central workshop in Pfännerhall which was once used to repair pit railway equipment, and is now a historical industrial building used not only for cultural events and to mark the history and modernisation of the Geisel Valley, but to ensure that the surrounding landscape is redesigned in an intelligent manner. In the meantime the old opencast brown coal mining site at Goitzsche has become the site of the world's largest land art project. Furthermore a nationally famous project by the name of Ferropolis has been established on an island in the middle of a lake in the flooded opencast mine at Golpa-Nord. The "Town of Iron" is many things at the same time: a museum, an industrial monument, a steel sculpture, a concert venue and a theme park. In addition it is one of the anchor points along the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH) and simultaneously the starting point Of the Central German Innovation Route which links 17 industrial monuments between Magdeburg and Zeitz. Together they portray a multifaceted picture of the industrial past in Saxony-Anhalt and are living proof that viable perspectives for the future can be developed from past industrial history.


ERIH Anchor Points

Bitterfeld-Wolfen | Germany
Nowadays, the complexity of producing non-digital films is hard to imagine. A guided tour of the Bitterfeld-Wolfen Industry and Film Museum helps to change the focus. Visitors gain deep insights into the challenging temperatures and light conditions by inspecting the particular machines that ...

Industry and Filmmuseum
Chemiepark Bitterfeld-Wolfen Areal A
Bunsenstr. 4
06766 Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany

Gräfenhainichen | Germany
Its nickname was “Racehorse” and in its life it travelled a total of 221 kilometres – a long way for a crawler swing excavator. In 1995 the old steel giant went into retirement in Ferropolis, the town of iron. Here it is surrounded by four other examples of decommissioned giant building machines, ...

Ferropolis - Town of Iron
Ferropolisstraße 1
06773 Gräfenhainichen, Germany

Member Sites ERIH Association

The director of the Electoral State of Saxony Saline Baths in Dürrenberg, Johann Gottfried Borlach, was a stubborn man. He had people drilling for saline sources for 19 years. Finally, on 15th September 1763, he struck lucky at a depth of 223 metres. The discovery turned a hitherto obscure place ...

The Graduation Tower and the Borlach Museum
Borlachplatz 1
06231 Bad Dürrenberg, Germany

Benndorf | Germany
Broad, undulating fields and rows of fruit trees line the stretch of the oldest narrow-gauge railway in Germany. At the front of the train is one of the original Mansfeld steam engines. Clattering behind it are historic wagons with open platforms and round iron stoves. Re-greened spoil tips which ...

The Mansfeld Works Railway Line
Hauptstraße 15
06308 Benndorf, Germany

Braunsbedra | Germany
Slender, pointed gable windows and a rosette in the middle of the red brick facade make the Pfännerhall central workshop look more like the outside of a church. But once inside it is patently clear that this building was once used to house briquette-making machines and repair locomotives. Nowadays ...

Pfännerhall Central Workshop
Grubenweg 4
06242 Braunsbedra, Germany

Dessau-Roßlau | Germany
Fireproof, weatherproof, resilient, comfortable and extremely safe. These are the properties that swiftly made Junkers aircraft classics of aviation history. Less well-known are the other achievements of the famous aeroplane manufacturer, above all the invention of the bathroom gas geyser which ...

Dessau technical museum
Kühnauer Straße 161
06846 Dessau-Roßlau, Germany

Dessau-Roßlau | Germany
Along with other architects of the "New Building" group, Walter Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus Dessau Design Academy, was a leading figure in the building of housing estates in the 1920s. After the First World War housing was scarcer than ever. Between 1926 and 1928 Gropius designed the Törten ...

The steel house | Törten housing estate
Stahlhaus – Info-Punkt der Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau für die Siedlung Dessau-Törten
Südstraße 5
06849 Dessau-Roßlau, Germany

For many centuries Halle was one of the principal salt-producing cities in Germany. The city’s name is an ancient Indo-Germanic word for salt, and the first documentary reference to the brine springs in the vicinity dates from 961 ad. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries salt was produced by ...

Technical Museum of the Saltworks and Saltworkers
Mansfelder Strasse 52
06108 Halle, Germany

Lutherstadt Wittenberg | Germany
This housing estate is a real stroke of luck. It was built between 1916 and 1919 by a young Swiss architect called Otto Rudolf Salvisberg, and throughout its existence it has been spared the fate of individual privatisation, demolition and new buildings. In this way it provides visitors with an ...

Piesteritz housing estate
Karl-Liebknecht-Platz 20
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany

Magdeburg | Germany
If there is one feature which unites the exhibits in the Magdeburg Technical Museum, it is pioneering spirit. This is immediately obvious in the threshing equipment manufactured by the Magdeburg company, Zimmermann, around 1900, which was discovered in a barn in Glindenberg. Its owner was utterly ...

Magdeburg Technical Museum
Dodendorfer Straße 65
39112 Magdeburg, Germany

The 10th October 2003 was a very special day for the residents of Magdeburg and the surrounding region. They flocked in droves to the opening of the longest canal bridge in Europe directly in front of the city gates. The all-steel trough which takes the water from the Mittelland canal across the ...

Water Crossroads / Rothensee Boat Lift
Am Schiffshebewerk
39106 Magdeburg, Germany

Merseburg | Germany
Chemistry is the basis of a modern affluent society. This is the message put out by the German Chemistry Museum which opened in 1993 in Merseburg. Its aim is to pay tribute to the outstanding economic and social importance of chemistry using demonstrations of historical and modern achievements. The ...

German Chemistry Museum Merseburg
Rudolf-Bahro-Straße 11
06217 Merseburg, Germany

Sangerhausen OT Wettelrode | Germany
Working underground was anything but a bed of roses. Miners were exposed to enormous levels of stress because of the extremely low galleries (some of which were no higher than 40 centimetres), the dust produced from mining copper slate, and not least of all the noise of the chopping machines and ...

Röhrigshaft Mining Museum
06526 Sangerhausen, Germany

Schönebeck/Elbe | Germany
The town of Schönebeck, located 15 km south of Magdeburg on the Elbe river, has a considerable but little-known industrial history, which also has some special features. Since the 12th century, brine, from which salt was extracted, has been mined in the area of today's Bad Salzelmen district. From ...

Schönebeck/Elbe Museum of Industry and Art
Erlebniswelt Technik und Innovation (iMUSEt)
Ernst-Thälmann-Straße 5a
39218 Schönebeck/Elbe, Germany

This factory was already a technical museum before it ceased operations, because briquetting presses and plate dryers from the 1883-1895 series were running here till 1959. A single 12 horsepower steam engine was responsible for driving the transmission: it was later replaced by an electric motor. ...

Brown Coal Processing Museum in the „Herrmannschacht“ Briquette Factory
Mitteldeutscher Umwelt- und Technikpark
Naumburger Straße 99
06712 Zeitz, Germany

The "Weißelster" timber rafting system with its component Elsterfloßgraben was the most extensive firewood transport system of modern times in Europe, it was in operation from 1578-1864 and made an important contribution to the energy supply in the transition to the industrial age. The ...

The 'Elsterfloßgraben' Rafting Ditch
Am Herrmannschacht 11
06712 Zeitz, Germany