The Völklinger Hütte (ironworks) in Germany’s Saarland, which was shut down in 1986, can be justifiably described as an industrial dinosaur. It extends over an area of 600,000 square metres and exemplifies the combined power of more than 100 years of iron and steel manufacturing. It was the first industrial monument to be inscribed into the United Nations list of World Cultural Heritage Sites. No wonder it is packed with visitors. Here expert guides will take you on a tour through the labyrinths of blast furnaces and air heaters, coking gas pipes and suspended rails. Not forgetting an absolute “must” - a quick detour to the top of the 30 metre high charging platform. Here, where the blast furnace was once charged with coke and ore, you can get the best view of the mill and the surrounding industrial landscape of the Saar valley.
The many different artistic events presented at the Völklinger Hütte are a long-established and highly popular attraction. In this respect the enormous blast furnace house is particularly well-known as an exciting venue for exhibitions, concerts and congresses. The old burden house has an even greater capacity and is renowned for its changing exhibitions which are presented on several different levels.
It began with a flop. The first Völklinger steelworks was founded in 1873 by an engineer called Julius Buch, only to be diagnosed as unprofitable just six years later. In 1881 the disused steelworks were bought up by Carl Röchling. He proved more successful. In the following years the business developed into one of the most innovative and productive steelworks in the whole of Europe. At the centre of the plant stands a row of six blast furnaces, 45 metres high and 250 metres long. These are surrounded by 104 coking furnaces and the huge 10,000 square metre burden house, where once the ore was stored. In order to process the waste products from iron and steel production a sintering plant went into operation in 1928. At the time this was the largest of its kind in the world. The main water tower, built in 1918, is a pioneering achievement. It was the first building with concrete stands on the continent of Europe. The sloping ore lift, one of the outstanding engineering achievements of the early 20th century, was built a few years previously.
The maximum levels of production was achieved by the Völklinger Hütte during the post-war building boom. For a time its employed more than 17,000 workers. Then the worldwide steel crisis also made itself felt in the Saarland. This decline could not even be halted by the fusion of the Völklingen and Burbach iron and steelworks into the “ARBED-Saarstahl” company. In 1986 the iron age in Völklingen came to an end. After more than 100 years the flames in the blast furnaces at the Völklinger Hütte were blown out. Thousands of workers lost their jobs.
But the end was also a new beginning. Immediately after the closure parts of the plant were put under a protection order. The iron works became an industrial monument. The reward soon followed. In 1994 UNESCO declared that the Völklinger Hütte be inscribed as a World Cultural Heritage site. And nowadays some of the former workers are still employed there – as tourist guides.
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