Völklinger Hütte

If you’re interested in industrial heritage you need to visit the Saarland, close to France and Luxembourg. At Völklingen, west of the capital city Saarbrücken, you can discover the historic iron works Völklinger Hütte – an impressive UNESCO world heritage site. It was founded in 1873 and produced iron using continuously improved techniques until 1986. Many parts like the Eisenschrägaufzug (transporting the iron 27 meters up into the melting ovens) date back to the 1910s. And already when you’re standing at the railway station of Völklingen you’re overwhelmed by the vast size of this former factory.

Iron was produced there from iron ore which is melting at 1,538 degrees Celsius. To do so, some parts of the ovens (or blast furnaces) needed to reach around 2,000 degrees. This is facilitated by using coke (‘Koks‘) produced from black coal (‘Steinkohle‘). The ovens needed to be cooled from the outside with water and wind had to be produced to speed-up the process (like you would do when preparing a barbecue). Over time some kind of recycling improved the production process: the gas created during the melting process was cleaned and used to power the wind machines, als sintering was used to bring other fine ores into the process.

If you visit the Völklinger Hütte today you’ll start at the Gebläsehalle containing the wind machines. From there you can follow a clearly defined route and you’ll first pass over a bridge (with excellent views on the water tower, the Wasserhochbehälter) to the Sinteranlage. Here additional material was brought into the right shape by frittage. The tour continues via the Erzhalle (where the ore was stored) to the Möllerhalle: here the materials were mixed to form the right Möller, the material mix that could then be brought by an impressive lift to the top of the ovens.

Once you’ve passed that area, you need to put a hard hat on and climb 27 meters on stairs to the top of the ovens (for people with handicaps there is also a lift). You’ll be at the point where the lift brings the Möller to the top and you’ll be standing on some kind of highway on which the material was transported. At each of the six ovens there is an opening from which the material mix was dropped into the 10 meters wide and 27 meters high production places. If you need more stunning views you can continue up to 45 meters height onto a platform that has been built around the water tanks.

From there the tour takes you continuously level by level down to the ground where the red-glowing iron was finally taken out and transported to the next production site. If you’re afraid of heights you can relax here and then continue to the coal mill and coke production site. Walking through this monstrous facility made of iron and steel is a really special experience; you feel so small next to these ancient giants. And at the same time nature starts to recover and plants begin to cover the area again. In some areas the iron works already feels like a ‘lost place’ and you’ll find amazing photo spots everywhere.

But it is not only the factory itself which attracts visitors: the area is used for art installations and art exhibitions in fascinating environments. Different events happen there and you’ve also got a coffee bar and beer garden to relax from the tour that might take between two and three hours. Reaching the Völklinger Hütte is really easy by car as well as by train: the train station is very close and you can walk the same way the workers took over more than 100 years. The regional train from Saarbrücken just needs seven minutes to reach Völklingen.

I came to this place on the Tag des offenen Denkmals, an annual event on which you can visit memorial sites in Germany free of charge. I expected massive crowds of visitors and therefore came early, at the point in time when the museum opens. And that was a brilliant decision: by moving fast through the first sections of the exhibition I was completely alone on the blast furnaces. Absolutely amazing!

Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte
Rathausstraße 75-79
66333 Völklingen
Saarland / Sarre


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