The Völklingen Ironworks represent a modern ironmaking plant from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The 'Völklinger Hütte' was founded in 1873 by Julius Buch. Under the direction of the Röchling family (from 1881 on) it developed into one of the most important iron and steel works in Europe.
During its heydays, 17.000 people worked here. They manned the furnaces, stoves, coke ovens, and sintering machines. The entire process of pig iron production was executed in this 6 ha. large spot.
The iron works were closed in 1986.
Map of Völklingen Ironworks
Visit September 2005
This Sunday was named 'Open Monuments Day' in Germany, allowing free access to a number of sights. A fair share of visitors found their way to the Ironworks in Völklingen too. This Saarland WHS also attracts international visitors, because it is situated very close to both France and Luxembourg (and not too far from Belgium and The Netherlands). The complex is huge, so allocating crowds isn't a problem.
Although there are guided tours I decided to explore the site on my own. Everything worth seeing has displays in German, French and English, so that's no problem. I can also recommend watching the multimedia presentation right away after you enter the site. It puts the different buildings in their context.
Exploring the iron works involves quite a lot of climbing and peeking around corners. No wonder this site is a favourite with kids. Of course I borrowed a hardhat too and climbed the rows of see through stairs to the viewing platform. Although everything on this complex is huge, it's also interesting to see that all parts of the production process are quite close together. The raw products were moved around in small carts via an ingenious transport system.
One of the most remarkable buildings I found the one pictured to the left: the Water Tower (dating 1918), with room to hold 3 million litres of water from the river Saar. The tower is one of the earliest large concrete buildings in Europe. It's next to the parking lot, so probably the first thing you will see.
Although I'm not such a big fan of industrial sites, and I don't really know a lot about the process of iron- and steel-making, I did enjoy my trip to the Völklingen Ironworks. Not only was there an interesting exhibition on the Inca in a part of the complex when I visited in August 2017, you can also wander around the site freely and explore all nooks and crannies on your own. After some walking around, you will come to the area where hard hats are required to climb various staircases up to the viewing platform 50 or so metres above ground - this is really the highlight of any visit. Völklingen is just a 10-minute train ride from Saarbrücken, and the ironworks is maybe a 5-minute walk from the station. You can't see it very well from the train if coming from Saarbrücken, but it should be perfectly visible if coming from the other direction (e.g. Trier).
What a wonderful site to just wander around and explore. It's enormous and feels almost like its been abandoned, the way much of it has just been left the way it always was.
From the sintering shed, through the burden shed and up to the coking plant, there are more than 6 kilometres of pathways that you can follow. It probably takes at least two hours to walk through properly.
One of the things I like best about the site and its paths is the opportunity to take detours and discover different parts of the various sections. Although some areas are off limits for safety reasons, there’s a large degree of flexibility in where you can explore independently. Climbing up to the top platform and looking out across the site is a must.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
This is a film about the German industrial World Heritage Sites Zollverein and Völklingen (Swedish voice-over and English subtitles).
An “aside” to start with - Several reviewers describe Volklingen as a “Steel Mill”. That is it is NOT – so the “slot” is still there for some country to nominate one of those!! Volklingen is an integrated “Ironworks” and its output still has a lot of processing to go through before it can be called “steel” – let alone before that “steel” can be converted to something useful, by being rolled in a “mill”. An analogy would be to call a “flour mill” a “bakery”! From the viewing platform within the WHS one can see the nearby modern steelworks of “Saarstahl” which does indeed produce and roll “steel” – no longer from molten iron provided locally by Volklingen Ironworks but transported by rail from modern Blast Furnaces at Dillingen (c 20kms away) in huge “torpedo” ladles.
The star to me of the visit to Volklingen was undoubtedly the chance to view a Blast Furnace close up. Steps go all the way from the Charging Platform (where the raw materials were fed in) at 27m up, down to the Tapping Floor (where the “hot metal”, i.e molten iron, was “let out”). Indeed a viewing point is set even higher at 45m on top of the blast engines. The “Blast furnace” has been a crucial piece of technology in human development and this historic late 19th/early 20C example is well worth its place on the list. But the objective is much greater than this – rather to preserve the entire integrated plant with all its pre and associated processes, and there must be concerns about how all this is going to be achieved in the long run. “Buildings” are one thing but old industrial plant in the open air is another. Rust and residual toxicity from the processes and the construction materials will surely wreak their havoc. Whilst the areas through which tourists are allowed to walk (freely without guides in wonderful contrast to the “guided tours only” policy operated within plants at Zollverein!) are well maintained, other parts of the plant look distinctly “fragile”. The plant was closed in 1986 and its historic fabric shows that it will have been run for many decades before that on an “essential maintenance” basis only. There is an attempt to make a virtue out of some of the degradation via its presentation as a “Paradise Garden” where “nature” is returning (Zollverein has adopted a similar stance!) - but this can only be done in areas where gradual decomposition is acceptable. From the Charging Floor it could be seen that large areas of the adjacent structures were being taken over by trees which had seeded themselves high up on the structures (photo). Similarly many of the operator cabins are made at least partly of wood and these were visibly rotting. This 2006 article from ICOMOS describes the problem - http://www.icomos.org/risk/2007/pdf/Soviet_Heritage_28_IV-4_Mendgen.pdf . I liked the comment about the need to “avoid a large-scale misinterpretation of the monument (e.g. as a kind of “disneyland”)”. Are you listening Zollverein??
The other parts of the site had their interests too. Again, unlike at Zollverein, the Coke Works is available to go round without a guide. I could have done without the “Ferrodrom” science centre and the “art works” but found these less intrusive than their equivalents at Zollverein. At least there isn’t a Ferris Wheel - yet?? The Compressor hall is also an “Event Centre” – but at least that is across the street and is having its own entrance built (Yet another German WHS which was covered in scaffolding which we saw during our tour!). The video presentation was superior to that at Zollverein too (with, I think, a cycle of 3 German shows to 1 French but no English) and at least had something to do with the WHS. Signage was also pretty good (again superior to that at Zollverein) in German, French and English – but usually written on clear plastic which was often rather difficult to read. Entrance is a steep 12 Euro – but all that maintenance will have to be paid for somehow I guess. An “average” visit would seem unlikely to last less than 2 hours – we spent just under 3. Parking is easy in a large (free) park across the road from the entrance
One little “historic” tit-bit which emerged during our visit - This area didn’t become a part of the FDR until 1957 – from 1945 it was in the nominally independent “Saar Protectorate” and was integrated economically with France. One of the (older!) security guards we conversed with (in French) said that his father had told him to learn French in case the area remained a part of France! How times change!!
I visited this site in May 2012 on the way from Würzburg. The ironworks have gone out of production but they are the only intact example in Western Europe and North America of an integrated ironworks built in the 19th and 20th centuries. The whole visit was quite a short but informative one. I would have never visited this place if it weren't for UNESCO. However, visiting it helped me picture and understand how important such places were in the industrial revolution.
I visited Volklingen Ironworks in May 2010 and spent at least 2 hours wandering and climbing over the entire works. It was an amazing experience. I had spent 8 years of my younger like working as a welder in the Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point shipyard, immediately adjacent to the huge Beth Steel furnaces and mills, across a small inlet from the (odoriferous) coke ovens (where we'd steal coke for our warming fire pots during the winter). Knowing what it was to work at Sparrows Point, and then visualizing what it would appear as a quiet(!) ghost town sent shivers down my spine. I only wish I knew German to be able to read the workers' graffiti!! (I know what I left as graffiti at Sparrows Point). I will go back again and take even more time to walk and climb it.
After seeing this on the iPhone App, I visited the Volklingen Ironworks today. Signs are in German, French, and English. Not only are the views and history incredible, but the staff and additional accommodations are unbelievable: art studio, childrens museum, 50m viewing stand (you must wear provided hard hats). If you find yourself near Saarbrucken and have a few hours, it's easily worth the 10 Euro entrance fee. I'm going back soon--don't forget a camera!
The Steel Mill is one of the most awesome works of engineering ive witnessed. The pulley systems were flawless, with very heavy strength cables! Once you think that you have seen all that there is to see you find another place to explore; in some parts you can smell the sulfuric smell that must have strongly lingered through the air, definitely worth a days trip!
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