The town of VÖLKLINGEN, 71km from Trier but just 10km downstream along the Saar from Saarbrücken, is one of those one-time industrial powerhouses – and now a picture of industrial malaise and decline – that most people would usually make a wide berth around when they can. However, its huge and rusty old ironworks, Völklinger Hütte, a couple of minutes’ walk from the Hauptbahnhof, have become so celebrated that UNESCO have even made it a World Heritage Site. It’s preserved as one of the last of a generation; a quiet reminder of a grimy and fast-disappearing period of European history. Opened in 1873, the ironworks’ huge size and complexity are what immediately impress most. By its mid-1960s heyday the workforce peaked at around 17,000, before slowly decreasing until production finally ceased in 1986.
It’s now hard to imagine the place at full throttle with all the noise, dust and dirt involved, but the excellent multilingual audio-guide and useful signs (in English too) do their best to bring all this alive, while a candid exhibition on the lives and health problems of former workers sets the tone for an honest appraisal of the site’s history. Numerous spaces in the ironworks serve as temporary exhibition galleries for photography and art, with the raw backdrop often adding an unexpected poignancy to pieces. Concerts also take place here, with jazz a regular feature of Friday nights.