September 2022


Völklingen Ironworks – A Cynical Take

Last October I popped over to Saarbrücken for a weekend, gong there to see the Völklinger Hütte — A UNESCO World Heritage Site that, from a distance, seemed pretty cool.  It turns out I found it rather boring — and I wrote a note to a friend about what I thought:

Today I am in Saarbrücken, Germany — which is right on the border with France.

About 11km away from me is the Völkingen Ironworks — an enormous facility that used to produce steel until it was closed in 1986.

It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and for 17€, one can visit the factory. It is clearly a place that used to be incredibly important, employing thousands of people, producing massive quantities of steel.

Now for the cynical Adam version of history: When the factory was closed in 1986, the local economy was fucked — clearly, nothing could replace the employment that the old steel mill provided. The local community, though, had a problem: this huge, ugly, factory on the edge of town. What could they do with the site? Option (1) find somebody to restart the steel mill (never going to happen). Option (2) tear down the facility, remediate the heavy pollutants, and restore the area into something vaguely resembling what it looked like before the factory was built (WHOA EXPENSIVE).

Then somebody had a brilliant idea: this place was important! This place made steel! This place is history! “maybe we can turn it into a UNESCO World Heritage site” -. and they did. By being a UNESCO World Heritage site it means that they only have to pay to somewhat maintain the facilities to look like what they looked like when the place closed and they would never disturb the underlying pollution, which could become incredibly costly to remediate.

My take might be incredibly cynical, but I suspect there’s a nugget of truth to it….

Beyond that, I enjoyed Saarbrücken and I would happily return to explore its more interesting touristic sites.

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