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December 6, 2018

Germany: Völklingen Ironworks

A walkway crosses over the Urban Art exhibit at Völklingen Ironworks.

In 1986, after more than 100 years and millions of tons of pig iron processed, the Völklingen Ironworks in the Saarland region of Germany was closed. The plant was quickly protected by a preservation order. Eight years later Völklingen Ironworks was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today the Völklinger Hütte is open to the public as a museum. It is the only example, in the whole of Western Europe and North America, of an integrated ironworks that was built and equipped in the 19th and 20th centuries that has remained intact.

Guided tours Völklingen are possible, though they require advanced booking. Otherwise a well-signposted tour route running over seven kilometers allows visitors to walk through the inner workings of the sprawling complex at their own pace. The Völklingen Ironworks is huge. It takes a considerable time to see. There’s much to see and learn.

A misty wet day in the ironworks

The scale of the facility is impressively large and impressively industrial. It is a maze of bulky machinery and large-scale steelwork. The pathway takes visitors past huge pipes, massive flues, metal tracks for the ore carts, large silos, and enormous blast furnaces.

At its peak, more than 17,000 people worked at Völklingen. Walking through the plant it is easy to imagine the noise, heat, and dust being churned out when the plant was in operation. It could not have been a pleasant place to work.

With our visit Völklingen Ironworks we’ve seen three decommissioned coal and iron works in this area of Europe. Each is interesting in its own right. But if I had to choose one to see I’d choose Völklingen. It’s bigger, more easily accessible, and better explained.

Massive machinery

Buckets and rails move the materials through the ironworks.

It is hard to fully describe in words the full experience of visiting a place like Völklingen Ironworks. Perhaps the pictures posted here will provide a better glimpse of the experience. Better yet, visit yourself.


Our visit to Völklingen Ironworks occurred in October of 2017.

At the time of our visit there was an extensive exhibit of urban art on display. Urban art on a misty wet and overcast day was a perfect fit for the industrial environment of the ironworks.

Shepard Fairey’s “Defend Dignity” from his “We the People” series was on display.

A view over the Urban Art exhibit from a walkway

This elaborate set of tracks allows materials to be moved through the factory.

The shear scale of the operation is impressive.

Fortunately the circuits are disconnected!

The materials travel on tracks that are set as a loop.

A train at the end of the tracks

There was some art that has been installed outside of the main Urban Art exhibit.

One of the many catwalks

Materials are loaded from the top.

Iron is still being processed nearby. If you look closely you can see the burning exhaust coming from a rail car carrying hot molten material.

Walkways lead everywhere.

Massive flues and pipes

Untrained workers abound.

Nature threatens to take over the plant.


…and walkways.


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