“Any old iron?” Much more than that: Industrial heritage in Dortmund
Industry and cultural heritage – how are they supposed to go together? Well, I guess the terms “industrial culture” or even “industrial heritage” do sound a bit strange, but if you come to Dortmund and get a feeling for the town today, you will see just how much industry has impacted on the people and life here – it is our heritage and it is our culture.
Compared to most of the other cities in the Ruhr Region, Dortmund has been extremely successful in coping with what is commonly known as structural change. Over the last few decades the city has purposefully developed into a centre of IT, biotechnology and logistics. However, anyone who was born in Dortmund has also inherited a bit of the cultural heritage of the city, as somehow we have all got our roots in industry. Practically everyone here knows someone or has a relative who once worked down the pit or in the steelworks.
And anyway, you’re bound to come across traces of coal, steel and beer wherever you go in Dortmund.
Coal, steel and slagheaps
In the west of the city, Dortmund boasts one of the most beautiful industrial monuments in Germany: the LWL Industrial Museum Zeche Zollern. The two pithead towers are iconic, and the ornamental Jugendstil entrance doorway to the machine hall is an absolute eye-catcher. It was even immortalized by the German Post Office on its 80 Pfennig postage stamps. And all the detail! Decorative bits here, onion dome there – certainly doesn’t look like a place where people grafted. Lots about the history of mining and a great trad restaurant, too.
The huge pithead tower at former pit Zeche Gneisenau and the park laid out around it are also well worth a visit.
The Romans? In Dortmund? Not really, it’s just a slag heap!
Slightly hidden away at PHOENIX West, you can see the remains of a huge bridge, the Hympendahl Viaduct. Unfortunately, the bridge doesn’t exist anymore, just its impressive abutments. And even though it sounds like it, Hympendahl was not a Roman architect, it was just the name of the field.
The bridge was built for a very mundane purpose as well. Locomotives used to push heavy wagons with slag and other waste from the blast furnaces up here – the wagons had to roll over the bridge, and a little bit further, before tipping their contents out onto the slagheap known as Halde Hympendahl – which is now part of the popular adventure playground in the Westfalenpark.
Hansa Coking Plant: Dortmund’s largest oven
On the site of the former coking plant at Kokerei Hansa in Dortmund-Huckarde you can learn all about how coke was “baked”. It’s all explained very clearly so you can easily imagine what they did here and how dirty it must have been as well.
Steel: Skywalk at the blast furnace
In Dortmund-Hörde we still have the former blast furnace site known as PHOENIX West. The blast furnace was where they turned iron ore into pig iron which in turn was processed in the steelworks to make steel. At PHOENIX West you can still see two huge old furnaces, and it’s possible to climb up onto one of them. The Skywalk, which runs along the top of an enormous gas pipeline takes you up on to the blast furnace.
This will really give you an impression of what structural change means because the whole area is now being transformed into a mixture of office and laboratory buildings and recreational areas, spurred on by the fact that the Bergmann Brewery and the Warsteiner Music Hall have also opened here recently.
Another relic of the golden era of steel are the massive former gas pipelines which you can see here and there wending their way through the city like a network of arteries. Whether they will be used again for something one day, or if they will just be recycled as scrap is still not really clear.
Our industrial heritage?
For three or four generations heavy industry played a fundamental role in the city and changed the way it looked. Nowadays, many children don’t even know what a blast furnace is. But every day we make our way through this backdrop. Some bits of it are too interesting to demolish or are just too big – or the ground underneath is too contaminated to work or live on today.
Dortmund never had an Empire State Building, but it has got the Union Brewery’s cooling tower. Never heard of it? Course you have! The tower is now called the “Dortmunder U” and it’s a prime example of how difficult it can be to deal with former industrial edifices, but also of how successful it can be.
The tower is so big you could use it to fill the gap in a city’s budget deficit! But it has been a loyal city landmark for so many decades. And now, as a Centre for the Arts and Creativity, it is a true symbol of what industrial heritage and culture is.
You can find former industrial sites like this all over the place, although often enough only the name of a street or a business park will remind you of the industrial heritage that created them.
Maybe we’re a bit funny in the Ruhr Region, we think it’s quite cool to have our wedding photos taken in front of a former blast furnace or to get married at an old pit. The marriage of his daughter Veronika at Zeche Zollern was “A great visiting card for the city”, said no other than Bavaria’s former Minister President Edmund Stoiber, and he lives just around the corner from Schloss Neuschwanstein!
Extraschicht: The long night of Industrial Culture
Once a year we give the old iron a good polish here in the Revier. It’s “Extraschicht” time. From Moers in the west, to Hamm in the east, old sites from the industrial age are brought back to life with concerts, light shows or theatre productions. That’s when we really put “culture” into industry.
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