Sunday, January 13, 2008

Völklingen & Saarbrücken

On Saturday we took advantage of one of the great deals of public transportation here: a ticket for up to 5 people to travel all day on the regional rail network within a given German state for €28 (about $40). We left pretty early this morning and took the train to Völklingen, in the southwest corner of Germany, near the French border (OK, technically 3 trains, as we changed in Mainz and Saarbrücken).

Völklingen has the same feel as the rust belt in America (those parts that have not been revitalized), where the once-good manufacturing jobs are gone. We went to see the Völklingen Hütte, which was once the largest steel mill in Germany. The works itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but the tour itself is a bit surreal. The first section, in the huge blower shed, is titled “Genius” and is about inventions, mostly unrelated to steel manufacture. It has sections on household inventions, printing, electricity, personal computers, public health and medicine, rocketry (one of our favorite exhibits was a hands-on one in which you could turn a crank until sufficient hydrogen split from oxygen in a small chamber (from water) and then the hydrogen was ignited to lift a small “rocket” into the air. From there, we went across to the sintering plant, the coal track, and the burden shed (which, oddly, had a display of large photographs including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, JFK’s Dallas motorcade, the 9-11 attacks, the Nairobi embassy bombing, the Concorde crash) Mostly we gazed at enormous things that we had no idea what they did. The few signs seemed to assume a fundamental knowledge of steel production that we were utterly lacking. Even the signs in English made no sense to me. Unfortunately, the part where you can climb to the top platform (45 meters tall) was closed.

The final section (in the ore shed) was the “Duane Hanson, Sculptures of the American Dream.” I had never heard of him before, but his sculptures are incredibly life-like and, in some cases, thought-provoking (though we hustled Abby past a few of them). Again, nothing to do with steel manufacture.

On the way back we stopped off in Saarbrucken, which is a pretty town set on the Saar River. Unfortunately, it must have been heavily bombed in WWII, as the entire riverfront is lined with featureless 1950s architecture. It has an amazing church though, the Ludwigskirche, in the shape of a Greek cross, with an all white interior and a wonderful, spacious feel. We made it just before it was closing for the day and were very lucky to get to see it.

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