The Völklinger Hütte World Cultural Heritage Site was the first monument from the zenith of the industrial era to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The sensational announcement was made on 17 December 1994 in Phuket, Thailand: for the first time, a place associated with industry and work was to join the ranks of World Cultural Heritage Sites. Up to then, the list had been reserved for cathedrals, old towns and palaces.
Today, the Völklinger Hütte World Cultural Heritage Site is not just the world’s only fully intact ironworks from the industrial era; it is also a unique location for international exhibitions, festivals and concerts. And it is a place where culture and nature meet: The Paradise, located in what was once the “hell” of the coking plant, is a fascinating garden where diverse flora and fauna have recaptured parts of the former industrial facility.
Dating to the peak of the industrial era, the history of Völklinger Hütte reflects the history of Germany and the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But the Völklinger Hütte World Cultural Heritage Site is also firmly located in the twenty-first century. It occupies a key position in the Anthropocene age – the epoch in which human beings and technology have drastically changed their environment. As such, Völklinger Hütte is perfectly placed to explore through art and culture the positive and negative effects of these developments, and to reflect on both our present and future.
Völklinger Hütte’s historical pig-iron production facilities are completely intact. Several kilometres of visitor walkways lead to milestones in the history of technology, such as the one-of-a-kind inclined ore lift, the massive blowing engines and the sintering plant. Völklinger Hütte is an experience for all the senses. It is easy to imagine what it must have felt like to work amid the deafening noise of the engines in the blower hall, or to stand by the bottom of the six blast furnaces as 1,000° molten pig iron flowed out of them. The vista of the massive tangle of pipes provides another special experience, as does the ascent to the 45-metre-high viewing platforms above the blast furnaces. From here, visitors can look out over the entire industrial landscape.
Today, the Völklinger Hütte World Cultural Heritage Site is an inspiring cultural location, a space that is open to all the arts. The interplay between varied industrial spaces on one hand and exhibitions, theatre and performance on the other makes this an exciting place to experience culture. Exhibitions in the blower hall amid the huge flywheels of the blowing engines have a unique atmosphere. Meanwhile the raw charm of the burden hall provides a special backdrop for photos. This year, the ore shed will be transformed into a laboratory in which artists will investigate urgent questions about our present and future. But this is a space that welcomes theatre, music and dance, too. Every two years, the World Cultural Heritage Site hosts the UrbanArt Biennale®, during which the entire site enters into dialogue with the art forms deriving from street art and graffiti.
Flora and fauna have recaptured their terrain in many areas, turning this iconic industrial site into a site of natural beauty. Nature flourishes most strikingly in The Paradise, a green wilderness where the coking plant used to be, now home to fish, frogs, foxes and wild boar. This was once one of the toughest places to work, a place full of heat, dust and fire. Today, though, birch trees and lilac grow between the coke batteries; “hell” has become paradise.
At the Völklinger Hütte World Cultural Heritage Site, the history of industrialisation – both its achievements and its dark side – combines with technology, art, culture and nature to provide a truly unique experience. With its exhibitions, concerts, theatre events and festivals, the Völklinger Hütte World Cultural Heritage Site is a place where the past, the present and the future converge – a place that is continually reinventing itself.