Insight into the World Cultural Heritage Site Völklinger Ironworks

By State Chancellery Saarland

Staatskanzlei Saarland

A visit of the World Cultural Heritage site Völklinger Ironworks is an adventure: Deep into the dark corridors of the burden shed, high up into airy height onto the viewing platform of the blast furnace.

Völklinger Hütte, the biggest ironworks on the Saar (1949/1954)State Chancellery Saarland

UNESCO World Heritage site Völklinger Ironworks

The first steelworks was set up in Völklingen in 1873. The Röchling family bought it in 1881 and founded the Völklingen Ironworks. By 1903, pig iron was being smelted in six blast furnaces and processed to steel. The mid 1960s saw over 17,000 people working at the ironworks. The steel crisis of the 1970s, however, led to the closure of the blast furnace works. In 1994, UNESCO declared the disused ironworks a World Cultural Heritage Site. It is the only so well-preserved ironworks in this size.

Panoramic view from the coal tracks

The six blast furnaces are hidden behind brackets, pipework, the blast heating apparatus and flues. They are 27 meters high and have a diameter of 10 meters. Every 2.5 - 3 hours an average of 130 tonnes of pig iron was tapped.

In the foreground one can see the powerful track system of the inclined ore lift over which the monorail cars were transported. They supplied all six blast furnaces with raw materials via a central plant.

Tucked away below the mighty inclined ore lift, one can see the blast furnace office. It housed the offices of the blast furnace managers, day rooms and washrooms for the ore processing supervisor and the shift foreman.

Between the blast furnace office and the blast furnaces one can see the long and flat burden shed (Möllerhalle). It was used to store iron ore, sinter, scrap and lime. These ingredients were used to create the "Möller", a mixture that was fed to the blast furnaces. The raw materials were transported by train to the Möllerhalle and tipped from above.

The Water Tower

Built in 1918, this building was one of the first of a new industrial architectural form: clear, geometrically arranged lines, concrete and brick. The reservoir, 20 metres up, could hold 3000 cubic metres of water. It was a reserve, for example, for when pumps failed or pipes were damaged.

The Cooling Tower and the Gas Holders

The water used to cool the blast furnaces and machinery was cooled down in cooling towers and fed back into the water circuit of the hut. The cooling tower on the coal siding is the last completely preserved cooling tower on the hut site.

Here you can see the two Saarstahl gas holders 70-metre tall in which the gas from the blast furnaces used to be held in interim storage. Next to it is the telescopic gas holder, which was able to adapt its size to the amount of gas being held. Here, the gas from the coking-plant was stored.

Panoramic view of Völklinger Hütte Panorama (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

Between giants: Blowers 9 and 10

In the blower hall machines produced the wind for the six blast furnaces, the so-called blast furnace wind. The first section of the blower shed was built in 1900. In it, there was room for three blowers. Whenever new machines were added, the blower shed was extended. In 1938, it reached its current proportions: ten blowers produced the blast for the six furnaces.

The blowers

In 1878, the German engineers Otto and Langen built the first gas engine that produced power. In 1901, the first gas blower went into operation in the newly built blower shed. Thus they were more powerful and could generate significantly more electricity.

The Blower Hall, Völklinger Hütte (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

Working in the blower hall

One shift in the blower shed consisted of 12 workers headed by a foreman. One engine operator was responsible for each blower. Uninterruptedly, the flywheels sprayed a fine mist of oil into the shed. There were no fixed break times. As a rule, the food the men had brought with them was consumed at some time in the middle of the shift. Next to each blower there was a simple table and chair.

The blast cylinder

The blast cylinder is at the rear of the blower. Like an oversized air pump, it generated the blast for the furnaces. The blast was collected in enormous containers and then despatched to the blast heaters through steel pipes. The blowers developed between 2000 and 3600 horsepower.

The flywheels and the old blast heaters, Völklinger Hütte (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

The engine

Since the flywheel had a diameter of almost eight metres and weighed 45 tonnes, the engine needed all the strength it could muster. But once the flywheel had reached its working speed of some 75 rpm, it certainly took some stopping. It thus made sure that the engine ran evenly.

The engine worked much like a car engine, except for the fact that it was driven by gas instead of petrol. When it was starting, the gas engine had a pretty big job to do, for it had to set the enormous flywheel in motion.

Entering the iron production

In 1928, one of Europe's largest sintering plants came into being in Völklingen. The sintering plant was an important place in the Völklinger Ironworks. Here, fine-grained residues such as ore dust were baked under high temperatures to cake-like sinter. This filled the blast furnace. The iron ore and coal tracks are running in front of the plant. The raw materials for iron production, the iron ore and the coal were transported via these rails. Today the visitor center is located in the sintering plant.

Sintering Plant and the Burden Shed (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

Inbetween the sintering plant and the burden shed

The cowpers

The process was carried out on a belt which ran through the shed. The temperature required was reached by mixing fine coke or anthracite with the ore mixture. After that, air was drawn down through the mixture and the body of the ore was fired right through.

The Diesel locomotive

In 1860, a train ran for the first time along the Saar between Saarbrücken and Trier. This was an important factor in the foundation of the Völklingen Ironworks. The works' own locomotives brought the heavy wagons from the station, to the raw material bunkers or the coal silos of the coking-plant.

Coking plant, Völklinger Hütte (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The coking plant

The coking plant converted coal into coke which was used in the blast furnace. The valuable substances accumulated during the coke-processing process, such as tar, ammonia, benzene, sulfur and coke-gusts, were collected and processed further. The gas that aroused during the process played an important role part for the city.

Coking plant, Völklinger Hütte (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The coal steam enigine

The Coking Plant, Völklinger Hütte (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

The coking plant

Arrival of monorail cars (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The gout stage

All six blast furnaces were supplied with raw materials via a 6 kilometer long track system. An average of 265 monorail cars were traveling on it , their squeal was heard day and night. Without a break, the cars travelled full to the blast furnaces or back down again empty to the burden shed or the coking plant. Intermediate lifts helped to bridge the differences in height between the blast furnaces.

Inclined Ore Lift (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The inclined ore lift

The monorail cars were transported to the gout stage via the inclined ore lift.
Because the inclined ore lift was designed to cater for a height of exactly 27 metres it was impossible to expand the blast furnace system to keep up with developments in the iron and steel producing industry. As a result the Völklinger Hütte was no longer profitable and was closed in 1986.

Gout Stage (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The monorail system

In ironworks, each blast furnace usually has its own elevator. In Völklingen, another route has been taken and a unique system has been created here: a central plant is responsible for feeding all six blast furnaces.

Arrival of monorail cars (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The monorail cars

The blast furnaces were filled in layers. A layer of ore, sinter or additives always alternated with a layer of coke. One charge, for example, a layer of ore or sinter and a layer of coke; consisted of 15 to 17 monorail cars filled to the brim.

Ascent to the Inclined Ore Lift (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The monorail car system

Gout Stage (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The gout stage

Blast Furnace 5

The goat stage stretches for more than 200 meters along the hopper of the six blast furnaces of the Völklinger Hütte. Today, visitors can stroll along the tracks and enjoy the view of the industrial landscape of the middle Saar Valley. In the past there was a lot of traffic: the heavy monorail cars rattled and squeaked along the rails to the blast furnaces. Caution was advised: Anyone who was caught between the cars was in risk of death.

Gout Stage (2017)State Chancellery Saarland

The charging of the blast furnaces

The blast furnace men called, the filling of the blast furnaces with raw materials for iron production, ‘Charging’. Iron ore, sinter, additives, coke, and ferruginous residues from industry or scrap from refuse incineration were poured into the ‘furnace throat’; the blast furnace charging hopper.

Via the Inclined Ore Lift to charging the blast furnaces, Völklinger Hütte (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

The blast furnace charger hopper

Two "fillers" per blast furnace monitored the filling of the blast furnaces at every weather. They emptied the monorail cars into the gout bowl, sometimes even by hand. Because of the life-threatening gas that could escape from the bell, the "fillers" had to wear respiratory protection.

The dry gas cleaning unit

Gas produced in the blast furnaces was an important energy source for the ironworks. It drove the gas engines and was used to generate heat in the coking-plant; blast heating apparatus; sintering-plant and rolling-mill furnaces. The dry gas cleaning process filtered dust making the gas reusable.

The tapping process

Every two to two and a half hours, the blast furnace was tapped. 130 tonnes of molten pig iron flowed via the tapping launder into the torpedo car, which in turn carried the iron to the steelworks. The pig iron emerged from the tapping-hole at a temperature of more than 1400°C. The tapping is one of the most dangerous works at the hut. On July 4th 1986, no. 6 blast furnace was tapped for the last time.

The tapping process

The last tapping of iron at Völklinger Hütte (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

The last tapping at Völklinger Ironworks

Every two to two and a half hours a hole was punched in the blast furnace. The tap holes for pig iron and slag are embraced by the steel coat and filled with clay slate so that they can be closed easily again.

Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte Europäisches Zentrum für Kunst und Industriekultur GmbH
Rathausstraße 75-79, 66333 Völklingen

Credits: Story

State Chancellery Saarland in cooperation with World Cultural Heritage Site Völklinger Ironworks

Credits: All media
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