I love long breaks from school and work that allow me to pack a bag and head out on a new adventure with my family. We’re able to pick a spot on the map, find a place to stay, and spend our free time exploring a country, city, or region. Sometimes, though, there isn’t enough time for a long trip. Sometimes, what we need is a place to visit that’s easy to get to from our home in the Kaiserslautern area and that can be appreciated in a single day. After a bit of searching, I found a perfect place to check out on a day off from work and school. Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte, or the World Cultural Heritage Site Völklingen Ironworks, is located in Saarland about forty-five minutes from the Kaiserslautern area by car or about three hours from Stuttgart.
Völklinger Hütte was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, making it the first industrial complex to get that distinction and marking the moment when industry became a recognized “outstanding achievement of humanity.” Upon arriving at the visitor’s center, we were given a map of the complex that numbered significant places within the ironworks. Yellow arrows on the ground help visitors easily go from one location to the next. Displays along the way explain how areas such as the ore shed, the blast furnaces, and the coking plant contributed to the production of iron. There are a few spots along the route with multimedia presentations. Though the presentations were in French and German, visitors who don’t speak those languages can still understand a lot about the ironworks based on the images. All of the written displays include information in English, German, and French.
The route through the ironworks includes some stops at larger exhibits. Most of the exhibits are temporary and change once or twice a year. In one, the history of the Röchlings, the family that owned and operated the Völklingen Ironworks from 1881 until the late twentieth century, is explored. The exhibit explains the complicated relationship between the family and the company that included a period of forced labor at the ironworks during World War II and the consequences that followed. Another exhibit features the work of Cologne UrbanArt photographer Nils Müller. Huge prints of Müller’s photographs depicting urban artists using the sides of trains and other public spaces to display their works line several walls within the ironworks. Both exhibits will be on display until June 2016.
A third temporary exhibit on display during our visit was The Skull: Icon, Myth, Cult. About 250 human skulls were on display from around the world to illustrate how some cultures used skulls in ancestor worship and other belief systems. I was a bit worried that the exhibit may be too graphic for my kids, who are all under the age of ten, but none of them were disturbed by the examples of heavily decorated skulls and shrunken heads. Instead, all three kids were fascinated. The Skull will be on display through mid-May when a new exhibit will take its place. Information on current and future exhibits, such as an exhibit of Buddha sculptures beginning in late June 2016, can be found at www.voelklinger-huette.org.
Besides exploring the temporary exhibits, my family really appreciated time spent in the ScienceCenter Ferrodrom. The Ferrodrom is an ongoing exhibit that offers children, and other visitors, the chance to experiment with hands-on displays to understand how fire, water, earth, and air were all used in the ironworks. Strong magnets could be used to move metals, and an elaborate system of wind tunnels, levers, belts, balls, and more allowed visitors to understand the complex system used to move materials within the ironworks. My kids thoroughly enjoyed trying out every activity.
We ended up spending an entire day exploring Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte, and I’m sure there were parts of it that we didn’t even realize we missed. Luckily, there will be more days free from work and school that will give us a chance to pop over to Völklingen to discover more treasures within the ironworks and appreciate the next round of exhibitions.
Völklinger Hütte is open daily. From November through mid-March the following year, the hours are 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Opening hours are 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM from the end of March until the first of November. The complex is closed on December 24, 25, and 31. Tickets cost 15 Euro for visitors over eighteen, and those under eighteen receive tickets for free. Children under fourteen must be accompanied by a legal guardian. On Tuesdays, all visitors can enter for free after 3:00 PM. Annual passes for adults can be purchased for 32 Euro. Tickets can be purchased in the visitor center or online at https://shop.voelklinger-huette.org/en/. Guided tours for groups are available and can be arranged in advance by calling +49 (0)6898 / 100 100. All exhibits except the raised viewing platform are wheelchair accessible. Pets are not allowed.
Völklinger Hütte is easily reached by train. The Völklingen train station can be seen from the ironworks; the station’s address is Rathausstraβe 55, which is a few blocks from the ironworks. Links to sites where trips can be planned and tickets purchased are available at http://www.voelklinger-huette.org/en/how-to-find-us/. It is also easy to reach the ironworks by car. There is a large, clearly marked parking lot with over 2,000 spaces available on location; parking at the lot is free. The address for Völklinger Hütte and the parking area is Rathausstraβe75-79, 66333 Völklingen. For more information about Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte, please visit http://www.voelklinger-huette.org/.
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