The hulking former ironworks of Völklinger Hütte, 14km northwest of Saarbrücken, are one of Europe’s great heavy-industrial relics. Opened in 1873, 17,000 people worked here by 1965 – the height of Germany’s post-WWII boom. The plant blasted its last pig iron in 1986 and was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994.
Trains link Saarbrücken with Völklingen station (10 minutes), from where it's a three-minute walk.
Both Dickensian and futuristic, dystopian and a symbol of renewal, the plant’s massive scale dwarfs humans, who nevertheless managed to master the forces of fire, wind and earth in order to smelt iron, without which civilisation as it is today could not exist. Fine views of the whole rusty ensemble can be had from atop a 45m blast furnace (helmet provided). Parts of the vast complex are being reclaimed by trees, shrubs and mosses. Brochures and all signs are in German, English and French.
Colourful works of modern art make a particularly cheerful impression amid the ageing concrete and rusted pipes, beams, conveyors and car-sized ladles. Check out the website for details on exhibitions and events (like summertime jazz concerts). At night, the compound is luridly lit up like a vast science-fiction set.