Industrial archaeologist Thomas Lutgen takes us back to the history of the Rout Lëns site
Soon, the abandoned buildings of the former steel site south-west of Esch-sur-Alzette will be turned into a sustainable, innovative, resilient district that is truly pleasant to life in.
But we should never forget the history of this unique place, which helped to make the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg prosperous. In memory of the thousands of workers who succeeded one another there, it is important to understand and honour this rich past.
This is why we are taking you on a tour with industrial archaeologist Thomas Lutgen.
As Mr. Lutgen says, the industrial archaeologist’s job is to trace the history of the site and the different phases of its development. By comparing it with other similar iron and steel sites, he can also identify its particular features and situate it in the period.
His work involves studying each building, drawing on several sources. He analyses archived material including plans, written documents and photos. At the same time, he observes the remaining buildings and machines on the site.
By looking at the building materials and tools still present, he can shed light on the different stages of the site’s development. In this way, he can gradually pinpoint the construction dates of the industrial buildings.
For instance, the bricks can tell us a great deal.
In photos and at the site itself, we notice that the brick sizes and colours differ from one building to another. When we look more closely, we can see that the mortars used and the laying techniques also vary.
All these clues enable the industrial archaeologist to date the buildings accurately.
On the facade of the cast house, which was part of the blast furnaces, we can see the traces of three openings. It is clear that these are old windows that were walled up during the construction of the “Magasin TT” building.
Two very different types of bricks can be seen. The first type of bricks, which cover most of the facade, are small, and were clearly made individually. They are estimated to date from 1870. The second type of bricks are larger and standardised. These were used to fill in the windows, and date from between 1900 and 1904. The observation of these bricks and their location prove that the cast house is one of the oldest buildings at the site.
As well as showing us these materials, Mr. Lutgen takes us to the power station adjoining the turbine house. Here, in the “Brasseurs Schmelz”, one of the country’s first examples of electrification was introduced.
The first electric cables were laid in the city later, in around 1900. Electricity was already being produced and consumed at the industrial site in Esch, as the original sign reads “direct current: 120 volts”. In comparison, the Belval factory, built in 1910, was supplied with alternating current.
On the strength of these observations, particularly the traces of the early presence of electricity, Mr. Lutgen considers the Rout Lëns site as a highly modern industrial site for its time.
He says, “The industrialisation carried out here changed the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg profoundly. The first electrification works in the country are clear. The considerable changes and developments that were taking place in Luxembourg at that time are visible and tangible.”
Today, a new chapter of this place, steeped in history, is being written. Our wish is not to forget the past, but to transcend it.