Thomas Lutgen, industrial archaeologist, takes us back into the past of the Rout Lëns site
Soon, from the abandoned buildings of the former steelmaking site to the southwest of Esch-sur-Alzette, a sustainable, innovative and resilient neighbourhood will rise up, which will be a pleasure to live in.
However, we definitely won’t be forgetting the history of this unique site that has contributed so much to the prosperity of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In memory of the thousands of people who worked there, it is vital that we carry on trying to understand and honour this rich past.
That is why we are taking you on a tour with Thomas Lutgen, an industrial archaeologist.
The work of an industrial archaeologist
As Mr. Lutgen reminds us, the role of the industrial archaeologist is to retrace the history of a site and the different phases of its evolution. By comparing it with other similar steelmaking sites, he can also identify its particular features and put it into the context of its time.
In order to carry out his work, an industrial archaeologist must study each building, drawing on several sources. He will analyse archives such as plans, written documents and photographs. Alongside this, he will observe the remaining buildings and machines on the site.
By looking at the building materials and tools that have been left behind, the different phases of the site’s evolution become clearer. Little by little, the construction dates of the industrial buildings can be confirmed.
For example, bricks can tell us a lot!
In photographs and on the site itself, we can see that the size and colour of the bricks differ from one building to another. If you look closely, you can also see that the mortar used and the bricklaying techniques vary.
All of these clues allow an industrial archaeologist to tell us exactly when these buildings were constructed.
Let’s look at the casthouse
On the facade of this building, which was part of the blast furnaces, we can see the outline of three openings. Clearly they used to be windows that were bricked up when the Magasin TT was built.
You can see 2 very different types of brick. The first ones, which cover the majority of the facade, are small. They are obviously individually made. It is estimated that they date back to 1870. The second type of brick is larger and more uniform. These are the ones that were used to brick up the windows. They date back to 1900-1904. Observing these bricks and their location tells us that the casthouse is one of the oldest buildings on the site.
The electrical panels in the Halle des Turbines
In addition to observing materials, Mr. Lutgen takes us into the power plant next to the Halle des Turbines. It was one of the first places in the country where electricity was installed, in the “Brasseurs Schmelz”.
In fact it was later on, in around 1900, that the first electricity cables were laid in the town. On the Esch industrial site, electricity was already being produced and consumed, as you can see on the original sign, which reads “direct current 120 volts”. In contrast, the Belval plant, built in 1910, was run on alternating current.
Rout Lëns: a modern industrial site
Drawing on these observations and, in particular, on the evidence of the early presence of electricity, Mr. Lutgen considers the Rout Lëns site to be a very modern industrial site for its time.
He adds: “The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has changed beyond recognition because of the industrialisation that took place here. You can clearly see the first signs of the introduction of electricity to the country. The profound changes and evolutions that Luxembourg was experiencing at that time are visible and tangible. “
Today, a new chapter is being written for this place, which is already full of history. We don’t want to forget the past, but rather transcend it.