The Steel Mill

Vivian’s cousin wanted us to see the last steel mill in Dortmund. At least I think that’s what it was. My grasp of German being what it is I may have gotten that wrong. But there is no doubt the building was huge and unused.IMG_8186

Tours are available, I was told, but they have to be pre-arranged. Gives you a chance to see what the big foundries used to be like.

Dortmund used to be a major industrial centre. It was one of those cities I read about when I was a pre-teen and fixated on war stories. Dortmund was a major target for Allied bombing in 1943 as the attempt was being made to disrupt German industrial production and turn the tide of the Second World War.

So we drove by the steel factory, snapped a few pictures and were off to the next destination.

I was impressed that the decision was made to preserve the factory. When we think of heritage buildings, I don’t think factories are what first come to mind, but they are just as important to the life of the community as a cathedral – economically anyway.

Heritage preservation is a tricky business. Maintaining old buildings (or old anything really) can be an extremely expensive proposition. Who is supposed to pay for it? Governments seem to be perennially cash strapped – there is only so much public money available. Is it right to use it to preserve an old building instead of putting it into education or health care? Is there a public benefit in heritage? How do you decide? What makes something of historical value? And assuming you cannot preserve everything, how do you decide what to keep and what to knock down?IMG_8193

If governments don’t work to preserve social heritage, then who does the responsibility fall upon? Corporations have a duty to shareholders that usually means maximizing profit, not preserving factories that will never be used again. Is it the responsibility of the individual citizen?

The average person certainly does not have the means to save a building from demolition. I suppose enough individuals could band together to save a building or two that might otherwise be demolished, but that strikes me as a haphazard approach.

There is no easy solution. I can think of some industrial buildings in Montreal and Ottawa, long since demolished, that perhaps should have been preserved somehow. Future generations would probably have been interested.

Next time we are in Dortmund I want to do more than just drive by the steel mill. I want to go inside for a tour.

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