WIESBADEN, Germany - There's a kind of beauty in the symmetry of certain monuments to bygone times.

The row upon row of stark, white crosses and stars of David in a military cemetery. The rusting, tangled metal of a once booming industrial-era ironworks. The psychedelic drawings, colors and fashions of the golden age of pop.

Visitors to the area around Saarbruecken will discover all of the above.

About a two-hour drive from Wiesbaden takes one to the Saar River town of Voelklingen, located between Saarbruecken and Saarlouis. Once home to a prolific ironworks that employed more than 17,000 people during its heyday in the 1960s, made more steel girders than any other plant in Germany and eventually shuttered its operations in 1986 thanks to the worldwide steel crisis, the town these days boasts UNESCO's first industrial-era World Cultural Heritage Site.

The sprawling Voelklinger Huette European Center for Art and Industrial Culture is a monument to a time when workers endured hellish conditions to create the framework of modern 20th century society. Upon entering the former ironworks and encountering the giant blowers that blew compressed air into the blast furnaces, Charlie Chaplin's comedic turn in "Modern Times" comes to mind -- but photos and written memories of the workers attest to the brutal heat, stench and caustic air in the plant during hours of operation.

Visitors can wander over more than 7,000 meters of passageways and metal stairs, up landings and through the various stations of the ironworks reading descriptions in English, French and German which describe the various aspects of the steel production process. After adorning a hardhat, one can climb up any number of metal staircases to get a grand view of the nearby active Saar-Stahl Steelworks and the surrounding Saar River Valley.

Founded in 1873 by engineer Julius Buch, the ironworks was already a significant steel producer by 1890 under the ownership of the Roechling Brothers. After the plant closed in the mid-1980s and was named a World Heritage Site, it evolved over the next three decades into a scientific and cultural exhibition venue.

Today visitors will find the Science Center Ferrodrum, detailing the history of iron alongside various stations where visitors can enjoy hands-on experiments, cultural and photo exhibitions including the current "Generation Pop" and "Twenty-five Years of German Reunification," and concerts. Set in the huge sheds, halls and furnaces of the ironworks, the ever-changing flat-screen television sets, massive photos and various other displays are a stark contrast to the massive metal machinery that serves as a backdrop -- not unlike the sci-fi worlds depicted in films such as "Blade Runner" and "12 Monkeys."

An exhibit titled "Egypt, Gods, Humans and Pharaohs" opens on July 25 and runs through February of next year. Live jazz is featured in the ironworks Fridays at 6 p.m. from July 4 to Aug. 22. An Electro-Magnetic electronic music festival will be held in the facility on July 19.

The Voelklinger Huette is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closes at 6 p.m. from Nov. 10 to March 28). Admission is €15 for adults and free for children up to age 18 (free admission for everyone on Tuesdays after 3 p.m.). Visit www.voelklinger-huette.org for more information.

Other places of interest

Those interested in spending a little more time in the area might want to consider bringing the bikes for rides along the Saar River. Several campgrounds can be found along the trail as one pedals past fishermen, dragon boat racers and a host of towns and villages set among the grassy fields and forested hills of the Saar River Valley.

Remembering the fallen

About a half-hour drive from the former ironworks into France (following signs toward Metz) takes one to the Lorraine American Cemetery in Saint-Avold. Maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the final resting place for some 10,489 Americans killed while liberating the region during World War II is a bucolic landscape of carefully groomed and watched over markers set among the rolling lawns of the memorial cemetery.

As Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., U.S. Army Europe commander, observed during a Memorial Day Ceremony on May 25, it serves as the final resting place for the largest number of World War II Americans interred in Europe.

For more information about the Lorraine American Cemetery visit www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/lorraine-american-cemetery. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and is located at Avenue de Fayetteville, 57500 Saint-Avold, France.

Page last updated Tue June 3rd, 2014 at 00:00