In the last two days there has been a great deal of interest in the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin and the consequent reunification of Germany months later (typically reported as the reunification of Berlin!). We have been very interested in all this as Jane and I were in Germany in August-September.
I keep thinking of Chemnitz where they have 30,000 empty houses (symbolic of the population migration and decline)and apartments and a large head of Marx.
I think of the Bio Towers of Lauchammer. These are the few remnants of a truly remarkable endeavour the production of coke from brown coal
In 1952 with supplies of quality coking coal from the Ruhr region (in West Germany) the former GDR needed another source of coke for its industry (coke is critical in iron production). The world’s first large-scale lignite (Brown coal) coking plant came into service at Lauchhammer. This technological breakthrough enabled the GDR to replace imported coke with it own supplies.
The process involved briquetting the coal to achieve an even grain size and a reduction of moisture content to about 1%. The briquettes are then coked.
Lauchhammer laid the foundations for the expansion of the East German metallurgy industry. Briquetting plants and power stations started springing up in the industrial haze surrounding the town.
The bio-tower are called tower-type trickling filters they were trickling installation for the biological purification of coking plant wastewater containing harmful substances from the coke works
But of this break-through plant nothing much remains except for the bio-towers. The post-reunification era demolition fever did more than flatten factories: it damaged the identity of Lauchhammer and its people by basically throwing them out of work and devaluing their achievements.
We visited the bio-towers and were greeted by members of the Traditional Brown Coal Association who were keen to show use around. One of their publications Die BraunKohlenengrosskokerei Lauchhammer. Lauchhammer: Traditionsverein Braunkohle (written by an editors cooperative) proudly details the works and the hours and awards its staff were given.
All this is not to say that the GDR was a happy place, clearly it was a most totalitarian and repressive regime and its replacement is a huge step forward for the people of East Germany but and there is always a but, there was a human cost to the people at Lauchhammer that the restoration of the bio-towers can only go some way to heal.