Shock and ore
By the time I got there, there was only the scar. A scar of ochre earth 25 times the size of a football field. A dozen excavators pawed ponderously at the soil as if absently searching for something lost. The place where one of Germany’s largest steel mills had stood since before the second world war was now reduced to a few mounds of twisted metal scrap. I approached a man in worker’s overalls by the side of the road. He was hoisting a huge metal segment of a pipeline on to the back of a truck. After he had settled it in place, I called over to him. He said he had dislodged, lifted and loaded 14 segments like this already and now there were only three left, enough for another week’s work. Then it would all be over. I asked him where the pipeline was going. He straightened his back and made as if to throw something in a gentle arc far into the distance. "China," he said.
The rest of the equipment had gone earlier: the oxygen converters that were housed in a shed 60m high, the hot rolling-mill for heavy steel plates that stretched out over one kilometre, a sinter plant, a blast furnace and a host of other parts. They had all been packed into wooden crates, inserted into containers, loaded on to ships and then unpacked again near the mouth of the Yangtze River. There, on the flat alluvium beds of that mighty river, they had been reconstructed exactly - to the last screw - as they had been in Germany. Altogether 250,000 tonnes of equipment had been shipped, along with 40 tonnes of documents that explained the intricacies of the reassembly process. The man in overalls shook his head at the convoluted nature of it all. "I just hope it works when they get it there," he said.
The ThyssenKrupp steel mill in Dortmund once employed around 10,000 people. The communities of Horde and Westfalenhutte, where workshops clustered around chimneys that could be seen from all over the city, had depended on it for generations. People had made steel here for nearly 200 years, and when the drums of German conquest rolled in 1870, 1914 and 1939, it was this corner of the Ruhr Valley that supplied first Prussia and then the German empire with field guns, tanks, shells and battleship armour. A pride in practical things was evident everywhere. A stumpy-looking, 19th- century iron blast furnace, with a notice explaining that it had been brought over from England, stood as a monument by one of the gateways to the former plant. Nearby, a plaque memorialised a local engineer.