From the rooftop, Duisburg’s Sinterenlage seemed perfectly in context. Steel mills, active and abandoned, carried on puffing smoke and becoming nature again, respectively. An absurdly tall smokestack topped a power plant between a half-full gas-o-meter and suspension bridge. In the distance, outlines of buildings exactly like the one I was on repeated until the haze made them indistinguishable from the horizon.
I came from a beautiful former railworks, which was far along in its demolition not too far away. Duisburg could be called Germany’s Pittsburgh. Every part of the city seemed tuned to serve to melt ore into metal and temper and form it. This alternative steel mill, called a sintering plant, took some of the 4,000 metric tons of iron ore dust and waste from blast furnaces and turned it into steel without melting it.
The ore was mixed with coke (for heat), lime (for purity), and other additives and placed on one of the three belts that traveled the length of the plant. Along the way, the compound passed through a series of furnaces which raised the temperature of the powder to about 1200°C/2050°F, just below iron’s melting point 2,800°F/1,538°C. The iron particles would permanently fuse in an oxygen-free environment, making steel.
Dating to 1955, this plant was expanded twice in its first decade of operation and employed about 100 workers. The steel mills sold the plant during an international steel crisis in 1983 to a slag (waste rock) processing company, which closed in 1995. Since then, the plant’s attracted rule breakers, artists, and rule-breaking artists. I like to think it’s never stopped being productive.
Scrappers infamously gutted the factory, but this one green conduit going from the sintering floor all the way to ground level seems to have been spared.
The control room for the whole of the plant. Sinterband here means one of the sintering lines. Temperatures, gasses, mixtures, speeds, and so on were centrally controlled here.
On the left, the formula for the sintering mix was written (“mischungszusammenselzung”) to keep track of the jobs.
A panoramic view of the sintering plant’s gas plant (?). Everyone who visits must get a picture of these rusty smokestacks!
Sunbeams under the sintering belt. Support cradles for the wires crossing the factory are falling down.
Germany’s steel mill city.
The smokestack for the sintering plant included a big blower room, to launch the fumes into the atmosphere and away from the town. What could go wrong?
Sonnenstrahlen, “sunbeams”, come through the kicked-up coke dust covering everything below the sintering floor.
In the grungy control room, I found a little slice that was never graffitied.
One of the three ovens where the powder would be heater to over 2000 degrees… hot enough to fuse iron, but not hot enough to liquify it.
One of the staircases that connected the lab, the plant, and the offices.
Looking out the finishing end of the sintering plant at a network of torched-off catwalks through a maze of rust and asbestos. Paradise.
The long control room overlooks giant caps where equipment was removed long ago.
Looking out of the “back door”, where equipment could be lifted into the factory with a crane. The bottom of the coal conveyor can be seen outside.
You can see almost ever level of the factory from this spot.
“Cutting torch.” The remains of a catwalk now leads to void on the sintering floor, four stories over the next solid footing. Only two staircases led to the top floor, some half dozen others were cut off for scrap.
The conveyorway that carried the sintering material to the mixing floor at the top of the plant.